NEW YORK: Don Kelly and Delmon Young homered in the first inning and Detroit’s pitchers made the lead stand up on Thursday as Tigers edged the New York Yankees 3-2 to advance in the Major League Baseball play-offs.
Tigers won the best-of-five American League first-round series three games to two to make it to the American League championship series against Texas Rangers.
Detroit closing pitcher Jose Valverde shut down the Yankees in the ninth inning as Tigers eliminated Yankees in the first round for the second time in six seasons.
Detroit’s Victor Martinez drove in a run with a single off CC Sabathia — Yankees ace making an unprecedented appearance as a reliever — to give Detroit a 3-0 lead in the top of the fifth inning.
Detroit starting pitcher Doug Fister, who stranded six Yankees base runners in the second through fourth innings, then surrendered Robinson Cano’s solo home run in the bottom of the fifth as Yankees narrowed the gap to 3-1.
The tension mounted as Yankees edged closer in the seventh inning when Tigers relief pitcher Joaquin Benoit walked Mark Teixeira with the bases loaded to let the Yankees close to 3-2.
Benoit then struck out Nick Swisher with a fastball to preserve the lead.
With two outs in the bottom of the eighth, New York’s Brett Gardner singled. Yankees star Derek Jeter then lofted a ball that Kelly caught just at the right-field wall for an out to end the inning.
“It was a gutsy win, especially with all the opportunities they had,” Kelly said.
He and Young had homered on the sixth and seventh pitches from Yankees starting pitcher Ivan Nova, the rookie who got the win for New York in game one of the series.
The homers were the first back-to-back post-season shots in Detroit’s history.
Valverde pitched the ninth for his second save of the series.
After Valverde struck out Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez to end the contest, he crouched on the mound and clenched his fists as his team-mates came out to celebrate.
“They made some huge pitches when they had to,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “Our guys played hard… obviously it’s a terrible day for us, but we got beat.”
Tigers manager Jim Leyland admitted that he never felt his team’s lead was safe against Yankees until it was over.
“The Yankees are so good that I would be lying if I said it didn’t give me a little extra satisfaction to be able to do it here in the fifth game,” Leyland said. “This will be a game I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
Detroit, who are seeking their first World Series title since 1984, send ace pitcher Justin Verlander to the mound for game one of the best-of-seven American League Championship Series at Texas on Saturday against the Rangers’ C.J. Wilson.
The winner of the series will play the National League champions in the World Series.
Rangers, trying to get back to the World Series after falling to San Francisco last year in Major League Baseball’s title showcase, defeated Tampa Bay Rays three games to one in their American League first-round series.