CC Sabathia's wild night has the New York Yankees on the brink of elimination.
Sabathia matched his playoff high with six walks and Derek Jeter struck out with two runners on for the final out in the Yankees' 5-4 loss to the Detroit Tigers on Monday night that put New York in a 2-1 hole in the best-of-five AL division series.
Now, the AL East champions are counting on a shaky A.J. Burnett in Game 4 at Comerica Park on Tuesday night. Burnett, who was 11-11 with a 5.15 ERA in the regular season, was pushed into a postseason start only because Sabathia's start in Game 1 was suspended because of rain.
"I feel good about what A.J. is going to do for us tomorrow," manager Joe Girardi said.
Sabathia was given an early 2-0 lead but fell short in the matchup of aces, part 2.
New York scored two runs in the first against Justin Verlander before the MVP candidate shut out the potent lineup over the next five innings with 100 mph fastballs and knee-buckling breaking pitches.
The Yankees mounted a rally for the second straight game against closer Jose Valverde in the ninth and fell short. On Sunday, Robinson Cano grounded out with runners on first and second to end the loss.
This time Jeter struck out with two on, and the captain walked away from home plate shaking his head.
"I feel good about Jeter whenever he's up there in those situations because he's been there so many times," Girardi said.
A banged-up Alex Rodriguez was no match for Verlander.
A-Rod grounded out to give the Yankees a 2-0 lead in the first, but finished 0 for 2 with two walks and fell to 0 for 10 in the series. The three-time MVP, nagged by knee and thumb injuries, barely hit better than .200 during the final three months of the regular season.
Girardi has said he will not change his lineup. Anyway, it's unlikely he would do what his predecessor, Joe Torre, did against Detroit in Game 4 of the 2006 ALDS. Torre dropped the slumping star to eighth in the lineup.
Rodriguez was given the green light to swing on a 3-0 pitch from Verlander in the eighth and weakly hit a foul into the seats behind him, then swung and missed on the next pitch, fouled off a pitch that whizzed by at 101 mph before wisely taking a high and inside pitch to draw a walk.
Mark Teixeira also has struggled. He was 0 for 4 Monday and is 1 for 11 in the series.
Free passes were what doomed Sabathia's night.
Sabathia didn't take the loss — Rafael Soriano did after giving up a solo homer to Delmon Young in the seventh — but the $161-million ace struggled to get the ball over the plate.
He lasted just 5 1-3 innings and gave up six walks — one intentional — seven hits, four runs and just three strikeouts. He also had one wild pitch and many more that were in the dirt or way off target.
"I actually thought he made a lot of good pitches tonight and I thought the zone was a small zone tonight. No disrespect to anyone, but that's what I thought," Girardi said. "That's what I saw."
The last time Sabathia, who can opt out of his contract after this season, was that wild in the playoffs was Oct. 4, 2007, when he was pitching for the Cleveland Indians against the Yankees.
Sabathia's control was so out of whack that he struggled to connect with catcher Russell Martin on one of his intentional-walk tosses.
The Yankees were planning on their ace pitching Game 1 and Game 4, if it was necessary, but rain suspended his first start after 1½ innings.
Plan B puts Burnett on the mound and no one rooting for New York is excited about that.
Burnett signed a four-year, $82.5 million contract during the Yankees' blockbuster offseason in which they spent $423.5 million two years ago to add him, Sabathia and Mark Teixeira.
The right-hander hasn't lived up to his end of the bargain, but he has a chance to provide an instant dividend if he can help the Yankees avoid getting eliminated in the Motor City.