DETROIT -- The Yankees knew they were facing a tall order with Justin Verlander standing 60 feet and six inches away. It's nothing compared to the mountain they'll now have to climb to keep their season alive.
Verlander blanked the Yankees into the ninth inning and finished two outs shy of a complete game before a late rally fizzled, pushing New York to the brink of elimination with a 2-1 loss to the Tigers on Tuesday in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series.
"You don't want to be in this situation," said second baseman Robinson Cano. "All we can do is not put our heads down and just prepare ourselves for tomorrow. It's not over yet."
THREE AND OUT?
|1922||World Series||Giants||Swept, 4-0|
|1963||World Series||Dodgers||Swept, 4-0|
|1976||World Series||Reds||Swept, 4-0|
The Tigers hold a commanding 3-0 lead in the ALCS and can turn out the lights on the Yankees' season Wednesday, when New York left-hander CC Sabathia and Detroit right-hander Max Scherzer face off in an 8:07 p.m. ET start at Comerica Park.
Three of the four previous clubs to wield a 3-0 advantage in the ALCS advanced to the World Series. The only team that did not, of course, was the 2004 Yankees, who collapsed to a Red Sox club that was reversing its 86-year-old Fall Classic curse.
"It's great to be up 3-0," Verlander said. "We have to win one, but against this team, you never know. Every game in the postseason is a must-win. You have to keep momentum on your side."
The Yankees juggled their lineup for Game 3 in what manager Joe Girardi insisted was not a panic move, benching Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher while choosing Eduardo Nunez to serve as the injured Derek Jeter's replacement at shortstop.
Through eight innings, with Verlander limiting the Yankees to two Ichiro Suzuki singles, the shuffles meant little. Nunez made things interesting in the ninth, waging a nine-pitch battle against Verlander that ended with a hanging curveball flying over the left-field fence.
"I think he made great pitches all game, but I think he missed a little bit up in the top of the ninth," Nunez said.
The shot marked the Yankees' first run scored since its four-run rally against Jose Valverde in the ninth inning of Game 1 of the ALCS, a 20-inning drought. Verlander stayed in to retire Brett Gardner, but pitch No. 132 would be his last.
"Normally, I guess you don't take Secretariat out in the final furlong, but that was pretty much it for him," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "I was not going to let him face Ichiro."
Former Yankee Phil Coke put Ichiro away, but Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano followed with singles; Cano's hit breaking an 0-for-29 skid that set a Major League record for futility in a single postseason.
"I wasn't thinking about that," Cano said. "You just have to do what you have to do to get on base, especially when you want to keep the inning alive."
If there was a chance to turn the ALCS around, the Yankees liked their chances with Raul Ibanez, who knows a thing or two about slugging crucial ninth-inning home runs. But there was no magic left for this night; Ibanez waved at a Coke curveball to end the game.
"It's definitely disappointing, but at the same time, it is what it is," Ibanez said. "You've got to fight. You have no choice but to fight all the way back."
Who knows what might have been if their offense had been anything close to the run-producing juggernaut it was during the regular season?
New York's pitching staff has been superb in the postseason, and even with starter Phil Hughes bowing out of Game 3 early with a stiff back, the Yankees managed to hold Detroit's potent lineup down.
"You look at this and it could be a number of different things besides 0-3 for us," Girardi said. "We have gotten good pitching all the way throughout the playoffs, and we'll need it again tomorrow if we want to live another day."
Hughes served up a solo fourth-inning Delmon Young homer and issued a walk to Andy Dirks before getting ahead of Jhonny Peralta with an 0-2 count, barking in pain as he delivered what would be his 61st and final pitch of the evening.
"I wanted to stay in. It wasn't so bad that I couldn't have pitched," Hughes said. "But the way things were going, with the circumstances of this game and how important it was, Joe and [pitching coach] Larry [Rothschild] didn't want to take any chances."
David Phelps allowed an unearned fifth-inning run on Miguel Cabrera's booming double that froze center fielder Curtis Granderson, scoring Quintin Berry after he reached on an Eric Chavez error.
"I felt like I had a read, but it just ended up going away from me and going towards the gap," Granderson said.
That was all Detroit managed, as Clay Rapada, Cody Eppley, Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain followed by pitching scoreless ball. The Tigers left 10 men on base, but with the Yankees' offense continuing to falter, a two-run lead felt like much more.
"It's frustrating because our pitching has been great," Gardner said. "It's not like we're losing 12-4 or anything like that. They're giving us a real good chance to win and we're just not getting the job done."
This is only the fifth time the Yankees have fallen behind 0-3 in a postseason series, having also done so in the 1922 World Series against the Giants, the 1963 World Series against the Dodgers, the 1976 World Series against the Reds and the best-of-five 1980 ALCS against the Royals.
None of those seasons worked out in the Yankees' favor, and unless there are answers immediately discovered in the bat rack, the Bombers' 2012 campaign also appears destined to fall short of its ultimate goal.
"Well, we're going to fight," Teixeira said. "Things haven't been going our way, there's no doubt about that, but everybody in here wants to win. We've worked so long; we've worked too hard for this."