From Comcast SportsNetDETROIT (AP) -- Searching for answers, Joe Girardi was stumped."I can't hit," the New York Yankees manager said.And, apparently, neither can some of his high-priced stars.The Yankees avoided a dubious distinction Tuesday night and yet moved within a loss of elimination for the third straight year.Eduardo Nunez's ninth-inning home run prevented New York from getting shut out in consecutive games of one postseason for the first time.Raul Ibanez, though, went on to strike out against former Yankee Phil Coke with two on, sealing a 2-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday night and a 3-0 AL championship series deficit.On a night when Alex Rodriguez was benched for the second time in four games, Justin Verlander took a two-hit shutout into the ninth, allowing a pair of Ichiro Suzuki singles.Nunez homered on a Verlander curveball with one out in the ninth, and Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano hit consecutive two-out singles against the lefty Coke-- with Cano ending a postseason-record streak of 29 hitless at-bats."I wasn't thinking of that," Cano insisted. "You just got to get on base for your teammates, especially in a situation like that when you want to keep the inning alive and you've got the hottest hitter coming after you."Ibanez, whose ninth-inning, two-run homer tied the opener, got ahead in the count 3-1 before fouling off a pair of pitches and striking out on a slider in the dirt."He gave me some good pitches to hit, and I fouled them off," he said. "He threw a breaking ball down and I didn't get it done."Ibanez said he and his teammates still have confidence in their ability to come back in the series."Everything can turn around in one swing of the bat, in one inning, things can turn around," he said. "I've seen it happen. We've all seen it happen."Once.Only the 2004 Boston Red Sox -- against the Yankees -- have overcome a 3-0 deficit in a postseason series.The Yankees will lean on their ace, CC Sabathia, who was 2-0 with a 1.53 ERA in the division series against Baltimore, to at least extend the ALCS with a strong performance Wednesday night in Game 4."We're still in this thing," Gardner said. "If you're down 3-0, you want CC on the mound."Sabathia insisted his team's struggles at the plate don't affect his approach on the mound."I always want to go out and try to shut the other team down," he said.New York is hitting .200 in the playoffs, including .196 with runners in scoring position. The Yankees have a .182 average in the LCS, in danger of becoming a record low for New York in a postseason series -- a.171 mark set against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1963 World Series.Rodriguez, 3 for 23 in the playoffs -- including 0 for 18 with 12 strikeouts against right-handed pitchers, sat on the bench -- even overlooked as a pinch hitter. Nick Swisher, 4 for 26 in the playoffs, joined the 275 million third baseman in taking a seat."We're just trying to find a lineup that works," said Swisher, a free-agent-to-be who could complete his Yankees career Wednesday. "I thought it was a great lineup. I wasn't in it, but you have to back your teammates."Girardi could've chosen to put Rodriguez in the game as a pinch hitter if Ibanez extended the ninth inning, but with catcher Russell Martin limited by a bruised right thumb, he had Swisher on deck."You want to get up in those spots and be the guy in that spot," Swisher said.Eric Chavez replaced Rodriguez at third base and went 0 for 3. Brett Gardner went 0 for 4, essentially taking Swisher's spot, leading off and playing left field, in his first start since April 17. Curtis Granderson had an 0 for 3 night, dropping to 3 for 29 with 15 strikeouts in the playoffs.And, Girardi can't turn to Derek Jeter, whose year ended when he broke his left ankle in the opener.Rodriguez seemed to take his demotion to the dugout in stride by smiling and joking with teammates as he stretched before being forced to sit. He didn't talk to reporters before the game and departed postgame before media was allowed into the clubhouse.Phil Hughes left with a back injury in the fourth inning, two batters after allowing Delmon Young's leadoff home run."It wasn't too bad, I was trying to stay in the game," Hughes said. "They just decided with the circumstances and kind of the way things were going that they'd go to the bullpen."In the fifth, David Phelps gave up an RBI double to Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and that proved to be the game-winning hit that put the Yankees on the brink of elimination."Thank goodness it's a seven-game series, and not a five-game series," Gardner said. "We're still alive."
FOXBORO -- Here are some quick-hitting thoughts on the Patriots' 23-7 victory over the Falcons on Sunday night.
1) If the Patriots attacked this game believing that the best defense is a good offense . . . they were right.
They controlled the ball for more than 18 minutes in the first half and ran for 92 yards on 18 carries (a 5.1 yards per attempt average) with four backs sharing the load. Rex Burkhead gave the team a spark with his speed and vision in his first game back since suffering a rib injury in Week 2. The success the Patriots had running the ball had the added benefit of opening up the play-action pass game and it helped protect Tom Brady. After taking two sacks in the first quarter and a monster hit (penalized for roughing the passer) from Adrian Clayborn in the second, Brady was fairly well-protected.
PATRIOTS 23, FALCONS 3
2) Tom Brady lamented the fact that he hadn't been more accurate in the red zone of late, but he was better in that area to help the Patriots pad their early lead.
The Patriots went 2-for-3 in the red zone through the first half, with Brady hitting on touchdown passes to Brandin Cooks (which looked more like an end-around hand-off) and James White. Brady still had moments of inaccuracy. The pass he lofted before being croaked by Clayborn was a bad one that was intercepted. (The pick was wiped after the penalty was enforced.) He threw behind Chris Hogan on multiple occasions. He also had an odd throw float well out of bounds that was intended for Rob Gronkowski. But for the most part he was on point, completing 21 of his first 29 throws for 241 yards.
3) The Patriots defense showed up in critical moments time and time again in this one.
They stopped the Falcons twice on fourth down, and they allowed Matt Ryan and his offense to convert on just two of their first nine third-down plays. The Falcons coaching staff deserves plenty of criticism for going for it when they did, but with a banged-up secondary, going against the reigning MVP and one of the best receivers in the league, the Patriots responded.
4) Bill Belichick's run defense was particularly impressive in the first half on Sunday night, helping keep the Falcons from getting anything going until it was too late.
They allowed just 30 yards on nine attempts in the first two quarters (a 3.3 yards per attempt average), with Malcom Brown, Trey Flowers, Kyle Van Noy, Lawrence Guy and Deatrich Wise all making impressive stops at, near or behind the line of scrimmage.
5) The Patriots suffered a handful of injuries to key players that will be worth keeping an eye on moving forward.
Malcom Brown left the game in the second half with an ankle injury. Their top defensive tackle this season, Brown's absence may be one reason for why the Falcons were able to pump up their rushing yardage to triple digits by midway through the fourth quarter. Dont'a Hightower also left the game and was announced as questionable to return with a shoulder injury. Hightower has had a history of shoulder issues and so perhaps this is an older injury that was re-aggravated. Chris Hogan also left the game briefly and was evaluated for a concussion, according to NBC's television broadcast. He later returned.
NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE
Tom E. Curran highlights the best and worst moments from Sunday's game between the Patriots and Falcons