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Tigers 3, Yankees 2

Tigers reach ALCS

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / October 7, 2011

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NEW YORK - It came down to their best, to Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez, against a closer known for causing heart palpitations. It came down to the last out of their season, the final out of the American League Division Series, for the Yankees to erase a one-run deficit to the Tigers. It came down to A-Rod.

Doesn’t it always?

And Rodriguez, who had struck out swinging in the seventh inning with one out and the bases loaded, struck out swinging again, on a pitch from Jose Valverde, ending Detroit’s 3-2 victory in Game 5 at Yankee Stadium last night and sending the Tigers to the American League Championship Series.

“We’ve got a strong group of people here,’’ said Jorge Posada, who might have played his final game in a Yankee uniform. “It’s tough to be in this situation.

“Losing at home is tougher, and especially now. Thought we did everything possible to win the ballgame, but they pitched and they made the right pitches at the right time.’’

Things had seemed to be breaking New York’s way. The Yankees had gotten a win out of A.J. Burnett in Game 4 Tuesday, a game that everyone had wanted to give to the Tigers. But the Yankees won, on the road, returning the series to the Bronx.

That had to mean a Game 5 win, right? It had to mean that New York would move on to the ALCS against the Rangers. It didn’t.

“It’s terrible,’’ Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “As I said, we only accomplished one goal when the season ended. We had to fight like crazy to get there. It’s a really empty feeling. It’s an empty feeling for everyone in that room. And it hurts. You just got to remember this feeling and we’ll be determined next year.’’

The Yankees started this season with several question marks and figured out most of them. But it wasn’t enough.

“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,’’ Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “I don’t mean that disrespectfully, I mean that respectfully.

“It gave me a great thrill to be able to do it here in Yankee Stadium in Game 5. Unbelievable.’’

The Tigers hit back-to-back home runs with one out in the first inning, putting the Yankees and Ivan Nova in an immediate 2-0 hole. Don Kelly, in the lineup because of his hot bat, according to Leyland, took Nova deep to right field, followed by a Delmon Young homer to left.

The Yankees were hoping they would get out of Nova what they had gotten in Game 1 from the rookie, when he allowed just two runs in 6 1/3 innings after play was delayed a day by rain.

Instead, Nova was out after the second inning with tightness in his right forearm. That required Girardi to go to his bullpen for seven full innings, a risky proposition with the potential for another series beginning just two days later.

Girardi called upon Phil Hughes and Boone Logan and CC Sabathia and Rafael Soriano and David Robertson and Mariano Rivera. For Sabathia, it was the first relief appearance of his career.

“It’s very disappointing,’’ Derek Jeter said. “You play all year to get to this point, and we lost. It’s extremely disappointing.’’

The Tigers added another run in the fifth inning off Sabathia, as Victor Martinez singled home Austin Jackson with two outs.

New York got a run back in the bottom of the fifth, with Cano belting a home run to cut the deficit to 3-1. But that was all the Yankees would get off Doug Fister, who struggled in Game 1 but came back with five innings of one-run baseball.

Suddenly, though, the game seemed to turn in the seventh.

A bouncer by Cano skipped under the glove of reliever Joaquin Benoit - who earlier in the inning was forced to remove a Band-Aid on his face that Girardi called “distracting’’ - loading the bases with one out and putting Rodriguez in a huge spot.

But Rodriguez struck out swinging, drawing boos from the capacity crowd, leaving the inning to Mark Teixeira. The first baseman walked, pulling the Yankees within a run. Nick Swisher, though, struck out to end the inning.

With two outs in the eighth, Jeter took Benoit to the warning track in right field with Brett Gardner on base. The Yankees stood in their dugout, thinking it had a chance, thinking that could be the extension of their season. Then, it was in the glove of Kelly.

“Players aren’t going to make excuses, neither am I,’’ Girardi said. “The bottom line is we lost some really close games to them. We lost two one-run games and a two-run game. And as I said, a hit here and a hit there and it’s a different series.’’

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.

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