Forced to regroup, Tigers claim Game 1 in 12

Forced to regroup, Tigers claim Game 1 in 12

Forced to regroup, Tigers claim Game 1 in 12
NEW YORK -- The Yankees' game-tying four-run rally off Jose Valverde in the ninth Saturday had plenty of Tigers fans calling for someone else to finish out a win. Few would've figured that chance was coming in the 12th inning.

Even fewer would've figured it would go to Drew Smyly.

"They did a great job of making a comeback. I think we did an even better job of staying strong and fighting," Smyly said after his two scoreless innings and Delmon Young's go-ahead double turned what looked like a nightmarish open to the American League Championship Series into a 6-4 victory Saturday night.

Or as Octavio Dotel said, expressing the prevailing sentiment in the clubhouse, "Today was a tough game, but thank God we won."

It doesn't make for an easy night's sleep for manager Jim Leyland, who faces perhaps the toughest test of his previously unwavering loyalty to his closer. The four-hour, 54-minute marathon had barely ended when Tigers officials already planned to gather and discuss Valverde's situation, including the possibility that he has been pitching with an injury.

"We are going to put our heads together and we'll talk with him," Leyland said. "We will talk with the staff and try to figure out if there is something going on that maybe is being camouflaged. ... And everything will be cleared up for everybody by the time I come in here before the game tomorrow."

Still, he'll be coming in with a chance to have his team take a 2-0 series lead back home if they can find a way to beat Hiroki Kuroda, pitching on three days' rest, and a Yankees lineup that will be without Derek Jeter, who fractured his left ankle in that 12th inning diving for a Jhonny Peralta ground ball.

Leyland has that chance because a team whose dugout reaction looked defeated after Raul Ibanez's game-tying two-run homer gathered itself. Through 3 1/3 scoreless innings from Dotel and Smyly, the Tigers outlasted the late-inning teeth of the Yankees' bullpen before rallying off David Phelps.

The way the Tigers season has unfolded, it's just another chapter.

"I didn't know we had to take that many, but we have been taking punches all year," Leyland said. "If we are going to be good enough, we have to be able to take a punch, and we took a big punch. We took a right cross in the ninth inning and we survived it."

The last time Smyly pitched in Yankee Stadium he earned his first Major League win in April to end the Tigers' season-high five-game losing streak. His performance that day earned him raves for his poise for a kid in his second full season as a pro.

It was nothing compared to what he was in for with his postseason debut.

When he began warming up in the third inning, he was a potential injury replacement for Doug Fister, who took a comebacker off his wrist on his way to escaping his second straight bases-loaded jam. Fister was surviving, but searching for his command. Even after he found it, he had to strand the bases loaded one more time by striking out Curtis Granderson and Russell Martin to end the sixth.

Fister left with one out in the seventh, having walked four and struck out five. Once Phil Coke and Joaquin Benoit finished the seventh and eighth, the Tigers were three outs away from a 4-0 shutout, and Fister was in line to become the first Tigers pitcher ever to beat the Yankees twice in the postseason.

Two-run homers from Ichiro Suzuki and Ibanez off Valverde, who nearly squandered a four-run lead here in Game 2 of last season's AL Division Series, erased that. It wasn't nearly as sudden as Valverde's blown save in Game 4 of the AL Division Series in Oakland on Wednesday, but it was just as crushing.

Add them together, and Valverde has allowed seven runs on seven hits with four outs in his last two games.

"In this game, you never know what's going to happen," said Valverde, who insisted he could still do the job despite his manager's questions. "All those guys did a good job against me -- Ibanez, Ichiro, all those guys. There's nothing I could do. Thank God my team won."

The reaction from the Tigers' dugout as Ibanez's third lead-changing home run this postseason landed in the seats said plenty. Many players watched aghast, having witnessed what looked like a huge series-opening win turn into a new game.

From a practical standpoint, the Tigers looked shaken. They weren't yet beaten.

"We're big leaguers," said Young, who drove in half of Detroit's run total. "Things are going to happen. The other team wants to drive Mercedes-Benzes and eat [at] Morton's, too."

Smyly, Young and others hammered home the same point: As bad as it looked, they treated it like a 0-0 game. Young, however, was still hitting hot.

Young's sixth-inning single drove in Detroit's second run before his eighth-inning homer built a 3-0 lead. It also gave him the Tigers' franchise record for career postseason home runs with six.

When Young grounded out leading off a 1-2-3 10th inning, the Tigers seemed lifeless. When he came up in the 12th against Phelps with Miguel Cabrera on second, he had a glimmer of hope.

Young's line drive seemed headed directly at right fielder Nick Swisher.

"I thought it was going to hook right back to him," Young said. "I don't know what happened."

Said Swisher: "I just got caught right up in the lights, and I just went completely blind. It kind of handcuffed me, and I didn't even see it for the last five, 10 feet."

Smyly, who entered for the left-handed-hitting heart of the New York order in the 11th, retired six of the seven Yankees hitters he faced to earn the win. Once Detroit took the lead, he racked up back-to-back strikeouts of Eric Chavez and Swisher in a surprisingly easy bottom of the inning as the remaining crowd emptied.

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.