NEW YORK » Now the Detroit Tigers can believe anything is possible.
They beat the New York Yankees in Game 5. At Yankee Stadium. Escaping jam after jam.
Now it’s on to Texas, and the AL championship series starting Saturday night.
"It’s a tremendous feeling," Doug Fister said after getting the 3-2 win Thursday. "You got to take this thing one step at a time and try to just soak it all in as we go."
Fister, not even with the Tigers until July 30, gutted through five mostly tricky innings to form an unlikely trio of stars.
Don Kelly, who didn’t make his big league debut until age 27 after six seasons in the minors, sent Ivan Nova’s sixth pitch of the night into the right-field seats.
Delmon Young, acquired by Detroit in mid-August, deposited Nova’s seventh pitch into the left-field stands.
From there, the Tigers hung on and worried until Jose Valverde powered the final pitch past Alex Rodriguez, crouched and then exhaled.
As did the Tigers, and their fans everywhere.
"It was a gutsy win, especially with all the opportunities they had," Kelly said.
The victory sent the Tigers to the ALCS for the first time since 2006, the year they also eliminated the Yankees in the first round.
It was a thriller, with the outcome seeming to teeter on every pitch thrown by the Tigers.
Fister escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the fourth. Grimacing and breathing hard, Joaquin Benoit walked Mark Teixeira to force home the Yankees’ second run before striking out Nick Swisher with the bases loaded to end the seventh.
There were more gasps from a new Yankee Stadium record crowd of 50,960 — and yes, both benches, too — in the eighth when Derek Jeter hit an inning-ending flyout to Kelly just in front of the right-field wall with a man on.
"We had everyone standing up in the dugout," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "A lot of times it’s a matter of a foot here or a foot there, and it’s the difference."
Valverde finished with the only 1-2-3 inning for Detroit after the first, getting his second save of the series and remaining perfect in 51 chances this year. It was Valverde’s only perfect inning of the postseason.
"You never know until the last inning when you get that 27th out," he said.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland and his team got it, eventually.
"The Yankees are so good that I would be lying if I said it didn’t give me a little extra satisfaction to be able to do it here in the fifth game," Leyland said. "This will be a game I’ll remember for the rest of my life."
Detroit won an all-or-nothing postseason game for the first time since beating the Cardinals in Game 7 of the 1968 Series. The Tigers celebrated in the visiting clubhouse by pouring alcohol-free Fre Brut sparkling wine — Miguel Cabrera was arrested in February and charged with DUI.
With the Tigers vying for their first World Series title since 1984, ace Justin Verlander will start the ALCS opener against the Rangers’ C.J. Wilson. Detroit went 6-3 against the Rangers during the regular season, outscoring Texas 45-37.
"I feel comfortable going in to play with anybody," Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said.
New York used six relievers, pulling Nova after the second. CC Sabathia made the first relief appearance of his professional career after 421 starts, and allowed an RBI single to former Cleveland teammate Victor Martinez that made it 3-0 in the fifth.
"It was weird," Sabathia said.
Still, the Yankees had their chances. But New York went 2 for 9 with runners in scoring position and 0 for 4 with the bases loaded, and they stranded 11 runners.
Robinson Cano, who had nine RBIs in the series, started the comeback attempt with a fifth-inning homer into the right-field middle deck.
When Jorge Posada, playing perhaps his final game in pinstripes, had singled with two on in the fourth, Rodriguez was held at third. Fister then retired Russell Martin and Brett Gardner on infield popups.
A-Rod was 0 for 4 with three strikeouts and hit .111 in the series (2 for 18). Teixeira batted .167 (3 for 18).
"It’s devastating. This is going to hurt for a long time," Rodriguez said.
Nova, who beat Fister in the opener, hadn’t lost in the majors since June 3. The homers were the first back-to-back postseason shots in Tigers history, and it was the third homer of the series for Young. Kelly was a surprise starter at third.
"The crowd’s into it at the beginning and it was just good to get on the board," Kelly said. "It’s big to get out in front early here."
Nova lasted just 31 pitches and six outs, with the Yankees saying he came out due to tightness in his right forearm. He was to get an MRI exam Friday.
While the Yankees scrambled their pitchers, Max Scherzer, Benoit and Valverde combined on four innings of one-run, five-hit relief.
"Those guys came through in such a clutch time," Fister said. "This is a tremendous feeling."
Across in the home clubhouse, the Yankees were quiet. They had convinced themselves they would advance.
"It’s tough," a choked-up Posada said. "I really have no words."