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October 16, 2012

Dropping the hammer

DETROIT — There were times this year when Justin Verlander took the mound while his team was reeling a bit — and the right-hander’s presence was Detroit’s best shot at snapping out of a momentary funk.

Now, the hard-throwing ace is in a different situation. Led by Verlander, the Tigers’ rotation has been absolutely terrific this postseason, and his job is simply to keep this remarkable run going against the slumping New York Yankees.

“I think pitching, much like hitting, is contagious,” Verlander said. “Guys go out there night in and night out and see guys have a good game, and the next day he wants to have a good game, so on and so forth. And I think that’s what we are feeding on right now.”

The Tigers won the first two games of the AL championship series in New York, holding the Yankees scoreless except for one brief uprising against closer-in-limbo Jose Valverde. With the exception of Valverde, no Detroit pitcher has allowed an earned run since Game 3 of the division series against Oakland.

Verlander takes the mound tonight in Game 3 of the ALCS. The reigning AL MVP won both his starts against the A’s, throwing a shutout in the decisive fifth game.

“As a rotation, right now things are going well,” Verlander said during Monday’s off-day. “It is nice to see us get rolling as a group, and hopefully we can continue it through the World Series.”

Detroit’s starters have posted an 0.94 ERA in the playoffs this year. The postseason record for a starting staff pitching at least seven games is 1.05, set by the 1920 Cleveland Indians, according to STATS LLC.

Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez are off to that type of start this year.

Detroit’s pitching display has gone hand in hand with New York’s horrendous slump. Derek Jeter is out for the year after breaking an ankle in Game 1 of this series, and the Yankees desperately need their other stars to start hitting. Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher are a combined 12 for 107 — for a .112 batting average — in the playoffs.

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