Justin Verlander perseveres as Tigers send Yankees to the brink of elimination

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When Justin Verlander gave up two runs and threw 21 pitches in the first inning tonight, it didn’t look like he would be long for this ballgame. Fortunately for the Tigers, he was just getting warmed up.

While CC Sabathia walked a season-high six batters and failed to make it out of the sixth inning, Verlander ended up striking out 11 over eight innings as the Tigers beat the Yankees 5-4 to grab a 2-1 series lead in the ALDS.

Delmon Young played the role of unlikely hero, slugging a go-ahead solo home run off Rafael Soriano in the bottom of the seventh inning to put the Tigers ahead for good. Jose Valverde, who labored Sunday’s win by throwing 34 pitches, survived another shaky ninth inning to lock down the save. He struck out Derek Jeter with runners on first and second to end it.

With their season on the line, the Yankees will now send A.J. Burnett to the hill Tuesday night against Rick Porcello. In other words, God help us all.

Notes

– Verlander really found a groove in the middle part of the ballgame, retiring 13 out of 15 batters from the third inning into the seventh, including seven strikeouts. The Yankees tied the game in the seventh on a two-run double by Brett Gardner, but the Tigers took the lead back in the next half inning on the home run by Young.

– Verlander cracked 100 mph on five straight pitches in the eighth inning, topping out at 101 mph. That’s right. In the eighth inning. Incredible.

– Remember when Buster Olney tweeted before the ballgame that CC Sabathia was 6-0 with a 2.19 ERA with Jerry Davis behind the plate? Well, that little factoid was rendered meaningless tonight. While some claimed that the big southpaw was getting squeezed, it was pretty obvious that he just didn’t have it. He was charged with four runs over 5 1/3 innings, but it could have been much worse. I was honestly surprised to see him back out there for the sixth inning.

– What’s with all the bunting, Jim Leyland? Ramon Santiago failed in his initial attempt to get a sacrifice down in the second inning, but that was actually a blessing in disguise for the Tigers, as he followed it with an RBI single. Then, with Sabathia on the ropes in the sixth, we saw a sacrifice bunt from Alex Avila of all people. Really? They were fortunate that didn’t come back to bite them.

– You want to nitpick that Rafael Soriano shouldn’t have come back out for the seventh after getting the final two outs in the sixth? Fine. But I have a bigger problem throwing a first-pitch fastball to Delmon Young.

– Russell Martin was hit in the ribs by a 100 mph fastball from Justin Verlander in the top of the seventh inning. No big deal. Shook it off and walked down to first base. Respect.

– Jorge Posada drew two huge walks late in the ballgame, including one with two outs in the two-run seventh and another with one out in the ninth.

– Actual quote from TBS broadcaster John Smoltz, presently completely out of context for maximum enjoyment: “That is a shagging dream.”

– Alex Rodriguez drew two walks and had an RBI groundout in the first inning, but is now 0-for-10 in the series. Mark Teixeira went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and is batting .091 (1-for-11) during the series.

Jonny Venters is still pitching

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Lefty reliever Jonny Venters was among a handful of players the Rays signed to minor league contracts, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Venters, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 and has logged just 27 2/3 innings in the minors in the meantime due to a continuous battle with his elbow. According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Venters has undergone four — four! — Tommy John surgeries.

When he was healthy, Venters was a fearsome late-game option for the Braves. He posted a 1.95 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 83 innings in 2010, and a 1.84 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 88 innings in 2011. His first-half performance in 2011 earned him a spot on the National League All-Star roster.

Venters has spent the last two years in the Rays’ system and he’ll try to make it a third.