DETROIT -- No one needs to leave a note to tell the Yankees what must happen next. Their season will officially depend on the next nine innings of play, pushed to the brink of elimination in the American League Division Series.
Touching up Justin Verlander wasn't enough to keep the Yankees out of the corner they feared most, as Delmon Young's eighth-inning homer off Rafael Soriano lifted the Tigers to a 5-4 win in Game 3 on Monday at Comerica Park.
"It's definitely one game at a time now," the Yankees' Mark Teixeira said. "We can't be looking forward to anything else because if we don't win, we go home. It's a big game for us, obviously."
Jose Valverde struck out Derek Jeter swinging to lock down the save in the ninth, preserving a more-than-serviceable effort from Verlander, who struck out 11 in eight innings of four-run ball.
"Regardless of who we were facing, we knew it was going to be a challenge," Jeter said. "It was a challenge for us to score. We started good, but you've got to play nine innings."
With CC Sabathia meeting Verlander to reprise the marquee pitching matchup that rain cut short in Game 1, the Yankees saw their ace either turn in a wild performance or battle a restrictive strike zone, depending on your view.
"I actually thought he made a lot of good pitches tonight, and I thought the zone was a small zone tonight," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "No disrespect to anyone, but that's what I thought. That's what I saw."
Sabathia walked six (one intentionally) in a 5 1/3-inning effort, handed a 2-0 lead after the first inning that he gave back to Detroit in the third, then served up a go-ahead RBI double to Ramon Santiago in the fifth.
"I'm not here to make excuses or anything like that," Sabathia said. "They did a good job of battling and they put some good at-bats together, and they ended up scoring some runs."
Home-plate umpire Gerry Davis' zone was a point of loud discussion after the game, and though Sabathia had huddled with Davis at least once to ask where he was missing, Sabathia refused to talk balls and strikes in detail.
"I'm not going to sit here and say it's the umpire's fault," Sabathia said. "I just didn't make pitches when I needed to."
Catcher Russell Martin didn't want to take a strong position with the zone, either, but he went further than Sabathia.
"I thought it was a little bit tight, especially on the outside part of the plate to right-handers," Martin said. "I felt like a couple times we hit that spot, but he stayed consistent. He kept the zone the same. So if we weren't getting that pitch that we wanted, there was nothing really we could do. He was staying consistent and that's what you ask for in an umpire."
Small or wide zone, with his baggy pants and jersey flapping in a light Motor City breeze, the Yankees wanted to push Sabathia as far as they could. This would be the only remaining chance for him to start in the ALDS.
But Jhonny Peralta's run-scoring double off Sabathia in the sixth appeared to be a huge blow, especially with Verlander harnessing triple-digit firepower midgame, striking out the side on 10 pitches in the fifth.
"After the first inning, I felt like I found my rhythm," Verlander said. "I was going pretty good."
Sabathia couldn't keep up, walking off the mound while 43,581 witnesses whipped their white towels into a frenzy, smelling the all-important Game 3 victory on the way. But the Yankees had one last gasp left.
Jorge Posada worked a two-out walk in the seventh and Russell Martin was drilled in the ribs with a fastball. Brett Gardner filled a tall order with a huge hit off Verlander, slicing a two-run, game-tying double to center.
"We were able to come back, get some guys on base and tie it up," Gardner said. "It's tough to do against a guy like Verlander."
That rip took Sabathia off the hook for the decision, but the emotional high wouldn't last. Soriano uncorked a 95-mph cutter and Young sent it soaring over the right-field wall for his second homer of the ALDS.
"To me, that was a good pitch," Soriano said. "Nothing I can do now. That was a good location and he hit it out, so we've just got to come back tomorrow."
Verlander had wobbled in Game 1 before the storms came, allowing a first-inning run, and New York touched him in the first this time around, too -- Jeter singled and scored on a Curtis Granderson triple, and Alex Rodriguez later contributed an RBI groundout.
"Two mistakes," Verlander said. "Against this lineup, mistakes kill you."
But Detroit tied the game in the third, as Ramon Santiago stroked a run-scoring single to left that knocked in Brandon Inge and Miguel Cabrera hit into a bases-loaded, run-scoring double play. The Yankees would not lead again.
With beleaguered starter A.J. Burnett a lock to get the ball in Tuesday's Game 4, the Yankees need to post a victory to avoid the same fate they suffered in the 2006 ALCS against Detroit -- a Game 1 win, three subsequent losses and a quiet flight home to clear out their lockers.
"We've got to win a game. Nothing changes," Jeter said. "You come out here ready to play and win a game. We've won a game before."