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Stellar pitching powers Tigers to sweep of Yankees in ALCS

The SportsXchange

DETROIT -- Built for the postseason, the Detroit Tigers are taking off in the playoffs after struggling to get there.

Detroit gained its first World Series berth since 2006 with an 8-1 victory Thursday that swept the punchless New York Yankees from the American League Championship Series in four games.

Tigers starter Max Scherzer took a no-hitter into the sixth inning, and Jhonny Peralta hit two of four Detroit home runs.

The Yankees were swept in a playoff for the first time since the Kansas City Royals knocked them out of the 1980 ALCS in three games.

Detroit will play the winner of the National League Championship Series between the San Francisco Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals when the World Series opens in the NL park Wednesday. St. Louis beat Detroit in the 2006 World Series after the Tigers had nearly a week's wait.

"We've got a plan in place that I didn't want to talk about because I didn't want to put the cart before the horse," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "I don't want to disclose it now, but I can assure you we won't be sitting around for five or six days waiting."

Scherzer struck out 10 batters in 5 2/3 innings to spotlight a brilliant turn through the rotation by Detroit pitchers. Phil Coke finished his third straight game with two innings of shutout, hitless relief after Leyland shelved closer Jose Valverde following two consecutive postseason meltdowns.

Tigers designated hitter Delmon Young, who batted .353 (6-for-17) with two homers and six RBI, was a unanimous selection as the series MVP.

"Our pitching carried us throughout the whole playoffs," Young said. "We didn't need to score five or six runs a game. With the zeros they were putting up, one or two runs was a lot."

New York scored in just three of 39 ALCS innings, forcing manager Joe Girardi to junk his regular lineup after only two games.

"There's a lot of good hitters in that room," Girardi said of his clubhouse, "and to be able to shut them all down is kind of surprising to me."

Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who finished 3-for-25 (.120) with 12 strikeouts in the playoffs, didn't start either of the last two games. He came off the bench Thursday to pinch-hit for Raul Ibanez against lefty Drew Smyly and flied to center. He later grounded to short.

"That's why I sent him up there," Girardi said, citing Rodriguez's good stats against lefties all year. "He's swung the bat off them pretty good all year long. Didn't happen."

Yankees center fielder Curtis Granderson, 3-for-30 (.100) with 16 postseason strikeouts, did not start the last game. He struck out as a pinch hitter.

New York right fielder Nick Swisher, 5-for-30 (.167) with 10 whiffs since the regular season ended, was not in the Game 3 starting lineup. His sixth-inning double drove in the Yankees' only run in Game 4.

Detroit pecked out single runs in the first and third innings off a struggling CC Sabathia, then exploded for four in the fourth on a pair of two-run home runs by Miguel Cabrera and Peralta.

However, it was the armed forces of the Detroit starters that kept New York from getting into the series. The Yankees hit 245 home runs during the regular season and three against the Tigers. Two came in the ninth inning of Game 1, by Ichiro Suzuki and Ibanez. The other, by Eduardo Nunez, came off Justin Verlander in the ninth inning of Game 3.

Doug Fister worked six scoreless innings in the first game, Anibal Sanchez allowed three hits in seven scoreless innings of the second game, Verlander didn't allow a run until Nunez's home run in Game 3, and Scherzer faced two batters over the minimum through five innings of Game 4 (a two-out error plus a walk in the third).

"A little luck, some pretty good pitching and a couple of hits at the right time," Leyland said. "Sometimes you get on a roll that's pretty good."

Nunez hit a hanging slider for his sixth-inning triple leading off the sixth Thursday. One out later, Swisher came through with an RBI double. Leyland removed Scherzer for Smyly after the starter walked Mark Teixeira with two outs.

Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson hit his first home run of the ALCS leading off the seventh to make it 7-1, and Peralta supplied his second home run of the game for an 8-1 lead in the eighth.

If there were a turning point in the series, it came in the first game, when New York rallied from a 4-0 deficit to tie in the ninth but couldn't close the deal in extra innings. Detroit rallied for two in the 12th to win 6-4. In the same game, the Yankees lost shortstop Derek Jeter to a broken ankle.

"The Yankees won't get any credit," Leyland said, "but in the first couple of games, we caught a couple breaks. Game 1 was huge. After we blew the save and came back and won the game, that was huge.

"In this game, we hit a little bit more like the Tigers."

Girardi could have started Sabathia on short rest Tuesday against Verlander, then had him available for a possible Game 7 on regular rest. He elected to have Phil Hughes go against Detroit's ace, have Sabathia work Wednesday and then come back on short rest if there were a Game 7.

Wednesday's rainout meant Sabathia was relegated to just one ALCS start, and he wasn't sharp from the start Thursday. He allowed six hits but only two runs through the first three innings, but it took him 73 pitches to get to the fourth.

Omar Infante singled with one out in the fourth, and Triple Crown winner Cabrera, who had been measuring Sabathia from his first at-bat, crushed an inside fastball for a home run and a 4-0 Detroit lead. It was only the fifth home run Cabrera has hit off a left-handed pitcher this year.

The Yankees pitched Cabrera inside in New York so he couldn't use his prodigious power to the opposite field and take advantage of the short Yankee Stadium right field. Sabathia's first pitch after Infante's single leaked a little over the plate, and Cabrera launched it deep to left.

Young followed with a ground single to left, and Peralta put a high breaking ball into the left field seats for a 6-0 Tigers lead.

Sabathia gave up three singles in the first, including an RBI liner to right by Young, enjoying his second straight strong postseason. A two-out error by Teixeira at first loaded the bases in the third inning, and rookie Avisail Garcia beat out a single up the middle to extend the lead to 2-0.

Sabathia wound up allowing six runs (five earned) in 3 2/3 innings. It was a stunning turnaround for the Yankees ace, who had a 1.53 ERA while beating the Oakland A's twice in the AL Division Series.

Getting to the World Series is great, Young said, "especially since my childhood dream was playing shortstop next to Chipper Jones, trying to beat the Yankees in the World Series."

NOTES: A team has run out to a 3-0 lead five times since the ALCS best-of-seven format debuted in 1985, including Detroit this year, and four of the series ended in sweeps. The 2004 Boston Red Sox were the only team to extend a series to five games, and they went on to win the World Series. ... Girardi tearfully thanked writers after the game "for my privacy with my father," who was buried Monday. ... The Yankees entered Thursday with a 2.25 team ERA in the postseason, their lowest since the 1961 team dispatched the Cincinnati Reds with a 1.60 team ERA. However, the seven earned runs they allowed in the finale raised their final postseason ERA to 2.76. ... The ceremonial first pitch was thrown out by former catcher Ivan Rodriguez, who started the franchise back from oblivion when he signed as a free agent following the 2003 season. "I came after the World Series with the (Florida) Marlins in 2003," he said. "That year was the year (the Tigers) lost 119. Everybody was telling me, 'Why did you come to Detroit?' I saw the talent. They tried to rebuild the team. When we were talking in the negotiations, (GM Dave Dombrowski) told me he was putting a winning team together. I signed, Magglio (Ordonez) signed. They got a trade for (Carlos) Guillen and then (Miguel) Cabrera. In 2006, we were in the World Series like they told me."
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