DETROIT -- After a 24-5 regular season, Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander let it all hang out on Monday night at Comerica Park. He tossed 120 pitches, 15 of them reaching at least 100 mph, and stifled the Yankees in Game 3 of the American League Division Series at Comerica Park. After watching Verlander strike out 11 and place the Tigers on the verge of clinching the best-of-five series, manager Jim Leyland thanked the right-hander for what he called a "terrific" effort and made it clear that the AL Cy Young Award candidate was finished for the series. "I would say so, yes," Leyland said after the Tigers defeated the Yankees, 5-4, to take a 2-1 lead in the series. "I wouldn't do anything foolish. I try not to do anything foolish with any of my pitchers, let alone an arm like that. You saw what a talent he is. I would say he's definitely done for this series."
Verlander, who struggled at times and was dominant at times on Monday night, wouldn't give up the ghost. The Tigers can wrap up the series here on Tuesday night with 22-year-old righty Rick Porcello on the mound against Yankees veteran A.J. Burnett. But if the series shifts back to Yankee Stadium on Thursday night for a decisive Game 5, Verlander could try to wangle a spot relief appearance, if he's needed. "I haven't talked to him yet," Verlander said of Leyland, who was pretty definitive. "If I need to go out there, make maybe a relief appearance or something, I'll get in his ear about that. Hopefully, though, we shut it down here tomorrow." The Tigers are on the brink of defeating the Yankees because Verlander recovered after battling through two shaky innings, the first and seventh, each of which saw New York score two runs. In the opening frame, Derek Jeter opened with a grounded single up the middle and scored on Curtis Granderson's well-hit triple to left-center. Granderson scored on an Alex Rodriguez grounder. "It was two mistakes," Verlander said. "Against that lineup, mistakes kill you." With two outs in the seventh and the Tigers leading, 4-2, Jorge Posada wrestled one of the three walks Verlander issued. Russell Martin was then hit by a pitch, and suddenly there were runners on first and second. Brett Gardner battled Verlander in a tough six-pitch at-bat, finally drilling a two-run double to left-center that tied the score. Otherwise, Verlander fired a bevy of 100-mph fastballs at the Yankees, who just couldn't catch up. "After the first inning, I felt like I found my rhythm," Verlander said. "I was going pretty good. Very efficient. Right where I wanted to be. Then, all of a sudden, I lost it for three batters." And the Yankees wouldn't give up. "We had confidence coming into the game," Jeter said. "Regardless of who we were facing, we knew it was going to be a challenge. It was a challenge for us to score. We started good, but you've got to play nine innings." The game was a test case of sorts. Verlander had thrown 25 pitches in Game 1 on Friday night, which was suspended by rain before the bottom of the second inning. When the game resumed on Saturday, Doug Fister was on the mound. Three days later, Verlander had to amp it up again and was wondering how he would feel. The result? Verlander said he couldn't remember throwing any harder. After Delmon Young homered in the bottom of the seventh to give the Tigers a 5-4 lead, the right-hander came out to pitch the top of the eighth, walking Rodriguez in an at-bat that included five pitches clocked at 100 mph. He easily pitched out of the inning. "It felt good," Verlander said. "I think adrenaline is an amazing thing. I don't feel like it had any ill effects on me whatsoever. Obviously, the life of my fastball was there pretty much the whole game. I probably actually threw harder than I would have liked for most of the game. I might be a little bit sore tomorrow." Oh, on Tuesday, Verlander can certainly remain on the sidelines, relax and root for his club. And if Leyland is good to his word, Verlander will be watching again if the two teams happen to face each other in Game 5 on Thursday.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.