Rivera has allowed six runs, five earned, in 58 2/3 innings against Detroit for his career, and only one run since 2000. Even if the Tigers could have matched that career damage, they still would have needed another run.
For a team that put up eight runs in each of the first two games of the series, and 17 hits on Saturday, it was an abrupt reminder that these are still the Yankees, such as they are.
Or as manager Jim Leyland said, it was a "blah" game.
"We just didn't do much with CC [Sabathia] today, obviously," Leyland said. "That's why it's a great game. That's why it's a strange game. You get all those hits yesterday and you come back out today and that's why I always emphasize how pitching normally dictates everything. And CC pretty much dictated the pace today."
The Tigers had Justin Verlander on the mound, Miguel Cabrera and Austin Jackson on a tear, and a bullpen relatively well-rested. They not only had a chance at the sweep; they were an outburst away from three straight eight-run games against the Yankees for the first time since 1945.
The Yankees had Sabathia facing questions about his velocity coming out of Spring Training, and an injury-depleted lineup that featured Jayson Nix making another start at shortstop as the third option there with Derek Jeter and Eduardo Nunez both injured.
The Yankees won out, and it wasn't close. Thanks to seven shutout innings from Sabathia, a two-run homer from Nix was enough to put the Bronx Bombers in command. Once the Yankees added two runs each off Phil Coke and Octavio Dotel, it was a runaway.
The Tigers' drubbing of Sabathia to finish off an American League Championship Series sweep last October might never be forgotten, but Sabathia beat the Tigers three times in the regular season, striking out 20 batters over 21 2/3 innings.
He didn't have to humble hitters with velocity. This version of Sabathia simply mixed.
"He loved his fastball, but over the years, he's gotten smarter as a pitcher," said Hunter, who accounted for one of Detroit's four singles off Sabathia. "He's just hitting his spots, using his fastball to set up pitches. And I think CC's actually better as a pitcher. He's a pitcher now, and not a thrower."
Detroit's other three hits off Sabathia came from two reserves making their first starts as Tigers. Matt Tuiasosopo singled twice and walked, and he was the only Tiger in scoring position against Sabathia, while Brayan Pena sent Nix deep enough at short for a ground ball to get an infield single for his first hit as a Tiger. Sabathia succeeded by holding Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez 0-for-9 combined.
"That's an unbelievable lineup," Sabathia said. "We definitely worked harder than the final number indicates. I'm sure if I face them again, they're going to be tough. That's a good lineup."
Verlander, too, was mixing his pitches over 7 1/3 innings, but paid dearly for two of them against the bottom of the order in the second inning.
Francisco Cervelli had never faced Verlander, but he teed off on a 91-mph fastball and drove it deep into the gap in left-center field for a double, scoring Ichiro Suzuki. Tuiasosopo, making his first Tigers start in left field, seemingly took a wrong first step on the ball, but seemed too far away to run it down even with a good read.
Verlander retired Lyle Overbay, but fell behind on Nix, 1-for-11 with five strikeouts off Verlander for his career to that point. With a 2-1 count, Pena -- catching Verlander for the first time in a regular-season game -- called for a changeup.
"I blame myself on that one," Pena said. "I should have gone with something else."
Leyland, for his part, emphasizes that the pitcher has final responsibility for what is thrown, since he has the right to shake off a sign.
"I think he probably questioned his own selection, and obviously the execution of the pitch; probably both of those weren't real good," Leyland said.
Nix jumped on the pitch and sent it out to left for his first home run of the year.
"It was over the middle," Nix said. "My approach allowed me to stay on it and put a good swing on it. He's hard to predict anyway. He doesn't really get into patterns. He's got four good pitches he can throw for a strike at any time, and he doesn't really get into patterns."
Nix barely missed a second home run, pulling a drive foul into the left-field corner leading off the seventh. He settled for a single before he singled and scored off Dotel in the ninth inning to complete a three-hit game.
Verlander (1-1) left one batter into the eighth, having allowed three runs on seven hits over 7 1/3 innings with two walks and four strikeouts.
Rivera allowed a couple of bloop hits, but completed his inning with the same result he has posted so many times before. Instead of completing a save, he finished off the Tigers' first regular-season shutout loss since last July 17, 13-0, to the Angels.