NEW YORK -- For a brief while, America got its Tigers-Yankees pitching duel after all. Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia just weren't involved in it.
The duel, however, didn't last long enough for Detroit. By the time Robinson Cano's sixth-inning grand slam powered the Yankees out of the Tigers' reach for a 9-3 Detroit loss in Game 1 of the American League Division Series, Doug Fister's gem was statistically a distant memory. Yet it was a game that seemed tantalizingly close for the Tigers to take for the first five innings.
They can look at their 2006 Division Series and an opening thumping from the Yankees as an example that Game 1 doesn't determine everything. The Tigers won seven straight after that to reach the World Series. But just four Tigers on this roster were part of that team. They'll take more solace in how close this game was.
It was close enough that Alex Avila thought a hesitation at second base might have cost him the extra step that might have gotten him home with the go-ahead run. It was also close enough that he felt two pitches turned it after that.
"We made two mistakes in the game: The breaking ball, the hanger, to [Brett] Gardner [for a two-run single], and the hanger to Cano [for the grand slam]," Avila said. "That was the ballgame right there."
The hit from Gardner, manager Jim Leyland felt, was the one mistake Fister made. The swing that followed left the pitcher with his first loss since Aug. 14, and more earned runs than he suffered in his eight games since then.
Nearly 24 hours after Verlander and Sabathia threw their final pitches in Game 1, Fister and Ivan Nova literally picked up where they left off and mowed down opposing hitters. But once Cano's RBI double off the top of the left-field fence pulled New York ahead, the spell Fister had on the Bronx Bombers appeared to vanish. So did the chances Detroit had to pull ahead and steal a game on the road.
"Alex and I were trying to keep them off-balance," Fister said. "They just kept attacking. We tried doing our best to mix them up and put the balls in the right location. I missed my location on a few of them, and obviously they made me pay."
Fister denied the Yankees a chance in his first inning -- the game's second -- once the game resumed from Friday night's rain-forced suspension, stranding runners at second and third with back-to-back strikeouts of Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson. From there, he found his rhythm on a cool New York night: 11 consecutive outs, five on swinging strikeouts, and only one ball hit out of the infield.
Fister had a fastball that was darting in on right-handed hitters and off the corner on lefties, and he threw it time and again early.
"I wouldn't necessarily say we got to him," Jeter said. "He was outstanding. I don't think he threw any balls over the middle of the plate, with the exception of Robbie [Cano's RBI double]. We really didn't hit too many balls hard. I wouldn't necessarily say we had success against him. We were fortunate."
Nova, whom the Tigers didn't see in either of their two regular-season series with the Yankees, did his best to match Fister, retiring the first seven Tigers he faced and fulfilling Leyland's fear that their unfamiliarity with the rookie right-hander would hamper them. Once Avila drew a one-out walk in the fifth, though, Detroit nearly broke through with back-to-back singles from Ryan Raburn and Jhonny Peralta.
Once Raburn sent his line drive through the middle, third-base coach Gene Lamont sent Avila home, challenging former Tigers center fielder Granderson to make a play. Jeter's pivot and catcher Russell Martin's tag provided the play the Yankees needed.
"Knowing that Granderson's a good outfielder, but he doesn't have the best of arms, knowing a lot of times if you get a good jump you can score on base hits to center -- if I would've probably gone right off the bat, I probably would've made it without a play," Avila said. "But having hesitated a little bit to make sure he didn't catch it, it made it a lot closer. Then Jeter relayed it and made a perfect throw."
Said Miguel Cabrera: "That was the difference in the game. If we score that run, we go into the lead right there, but they made some plays."
Granderson's one-out single in the bottom of the inning ended Fister's streak at 11 straight outs. Starting with him, seven of Fister's final 10 batters reached base safely. Cano was the next, barely missing a home run with his shot off the top of the fence. Granderson was the last, working out of an 0-2 hole to draw a walk that loaded the bases following Gardner's two-run single and Jeter's hit-and-run grounder through an open right side while Raburn covered second.
"I thought he pitched very, very well," Leyland said. "The numbers won't look like that, obviously."
At that point, Fister had a 4-1 deficit, but the bases-loaded jam. Leyland turned to his high-strikeout rookie, Al Alburquerque, to face Cano. Alburquerque had allowed just three of 31 inherited runners to score in the regular season, and he hadn't allowed a home run in his 43 1/3-inning Major League career.
Once the reliever's 0-1 slider hung on the inner half of the plate, Cano matched that total.
"Normally, it goes straight down," Avila said of the slider. "That one didn't really do anything. Tough spot for him to come in, but he's got the stuff to be able to get guys out there, and he will. It's part of the game."
By then, the momentum had swung. Austin Jackson led off the top of the inning with a walk out of an 0-2 count, but he was helpless on a hit-and-run play after Magglio Ordonez's sharp grounder went straight to Cano to start a double play. Nick Swisher made a sliding catch for an inning-ending out on Delmon Young, whose first-inning home run Friday night before the rain stood as Detroit's lone run until a two-run ninth.
"We played hard," Raburn said. "We battled. Just a matter of a couple hits that got them rolling. Just got too big a lead and we just couldn't battle back."