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Tigers tame Yankees

DETROIT — This was the night Justin Verlander had been waiting for ever since he struggled through October as a worn-out rookie five years ago.

Now a tireless ace for a new group of blue-collar Tigers, Verlander struck out 11 in eight gritty innings to lead Detroit past the New York Yankees 5-4 Monday night in Game 3 of their American League playoff.

And once Jose Valverde whiffed Derek Jeter with two on to end another drama-filled ninth, the Tigers were one win from the AL championship series.

"This is the first time I've been in this situation and felt good. In 2006 as a rookie, I was pretty fatigued," Verlander said. "I've worked my tail off since then, and I feel like every year I've been ready for this. And this is why I work so hard. There's no point in holding anything back now."

Delmon Young hit a tiebreaking homer in the seventh off Rafael Soriano and the Tigers took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series, pushing the Yankees to the brink of elimination.

Their hopes ride tonight on A.J. Burnett, the $82.5 million pitcher who was so unreliable this season that he wasn't supposed to get a start in this series. A rainstorm changed all that when Game 1 was suspended Friday, forcing both teams to alter their pitching plans.

"Trust me, they're not going to go away," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "We've put ourselves in a decent position, but we've still got more to accomplish. So this is a long way from being over."

Rick Porcello gets the ball in Game 4 for the Tigers.

Detroit reached the World Series in 2006, but Verlander posted a 5.82 ERA that postseason, a performance that has gnawed at him ever since. He started the opener against the Yankees on Friday night, but that game was halted after only 11/2; innings, forcing Verlander and New York ace CC Sabathia to wait until Monday for their first extended work of the series. While Sabathia didn't make it through the sixth, Verlander was still hitting 100 mph on the stadium radar gun in the eighth.

"There's so much adrenaline in a situation like this," he said. "I lost my rhythm for three batters and they scored (two) runs to tie the game. But this team has a never-say-die attitude. We've done it all year. Come from behind. We've held leads. We've done everything we've had to do, and tonight's another example of that."

Valverde took over in the ninth — and another tense finish followed. The All-Star closer, who was perfect in 49 save chances this season, walked two and got a warning-track flyout before striking out Jeter to end it.

"It's not very comfortable with a guy that's got over 3,000 or so hits up there in that situation," Leyland said.

Trailing by four in the ninth on Sunday, the Yankees scored twice against Valverde before he got Robinson Cano to ground out with two on to close out a 5-3 victory in Game 2.

"Every now and again he does that, but we've got the utmost faith in him," Verlander said. "He's done it all year long. What a job he did, especially after throwing 30-some pitches last night. You know, that's not easy."

After two games in New York that took three rainy days to finish, Comerica Park was dry on Monday, with the exception of the fountains beyond center field. The Yankees managed two quick runs off Verlander in the first, but the 24-game winner settled down. He appeared to be laboring at times, allowing four runs, six hits and three walks, but he stayed in for 120 pitches and Detroit produced just enough offense.

Brett Gardner tied it for the Yankees with a two-run double in the seventh, but Young answered with a line drive that barely cleared the wall in right field to give the Tigers a 5-4 lead.

Young, obtained from Minnesota in a quiet trade Aug. 15, also homered off Sabathia in Game 1 at Yankee Stadium before the downpour Friday night.

"Amazing," Verlander said. "What an acquisition he's been. He's been such a great teammate, such a great acquisition for us and this lineup. It just extends our lineup even farther. What a stud. What an at-bat."

Valverde, who threw 34 pitches in a non-save situation Sunday, was back for the ninth a day later. He had playfully declared the series was "over" after Game 2, and the Yankees nearly made him eat his words, but Jeter struck out swinging with runners at first and second.

"I feel good about Jeter whenever he's up there in those situations because he's been there so many times," New York manager Joe Girardi said.

Sabathia squandered an early 2-0 lead. He allowed four runs and seven hits with six walks in 5 1-3 innings.

"I actually thought he made a lot of good pitches tonight and I thought the zone was a small zone," Girardi said. "No disrespect to anyone, but that's what I thought. That's what I saw."

Verlander, who led the AL in wins, ERA and strikeouts, was a bit erratic in his lone inning of work Friday, walking two and allowing a run before the rain ended his outing. The first inning went even worse for him Monday. Jeter hit Verlander's first pitch right back up the middle for a single, then Curtis Granderson's drive sailed over the head of Austin Jackson in left-center for an RBI triple.

Alex Rodriguez made it 2-0 with an RBI groundout.

Sabathia had even more problems, walking four of the first six hitters he faced, but Detroit grounded into double plays in each of the first two innings and didn't score.

Verlander found his groove during the middle innings. He struck out Nick Swisher for the third out of the fourth, then struck out the side on 10 pitches in the fifth.