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NEW YORK—When two teams meet this deep in the playoffs, both typically are playing well and heading in the right direction. After two games in the American League Championship Series, the Detroit Tigers are holding up their end of the deal.
They have gotten shutdown starting pitching and enough timely hitting, and their defense has been better than advertised.
The New York Yankees are plummeting quicker than a Justin Verlander fastball. Their starting pitching has been strong but very little else is working in their favor.
They have fallen behind 2-0 in the best-of-seven, their captain, Derek Jeter, has suffered a season-ending injury, they failed to sell out either game over the weekend and they heard more than a few boos from the 47,082 who showed up at Yankee Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
“A lot of bad stuff has happened in a short amount of time,” Yankees right fielder Nick Swisher said.
Those aren’t the worst of their woes. In a development that is as surprising as it is damaging to their hopes of reaching another World Series, the Yankees’ offense has gone missing. The second-highest scoring team in the majors can barely buy a hit.
They managed only a double and three singles in a 3-0 shutout loss to Anibal Sanchez and Phil Coke, two pitchers who are far from Detroit’s finest. Sanchez is considered no better than the Tigers’ third-best starter and Coke is coming off a regular season that was disappointing at best.
But they encountered little difficulty in dealing the Yankees their first shutout in their past 15 postseason games. In this series, the Yanks have been held scoreless in 20 of 21 innings.
Their offensive leader, Robinson Cano, has gone 0-for-10 and is now 2-for-32 in the postseason. This is after he went 24-for-39 to close out the regular season and seemed poised for a monster October. “I’m sure he feels added pressure,” Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long said.
He has company in the slumphouse. Curtis Granderson is 3-for-26, Swisher 4-for-26 and Alex Rodriguez 3-for-24, including 0-for-18 with 12 strikeouts against right-handers. No wonder the boos filled the afternoon air in the Bronx and, for once, weren’t all directed at A-Rod.
“It hurts,” Swisher admitted. “It’s not like you’re trying to go out there and do bad on purpose.”
Swisher soon will become a free agent; considering how this series is unfolding, he might have played his last home game as a Yankee on Sunday. He was clearly upset about the taunts he was receiving when manning his post in right field. He said fans were even serenading him with the “Nah-nah-nah-nah, hey-hey-hey goodbye” tune heretofore reserved for visitors.
Perhaps the fans didn’t know whom else to razz. They had no reason to get on any of the Tigers, particularly Sanchez. He allowed only one Yankee to get as far as third base, Ichiro Suzuki, and he reached on Sanchez’s error. Sanchez had a few rough starts after he was traded by the Miami Marlins but he has more than filled their need for a No. 4 starter.
“His slider is unhittable right now,” rotation mate Max Scherzer said. “He’s throwing it to right-handers and left-handers and it’s an absolute swing-and-miss pitch right now. That sets up everything else. All of a sudden, his curve and his changeup are more effective.”
Unlike two of their past three games, the Tigers didn’t even have to worry about a ninth-inning meltdown on Sunday. The day after Jose Valverde blew a 4-0 lead and lost his closer’s job—temporarily, according to manager Jim Leyland—the Tigers turned to Coke to close out the Yankees. He allowed a two-out single by Rodriguez in the ninth and nothing else.
“I talked to Phil (Sunday) morning in my office about possibly closing games out,” said Leyland. “Right now he is zeroed in pretty good.”
And the Tigers are zeroing in on their first trip to the World Series since 2006. They have three games coming at home and their ace, Verlander, primed for the first one Tuesday night. Scherzer, who finished second in the majors to Verlander in strikeouts this season, is scheduled for Game 4.
“Feels great,” catcher Alex Avila said. “It puts us in a good position.”
Which is the opposite direction from where the Yankees appear to be headed.