The Yankees have no choice but to back their horse after another member of their pitching staff faltered in Game 2. Though Freddy Garcia held his own for most of the afternoon, the Tigers ultimately touched Garcia for four runs (three earned) over 5 1/3 innings, dipping into the Yankees' bullpen earlier than expected.
Following a two-run opposite-field home run to Miguel Cabrera in the first, Garcia appeared to settle down until he faced Cabrera again with two men on base in the sixth. He challenged the Tigers' first baseman with a splitter low in the strike zone. Cabrera redirected it back up the middle for a critical RBI hit.
"That was a great pitch," Garcia said. "He just threw the bat out there and hit the ball."
"When you see a pitcher like Freddy, you have to do that," Cabrera said. "He gets you off balance, so you want your hands to stay inside and try to hit it the other way."
Perhaps the Yankees could have expected something like this from Garcia, who posted a 7.36 ERA in September after a remarkably consistent first five months of the season. Though Garcia did strike out six Tigers batters without issuing a walk on Sunday, he also allowed six hits -- five singles and a homer -- in six innings. Facing a sharp opponent in Tigers starter Max Scherzer, it was enough.
In losing, meanwhile, the Yankees transferred home-field advantage to the Tigers and will need to beat AL Cy Young Award shoo-in Justin Verlander or risk losing the entire series in Detroit.
It is not a pleasant thought for the Yankees, who have their own ace, Sabathia, opposing Verlander in Game 3. Should Sabathia also lose, the Yankees will proceed in a must-win Game 4 with A.J. Burnett, one of the most inconsistent starting pitchers in the league.
"A lot of people talk about Game 3 being the most important game of a series all the time," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "It's real important. Every game you play in this series, when it's a shorter series of five games, is extremely important."
A day earlier, both Girardi and Tigers manager Jim Leyland considered the benefits of mixing Garcia -- a finesse pitcher who sits in the mid-80s with his fastball -- amongst hard throwers Sabathia and Ivan Nova in the rotation. Though strong in theory, the strategy ultimately proved ineffective. The Tigers simply waited on Garcia's pitches, doing most of their damage to the opposite field.
Against Sabathia, a hard thrower, that will be more difficult to do -- meaning the Yankees must hope that with increased velocity comes increased success.
"Both aces are going, so both teams feel good," Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher said. "We'll just have to line it up and see what happens."