Facing reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, the Yankees knew the importance of making good on scoring opportunities.
So when a highlight-reel catch by centerfielder Ezequiel Carrera helped hold them to two runs in a third inning in which the Yankees loaded the bases with none out, it seemed like a moral victory for the Tigers.
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Who would have thought those two runs would be enough for the Yankees to beat Scherzer and the AL Central leaders?
Brandon McCarthy allowed only an unearned run in 52/3 innings and Matt Thornton, Adam Warren, Shawn Kelley and David Robertson threw 31/3 scoreless innings Monday night to close out a 2-1 victory. McCarthy is 4-0 with a 2.08 ERA as a Yankee. His new team's third straight win pulled them within a game of Toronto for the second wild card.
"I know this is a big series for us and I know the guys they're throwing at us,'' McCarthy said, referring to former Cy Young winners Scherzer, David Price and Justin Verlander. "I took that as a challenge for me.''
And the bullpen made the lead stand up. "These guys, we've asked a lot of them, and they've given us a lot,'' Joe Girardi said. "Whenever we have a lead, I like our chances.''
The Yankees were without Mark Teixeira, a late scratch because of a sudden bout of lightheadedness. That made every potential scoring opportunity all the more important.
When they loaded the bases on singles by Ichiro Suzuki, Brett Gardner and Derek Jeter with none out in the third and Jacoby Ellsbury ripped a ball toward the gap in left-center, it was easy to envision three runs scoring.
Carrera, however, had other ideas. He sprinted toward the wall and laid out for it at the last second. With his right arm fully extended, he caught the ball in the heel of his glove in mid-air and, even though he didn't have it fully secured, held on despite landing hard on his right knee and then his stomach on the edge of the warning track.
It drew a "wow!'' from Jeter. "It was a spectacular catch,'' Ellsbury said. "I don't know if I've seen a better catch this year than that one.''
Ichiro tagged up and scored, but the Tigers were happy to trade the out for the run, given the alternative. Ellsbury would have had at least a three-run triple. "Probably would have broke open the game,'' he said.
He was so shocked that his drive had been caught that before entering the dugout, he stopped to watch the replay on the video screen (Carrera watched it, too). Ellsbury had a look of disbelief, perhaps because it was the second time in four days he had been robbed of an extra-base hit. On Friday night in Boston, centerfielder Mookie Betts made a leaping, sprawling grab that was the difference in the Yankees' 4-3 loss.
Brian McCann's two-out single made it 2-0 later in the third. Those were the only runs off Scherzer (13-4) in seven innings.
Losing Teixeira about an hour before the game resulted in Chase Headley's first career start at first. Ichiro wasn't supposed to start, but he went to rightfield so Martin Prado could play third for Headley.
Prado's throwing error in the fifth helped cut the lead to 2-1. With one out, Eugenio Suarez reached on the error and stole second (hurting his left knee). Pinch runner Andrew Romine scored on Ian Kinsler's single.
But the Yankees never allowed the Tigers to reach third base again, let alone score.