From Comcast SportsNetDETROIT (AP) -- Justin Verlander and Detroit's stellar starters are on quite a roll -- no matter who is in the opposing lineup.Verlander took a shutout into the ninth inning and the Tigers held on to beat New York 2-1 Tuesday night for a 3-0 lead in the AL championship series. Yankees manager Joe Girardi changed his batting order again, benching Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher in an effort to snap his team out of an untimely hitting funk.No such luck."I have seen a lot of teams shuffle around a lot of lineups when I am out there, so it doesn't really faze me one way or the other if those guys are in there or not," Verlander said. "I just need to come up with the game plan to face the certain guys that I am going to face. I can't say I was surprised, but that's Girardi's decision, not mine."Phil Coke gave up consecutive singles with two outs in the ninth before striking out postseason star Raul Ibanez for his second save in two games. Detroit can complete a sweep and earn its second pennant in seven years Wednesday night when Max Scherzer pitches against Yankees ace CC Sabathia."We put ourselves in a decent position, but that's all we have done," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.Verlander allowed only a pair of singles by Ichiro Suzuki and a leadoff homer by Eduardo Nunez in the ninth. Delmon Young hit a solo home run for the Tigers, and Miguel Cabrera had an RBI double.Yankees starter Phil Hughes was lifted in the fourth because of a stiff back, but right now it's the Yankees' hitting that has them on the brink of elimination. New York is batting .182 for the series and .200 during the postseason."There were some good at-bats tonight. The ball was not carrying tremendously well tonight, we know that," Girardi said. "But I think he ended up with three strikeouts. So our guys put the ball in play and tried to get on base, but, you know, when you face Verlander, you know what you're up against."Seeking their first World Series title since 1984, the Tigers were on a historic pitching run even before their ace took the mound Tuesday. With the exception of a four-run ninth inning against Detroit closer Jose Valverde in Game 1, New York had been shut out for the entire series.Nunez's homer snapped a scoreless streak by Detroit starters of 30 1-3 innings. That's a record for a single postseason, according to STATS LLC. The previous mark of 29 innings was set by Oakland in 1974.Verlander fell just short of a second straight shutout after stopping the Athletics in the decisive fifth game of the division series. He struck out only three but kept New York off the scoreboard until the homer to left field by Nunez, the first run allowed by the powerful right-hander since he gave up a leadoff homer to Coco Crisp in Game 1 of the ALDS.Nunez was at shortstop because Derek Jeter broke his ankle in Game 1 and will miss the rest of the season.Verlander got Brett Gardner on a tapper before he was lifted after 132 pitches, one shy of his career high set in Game 5 of last year's ALCS against Texas."Normally I guess you don't take Secretariat out in the final furlong, but that was pretty much it for him," Leyland said.Coke came in and allowed two-out hits to Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano, with the latter snapping a drought of 29 at-bats without a hit.An anxious Verlander paced in the dugout and rubbed the bald head of a teammate before Ibanez, who hit tying and winning homers in the same game in the ALDS against Baltimore and tied Game 1 of this series with a homer in the ninth, struck out swinging at a breaking ball to end it."I've got faith in our bullpen. Coke did a great job in New York. He's done a great job for us all year, so I was OK with it," Verlander said. "And I was up around 130 pitches or so, so I don't think they're just going to leave me out there and sacrifice the rest of the postseason just for this game, especially when Coke's been throwing the ball extremely well."The game ended with Nick Swisher on deck to pinch-hit, not Rodriguez. Girardi said he let Ibanez bat because he has been coming through with big hits and he figured the Tigers could replace Coke with right-hander Joaquin Benoit if a pinch-hitter came up.Rodriguez also was benched for Game 5 against Baltimore after he was pulled for pinch-hitters in the previous two games. A-Rod is 3 for 23 (.130) without an RBI or extra-base hit this postseason, his latest October flop. The numbers are especially ugly against right-handers: 0 for 18 with 12 strikeouts.The three-time AL MVP was not available to reporters before or after the game.Verlander, the reigning AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner, nearly became the first pitcher in 24 years to throw consecutive shutouts in the postseason, according to STATS LLC. Orel Hershiser did it for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1988, blanking the New York Mets in Game 7 of the NL championship series and the Oakland Athletics in Game 2 of the World Series.Valverde's meltdown nearly cost Detroit the first game of this series, but the Tigers were able to win 6-4 in 12 innings. Coke closed out a 3-0 victory in Game 2 and was able to hold on Tuesday in a tense final inning.Hughes matched Verlander in a scoreless duel until Young led off the Detroit fourth with a line drive over the wall in left field. It was his seventh homer in the last two postseasons -- he's already the Tigers' career leader in that department."I knew I hit it hard enough, but we weren't in Yankee Stadium, so I had to wait an extra 30 feet for it to land," Young said.Andy Dirks followed with a walk, and Hughes was pulled with an 0-2 count on Jhonny Peralta. David Phelps came on and got out of the inning, but the Yankees now have a pitching injury to go along with all their hitting problems."We will see how he is tomorrow and we'll see what we have tomorrow, which will determine what we do," Girardi said.Hughes allowed a run and three hits in three-plus innings. He walked three and struck out one."It started to tighten up on me in the third. It wasn't too bad and I was trying to stay in the game but they decided with the way things were going to go to the bullpen," Hughes said. "I wanted to stay in. It wasn't so bad that I couldn't pitch. Joe didn't want to take any chances."The Yankees kept it close, dodging several Detroit rallies. The Tigers added an unearned run in the fifth when Eric Chavez -- Rodriguez's replacement at third -- misplayed a grounder. Cabrera, the AL Triple Crown winner, followed with an RBI double.Cabrera has a 16-game hitting streak in LCS play, breaking a tie for that record with Manny Ramirez and Pete Rose, according to STATS.Cabrera hit into a double play with the bases loaded in the sixth, preventing the Tigers from adding more runs.NOTES:The Tigers sent RHP Marcelo Carreno and cash to the Cubs to complete an Aug. 5 trade in which Detroit acquired utility man Jeff Baker from Chicago. ... Cabrera moved from his usual third base spot to where the shortstop would normally play as part of a defensive shift against Teixeira in the fourth -- then had to run all the way back to catch a popup in foul ground. ... Nunez's homer snapped a streak of 37 innings by Detroit starters without allowing an earned run, the longest in a single postseason in the live-ball era. The starters for the 1905 New York Giants threw 44 straight innings without allowing an earned run for the postseason record, according to STATS.
FOXBORO -- Tom Brady is on pace for 5,224 yards passing in 2017, just a shade under his total from his career-high in 2011. He's on track to have 34 touchdowns and just five picks. Barring a continued run of ridiculous efficiency from Kansas City's Alex Smith, those numbers would be MVP-caliber in all likelihood.
But Brady's not thrilled with the way he's played of late. What gives?
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In his past two games, he hasn't thrown the football as consistently as he would have liked. After starting the season with a 10-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio, he's 3-to-2 in the last couple of weeks. His accuracy has been at times pinpoint (as it was on his 42-yard completion to Brandin Cooks to help set up a Rob Gronkowski score against the Jets), but it has also been uncharacteristically erratic.
He was picked deep down the middle of the field by Buster Skrine last week, but the more concerning throw may have been the quick out-route to Gronkowski that Skrine dropped for what should have been an easy interception. Brady missed Phillip Dorsett on what looked like it could have been a long touchdown with Dorsett running free behind the defense. He threw behind Chris Hogan twice in the game, one of which opened up Hogan to a rib-shot that landed him on the injury report this week.
Against the Jets, Brady was not sacked and he was hit only four times -- a light day for him compared to other weeks this season when he's been battered. Yet he still completed just under 53 percent of his passes for 257 yards and a season-low 6.76 yards per attempt.
"Well, I've got to hit the open . . . If the throws are there I've got to be able to make them," he said on Friday. "It's disappointing when I don't. To me, it just comes back to technique and fundamentals and making sure everything is working and that's the consistent daily thing that you're working on. I'm always working on my accuracy.
"I wish I hit them all. I'm capable of hitting them all and I need to be able to do that. I said last week that some of these games wouldn't be as close if I was playing better in the red area. I think some of those missed opportunities in the pass game with me hitting guys would really help our team. Hopefully, I can do a better job for this team."
Brady is no longer listed on the Patriots injury report, but he dealt with a left shoulder injury against both the Bucs and the Jets, and it's worth wondering if that somehow impacted how his passes traveled in those games. Balance is key in Brady's world, and even though he can make flat-footed throws look easy, perhaps an injury to his front side limited his ability to place the ball where he wanted.
Keeping Brady upright could go a long way in helping the 40-year-old regain his form from Weeks 2-4 when he didn't dip below a 104 quarterback rating. Bill Belichick said earlier this week that part of the reason the Jets pass-rush wasn't quite as effective as others they'd faced this year was his team's ability to run the ball. Productive rushing attempts on first and second down mean manageable third downs, which mean shorter pass attempts. Those of course, in theory, lead to less time standing in the pocket and a healthier quarterback.
"It's great," Brady said of his team's recent surge running the football. "I mean, to be able to run the ball consistently in the NFL is important for every offense. It does take a lot of . . . I wouldn't say pressure, it's just production. If 400 yards of offense is what you're looking for and you can get 150 from your running game, the 250 has got to come in the passing game. If you're getting 50 yards in the rushing game then it means you've got to throw for more.
"I don't think it's pressure it's just overall you're going to get production in different areas and the backs are a big part of our offense and handing the ball off to them is an easy way for us to gain yards if we're all coordinated and doing the right thing. But those guys are running hard. The line is doing a great job up front finishing blocks and so forth."
Against the Falcons and their talented -- though underperforming -- offense this weekend, the running game could be key. First, it could help the Patriots defense by controlling possession and keeping Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman off the field. Next are the obvious advantages for the signal-caller who could use a stress-free day in the pocket to help him solve his recent accuracy issues.