DETROIT — Derek Lowe showered and dressed quickly and stood in the hallway of the visitors’ clubhouse at Comerica Park, a living symbol of hope and possibility.
Wasn’t it Lowe who started Game 4 of the 2004 American League Championship Series against the Yankees, a game that changed the course of history in the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry?
And wasn’t it Lowe who started and won Game 7 of the same series, making the Red Sox the only baseball team to comeback from an 0-3 deficit?
This is what it has come to for the Yankees, who find themselves on the verge of being swept in a best-of-seven series for the first time since losing four straight to Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine in the 1976 World Series. After drastic lineup changes, blown umpiring calls and a third straight loss, this one a 2-1 defeat, to the Detroit Tigers in the American League Championship Series, their plight is so desperate, so bleak, that they may need to look to a former Red Sox as proof that they still have hope.
But they also know they send their best chance to the mound Wednesday in C. C. Sabathia. Sabathia is coming off a complete game gem in Game 5 of the division series, and other than Raul Ibanez, he seems to be the only Yankee capable of willing this team to victory.
“We’ve gotten good pitching all the way throughout the playoffs,” Manager Joe Girardi said, “and we will need it again tomorrow if we want to live another day.”
Sabathia will face the Tigers’ Max Scherzer in Game 4 on Wednesday, but what the lineup backing Sabathia will look like is anyone’s guess.
Tuesday, in the most drastic shake-up of his managerial career, Girardi shuffled his lineup in search for more offense, benching Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher and replacing them with Eric Chavez and Brett Gardner. They combined to go 0 for 7 and Chavez made the error that led to the second run.
In a less dramatic, but more effective substitution, Girardi used Eduardo Nunez at shortstop instead of Jayson Nix, and Nunez spoiled Justin Verlander’s bid for a shutout with his ninth-inning home run.
But Verlander was still superb, continuing his run of postseason dominance with another terrific performance to go to 3-0 this postseason. He shut out the feeble hitting Yankees for eight innings until Nunez led off the ninth with a line drive over the left-field wall.
Verlander got one more out in the inning and then Phil Coke was summoned to finish it off. But not until the Yankees managed to put two runners on base, including Robinson Cano, who ended a single postseason record 0-for-29 streak, with a single.
His hit brought Ibanez, who three times this postseason has hit a homer to tie or win a game, to the plate. But Coke struck him out on a 3-2 pitch to end the game.
The Yankees managed only three hits off Verlander and have now scored only 21 runs in eight postseason games, a rather surprising figure for a team that lead baseball with 804 runs.
“Very surprised,” Mark Teixeira said. “Every now and then you expect to have a little rut, but this is too long for us.”
Nunez’s improbable home run ended a streak of 20 consecutive innings in which the Yankees failed to score a run, tying a club record from the 2000 playoffs.
Verlander threw 132 pitches and came out with one out in the ninth. Coke came on and got Ichiro Suzuki to ground out, but gave up a single to Teixeira. Nix came in to run for Teixeira, and went to second on Cano’s single to left. But this time, Ibanez could not get the hit, and the Yankees offensive woes continued.
Girardi tried hard to shake it up. All season, when one of his players struggled at the plate, Girardi would defend his decision to stick with them by insisting they would come around because they always had in the past.
But here in the middle of October with the season on the line, Girardi’s words of faith were trumped by his tactics. For the second time this postseason, he benched Rodriguez in a lineup shuffle that had the look and feel of desperation.
Rodriguez has $114 million guaranteed over the next five years and this series of demotions could have long-term ramifications for Rodriguez and his relationship with Girardi and the Yankees.
“Of course that’s something that you have to worry about,” Girardi said before the game. “But I don’t think you can worry about it today. Relationships go through their ups and downs, no matter who they are, and you have a chance to rebuild them.”
There is less concern over Swisher, who could leave the team as a free agent after the season. Rodriguez did not speak to reporters after the game, but Swisher lent his support to Girardi.
“Obviously you want to be in the lineup, but I can’t fault him,” Swisher said. “You have to back his decision.”
Gardner had not started a game since April 17, when he injured his right elbow. He was in left field and leading off. Suzuki was batting second and playing right field, Chavez was at third base in place of Rodriguez, and Nunez was at shortstop in place of Nix, who started Game 2 in place of the injured Derek Jeter.
Girardi said he did not know what his lineup for Game 4 would be until Wednesday. He can take comfort though, in writing Sabathia’s name at the bottom. He might want to consider using Lowe, too.
Then again, Lowe grew up in nearby Dearborn, as a Tigers fan.