The Detroit Tigers got a big boost from Anibal Sanchez's arm. They got a helping hand from an umpire, too.
The reward: a commanding 2-0 lead in the AL championship series, and a trip home with their ace ready to start.
Sanchez shut down a Yankees lineup minus injured Derek Jeter, Detroit scored twice after an admitted missed call by an ump and won without any extra-inning drama, beating New York 3-0 Sunday.
"He was terrific," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "This is a tough place to pitch with a tough lineup and a short porch. And a whole bunch of left-handed hitters, it is not easy. That was quite a feat."
New York starter Hiroki Kuroda pitched perfect ball into the sixth inning to keep pace with Sanchez. But Robinson Cano and the slumping Yankees hitters were no match for the 28-year-old right-hander a day after its captain broke his ankle in the 12th inning of a 6-4 loss.
"I try to think backwards," Sanchez said. "If the count calls for a fastball, I throw a different pitch. If the count calls for a different pitch, I throw a fastball. I try to mix my speeds."
To get out of a jam in the first inning, he thought backward, all right: try reaching around his back to snare a grounder for the final out.
Making his second postseason start, Sanchez threw three-hit ball deep into the game to make Leyland's job easier. Closer Jose Valverde gave up four runs in the ninth Saturday and, only hours later, Leyland said the righty wouldn't close Game 2.
Delmon Young gave Sanchez his first run of support in these playoffs with a fielder's choice in the seventh. The Tigers then scored twice in the eighth after second base umpire Jeff Nelson missed a call on a two-out tag at second base. Yankees manager Joe Girardi argued, and was ejected on his 48th birthday.
"The hand did not get in before the tag," Nelson said after seeing a replay. "The call was incorrect."
Game 3 in the best-of-seven series is Tuesday night in Detroit, with reigning AL MVP Justin Verlander starting for the Tigers against Phil Hughes. Verlander went 2-0 in the division series versus Oakland, including a four-hit shutout with 11 strikeouts in the decisive Game 5.
The Tigers led 1-0 in the eighth and had Omar Infante on first with two outs. Austin Jackson singled and when Infante took a wide turn at second, right fielder Nick Swisher threw behind him.
Cano made a swipe tag as Infante made a head-first dive back to second. Cano missed Infante's arm but brushed his body, replays clearly showed. But Nelson called Infante safe.
"I think the umpire got confused 'cause he saw my hand, something with my hand made him think I was safe," Infante said.
Was he out?
"Of course," Infante said.
Cano and Girardi pleaded the call to no avail. Boone Logan replaced Kuroda and gave up an RBI single to pinch hitter Avisail Garcia to make it 2-0.
"It's frustrating. I don't have a problem with Jeff's effort, I don't, because he hustled to get to the play. But in this day and age when we have instant replay available to us, it's got to change," Girardi said.
"These guys are under tremendous amounts of pressure. It is a tough call for him because the tag is underneath and it's hard for him to see. And it takes more time to argue and get upset than you get the call right. Too much is at stake," he said.
Girardi returned to lift Logan for Joba Chamberlain, and then he remained on the field to resume the argument. Red-faced with neck muscles bulging, Girardi could be seen shouting at Nelson, "You were right there. How could you miss it?" He was tossed by Nelson for his first postseason ejection.
Miguel Cabrera added a run-scoring single after the ejection.
Cano had no luck at the plate, either. The All-Star's slump extended to a record 26 hitless at-bats in a single postseason, breaking the mark of 24 set by Baltimore's Bobby Bonilla in 1996, STATS LLC said.
"I feel good at the plate," Cano said. "So, all I can do is stay positive and play good Tuesday."
There were many empty seats near the foul poles, and a subdued crowd spent much of the day venting its frustration, booing the punchless Yankees. The 47,082 in attendance reserved its biggest cheers early for Jeter, who broke his ankle in the last inning of the Game 1 loss.
"I don't know what's going on here, it seems like something is going on here," Tigers reliever Octavio Dotel said. "I mean, I don't want to wake them, I don't want them to get loud. I don't know what's going on but I like it."
The "Bleacher Creatures" included the captain in their roll call and fans let out a modest cheer pregame when Jeter was shown in video thanking fans on the scoreboard.
While the Yankees are headed to Detroit for what they hope will be three games, their captain will fly to Charlotte, N.C., to visit a foot specialist.
Jhonny Peralta singled in the sixth for the Tigers' first baserunner against Kuroda, who was pitching on short rest for the first time in his big league career. Delmon Young then gave Detroit the lead with a forceout grounder in the seventh, a night after putting the Tigers ahead in the 12th inning with a double.
Sanchez has had quite the success in the Bronx. He made his big league debut at the old Yankee Stadium when it was across the street, and pitched 5 2-3 shutout innings for Marlins in 2006. The only player to notch two hits against him in that game was Jeter.
Pitching for the first time in this 4-year-old ballpark — and in front of his parents — Sanchez limited the slumping Yankees to just three hits and three walks, one an intentional pass to Raul Ibanez.
When Ichiro Suzuki reached on Sanchez's fielding error to open the sixth and advanced to third with two outs, Peralta was there to bail out his pitcher with another nifty play, bare-handing a slow grounder for the third out.
Leyland took Valverde out of consideration for the closer role on Sunday. Valverde gave up a pair of two-run homers in the ninth inning Saturday night and also blew a save in the division series.
Former Yankees reliever Phil Coke pitched two innings for the save.
"Jose Valverde will be an important part of this club in this playoff or we are going to have a real tough time," Leyland said. "I just hope that the people back home are, like I said, not too short-minded because this guy has been fantastic, and is an important piece in the scenario, in my opinion."
Kuroda did all he could to help keep it close for the Yankees' anemic offense.
Curtis Granderson went 0 for 3 with three strikeouts and a walk and Alex Rodriguez singled in the ninth for his third hit of the postseason and finished 1 for 4. A-Rod is 0 for 18 with 12 Ks against right-handed pitchers in these playoffs. When he lined out to left field in the seventh fans gave a mock cheer.
"We've been through stretches like this all year," Rodriguez said. "It's been a very volatile stock market for us this year."
Cards 6, Giants 4
SAN FRANCISCO -- Ahead by a lot or behind by a bunch, these St. Louis Cardinals are winning every which way.
Boosted by two-run homers from proven postseason stars Carlos Beltran and David Freese, and 5 1-3 innings from a steady bullpen, these wild, wild-card Cardinals beat the San Francisco Giants 6-4 on Sunday night in Game 1 of the NL championship series.
The defending World Series champions built an early 6-0 cushion and held on. Only two nights earlier, the Cardinals came back from the same deficit, using a four-run rally in the ninth inning at Washington in the deciding Game 5 of the division series.
"I'm thinking about the D.C. game," Freese said. "They were up 6-0. We were up 6-0. And that shows that you've got to keep playing. ... We were fortunate enough that our bullpen came in and closed the door the rest of the way."
Starter Lance Lynn was done after 3 2-3 innings. Edward Mujica, the fifth St. Louis pitcher, struck out the side in order in the seventh for the win. Jason Motte finished for his second save of the postseason.
The Cardinals gave first-year manager Mike Matheny a win against his former club.
Matheny's crew hardly looked road weary after a cross-country trip. The Giants dropped to 0-3 at home so far during these playoffs, outscored 20-6 at AT&T Park.
Game 2 in the best-of-seven series is Monday night. Chris Carpenter pitches for the Cardinals against Ryan Vogelsong.
This is the first time the previous two World Series winners are facing off in the postseason since the 1958 World Series between the Braves and Yankees.
"The way we play the game, we have been in this type of situation before in the regular season," Beltran said. "These guys have this mentality of not panicking."
Beltran's fourth-inning drive into the seats in left-center chased San Francisco starter Madison Bumgarner, who has been a far cry from the impressive pitcher he was during the 2010 World Series run.
It was Beltran's 14th career postseason home run and third this October.
"Right now I'm really enjoying myself," Beltran said. "Right now I'm seeing the ball well. I feel like I have a good approach at the plate, I feel like I'm not trying to do too much, and good things are happening."
Beltran spent the second half of the 2011 season with San Francisco after a trade from the Mets, but the Giants missed the playoffs last fall a year after the capturing an improbable championship. The orange towel-waving sellout crowd of 42,534 let him have it with boos at every opportunity — during pregame introductions and each time he stepped into the batter's box.
Both teams were well rested a day after a rough night of travel. The Giants barely beat the Cardinals to the Bay Area early Saturday after they were delayed three hours on the tarmac in Cincinnati on Friday night — to refuel and for a mechanical problem after waiting out the Cardinals-Nationals game to know where they were headed next.
Matheny stuck with the same winning lineup that he sent out for Game 5, and some of the same faces came through again.
"They put together some better at-bats than us," Giants center fielder Angel Pagan said. "They hit some homers and were up 6-0. That's a pretty good lead in the playoffs. We tried to battle back. We did our best but it wasn't our night."
Daniel Descalso, who hit a tying, two-out single in Friday's 9-7 win, added two more hits.
Descalso hit a one-out double in the fourth, then rookie Pete Kozma drove him home with a double of his own. In the ninth inning Friday, Kozma followed Descalso with a go-ahead, two-run single.
Descalso did well playing in his native Northern California. He spends his offseasons in San Francisco's Marina district.
Beltran and Freese each had two strikes when they homered.
"I think that's been very much of a strong suit for us all season," Matheny said. "And it's a beautiful thing when these guys trust themselves when they get to two strikes. They can be a little more selective early in the count and then they're not going to panic when we do get to two strikes. I give the guys a lot of credit."
St. Louis 18-game winner Lynn didn't allow a hit until Marco Scutaro's single to left leading off the fourth. Hunter Pence singled two outs later and Brandon Belt drove him home with a single. Gregor Blanco followed with a two-run triple, then Brandon Crawford hit an RBI double. Pinch hitter Aubrey Huff — a 2010 postseason star now in a diminished role — drew a walk to cheers of "Aubrey! Aubrey!"
And, just like that, Lynn was done.
"The bullpen did a great job," catcher Yadier Molina said. "We struck first, and to hold that lead, we won with the bullpen."
Bumgarner and Lynn each lasted only 3 2-3 innings. That made for a long night in both bullpens.
The pressure is now on for the Giants not to fall behind 2-0 at home again. They lost the first two games of their division series here to the Reds last weekend before winning three in a row at Cincinnati. They went 48-33 at AT&T Park this season.
"We've shown how resilient we can be," manager Bruce Bochy said. "We hate to lose them at home, but it happens. And we've got to wash this one off and come out and be ready to go tomorrow."
Bumgarner, a 16-game winner for the NL West champs, lost Game 2 of the division series at home to the Reds exactly a week earlier.
He pitched a 1-2-3 first on Sunday but ran into trouble in the second when Molina singled on an 0-2 pitch with one out. Freese then drove a 3-2 pitch over the wall in left-center to give the Cardinals a 2-0 lead.
Bumgarner needed 30 pitches to get through the second, and now has an 11.25 ERA in his two postseason starts this year.
Lynn returned to the rotation for the NLCS and his first career postseason start after making four relief appearances in the division series. Matheny needed another starter after left-hander Jaime Garcia injured his left shoulder in Game 2 against the Nationals.
"Right now we feel like everyone's feeding off each other," reliever Joe Kelly said. "If one guy does something, you want to go out and match it and try to keep that momentum going. It shows the confidence that Mike has in this bullpen. It makes us want to play better for him. He hands the ball off and he knows what he's doing."