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Game 2's bullet dodged, Tigers aren't crumbling to mighty Yankees


NEW YORK -- This Tigers-Yankees series is just getting good.

And now Jose Valverde tells us it's over.

"Oh yeah," the Tiger closer said late Sunday afternoon. "It's over already."

It's tied at one win apiece. The Tigers just had to survive an eventful Valverde ninth inning -- and a game-on-the-line Robinson Cano at-bat -- to get their 5-3 win in Game 2.

ALDS: Tigers at Yankees
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We finally get the Justin Verlander-CC Sabathia matchup on Monday night in Detroit. We've got A.J. Burnett to come. More Cano at-bats. More Miguel Cabrera at-bats. The revival of Magglio Ordonez. Curtis Granderson's return to Comerica Park.

And it's over?

"Verlander has it [Monday]," Valverde said. "Next day, have the celebration in Detroit -- 100 percent. The Yankees have a good team, but I think that's it for them."

You should know that Valverde was smiling as he said all this. You should know that when he finished his "it's over" speech for the first wave of reporters, he said, "I'm joking, guys."

But you should also know that when teammate Phil Coke turned to him and said, "You know they're writing this?" Valverde shrugged.

"What's the deal?" he said. "I want it over, because I want my team to go to the second round."

Is he serious? As serious as he ever is, which means half-serious and 100 percent enjoying having people notice him.

Remember, this is the closer who angers (and inspires) opponents with elaborate dance moves after strikeouts and saves.

He's also the closer who went 49-for-49 in save situations this year, and the one who shook off seeing a potential game-ending pop fly drop because Brandon Inge didn't see it and Alex Avila slipped on a wet on-deck circle mat.

At that point, Yankee Stadium was rocking. A Yankees comeback win was in the cards, a win that really would have had this series over.

This was where the Twins always crumbled against the Yankees in the playoffs.

"I don't think [Valverde] even noticed," Avila said. "He was kind of oblivious to the whole scene -- men on base, game on the line."

After the year Valverde has had, the Tigers believe in him ("I assume he's going to win every game," Inge said), but he made this one interesting even before opening his mouth.

The dropped foul pop-up came with Granderson at the plate, and Valverde ended up walking him. That put the tying runs at first and second for Robinson Cano, the Yankees' most dangerous hitter -- with A-Rod, the Yankees' most struggling hitter, on deck.

Tiger manager Jim Leyland considered an intentional walk.

"You know what, I thought about it," Leyland said. "But that other guy [Rodriguez] has been known for the dramatics, and I figured it's wet, it's slippery, one gets away, one run is in ... I just couldn't do it."

He didn't do it, Valverde got Cano on a game-ending ground ball, and A-Rod (0-for-8 in the series, 1-for-22 career against the Tigers in the playoffs) was spared potentially more Yankee Stadium boos -- for now.

And the rest of us get what still could be a fascinating series.

Verlander vs. Sabathia, the Game 1 matchup that was ruined by the rain, is now the Game 3 matchup that really could decide who advances. If Verlander wins that, then the Yankees put their season in the hands of Burnett, the guy they least want to start an important game at this time of year.

Meanwhile, there's the Cano/Cabrera dynamic. They're the two guys you go into a series saying "don't let him beat you," but already Cano has beaten the Tigers once and Cabrera has done as much to the Yankees.

Sunday, when everyone in the Tiger dugout expected Cabrera not to see a strike with two out and one on in the first, Freddy Garcia threw him a strike that ended up in the right-field seats for a two-run home run. Then in the sixth, with men on first and third and one out, Garcia threw Cabrera another strike, which ended up in center field as an RBI single, making it a 3-0 game.

By game's end, Inge was ready to anoint Cabrera as the best Tiger ever.

"Obviously, he's the best I've played with," said Inge, a Tiger since 2001. "He might be one of the best ones ever. You could make a case that he'll be the best Tiger ever by the time he's done. He might be already.

"Sorry, Al Kaline."

Hey, the Tigers are excited. They won a game. You can understand that.

They're excited. If the pressure wasn't all on the Yankees when this series began, it sure is now.

I'm excited too, but for a very different reason. I'm excited, because we have one heck of a series developing here.

Except that Jose Valverde just said it's over.


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