DETROIT — The legend of Justin Verlander keeps growing as Detroit's postseason rolls on.
The Tigers' ace put on a masterful performance Tuesday night at Comerica Park, leading Detroit to a 2-1 victory over the New York Yankees and putting them one win away from the World Series.
"It's great to be up 3-0, but against this lineup, against this team, you never know," Verlander said. "Never take anything for granted in this postseason. We've seen some crazy games."
Max Scherzer faces CC Sabathia on Wednesday night in the possible clincher.
Verlander threw 132 pitches before being pulled with one out in the ninth, having allowed one run on a ninth-inning home run by Eduardo Nunez. Tigers Manager Jim Leyland left closer Jose Valverde on the bench again, turning to left-hander Phil Coke for the second straight night.
Leyland almost left Verlander in until the end, before Nunez's homer forced him to shift gears.
"You don't take Secretariat out in the final furlong," Leyland said. "But that was it for him."
"That's what managers are for, to stop us from doing those types of things," Verlander said. "I'm thankful I have a manager that will let me go out there that long."
Leyland went to the mound and asked Verlander if he had one more batter. Verlander replied "absolutely," so Leyland quickly turned around and left. Verlander retired Brett Gardner on a grounder, before leaving to a huge ovation from the raucous crowd of 42,970.
Coke gave up two-out singles to Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano, then struck out Raul Ibanez on a 3-2 breaking ball to end it.
Asked about his Game 4 closer, Leyland said Coke wouldn't be available and he would "play it by ear."
The Yankees got a strong performance from their bullpen after Phil Hughes left because of a stiff back in the fourth inning, but Verlander wasn't about to be denied.
"You look at this, and it could be a number of different things besides 0-3 for us," Yankees Manager Joe Girardi said.
The Tigers' late-season run to the Central Division title was fueled by their four power pitchers, and Verlander, Scherzer, Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez probably would make Detroit the favorite in a World Series matchup against either St. Louis or San Francisco.
As soon as the Tigers scored a run, on Delmon Young's line-drive home run off Hughes in the fourth, the towel-waving crowd in Motown figured the game was all but over.
After two pitches to the next batter, Hughes was removed with the stiff back, forcing Girardi to start mixing and matching his bullpen early.
With David Phelps on the mound in the fifth, the Yankees' porous defense led to another run. Eric Chavez, starting at third base in place of Alex Rodriguez, booted a routine grounder for an error. Then Curtis Granderson then took a curious route on Miguel Cabrera's liner to right center, watching it get by him for an RBI double.
The Yankees are batting .182 in the series, and Girardi benched Rodriguez and Nick Swisher in Game 3.
What else can Girardi do?
"I can't hit, if that's what you're asking," he said. "I wouldn't want to face Verlander, not at my age."
But it doesn't seem to matter whom the Tigers are facing these days. Other than Valverde's four-run ninth-inning meltdown in Game 1, the Tigers' pitchers have been untouchable, allowing one run in 29 innings — putting on the kind of show that usually leads to a postseason parade.