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MLB PLAYOFFS: Tigers knock off Yankees in Game 5 stunner

New York's Russell Martin walks to the dugout after striking out swinging in the sixth inning in Game 5 against the Detroit Tigers on Thursday in New York. At left is Detroit Tigers catcher Alex Avila.

New York's Russell Martin walks to the dugout after striking out swinging in the sixth inning in Game 5 against the Detroit Tigers on Thursday in New York. At left is Detroit Tigers catcher Alex Avila.

NEW YORK — One by one, almost all the big-money boppers had their chance.

Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher.

Bases loaded, two runners on, just about every conceivable opportunity. The New York Yankees never came up with that clutch hit Thursday night, and suddenly their season is over.

No parade up Broadway, no sparkling World Series ring to go with the 27 others. No fairy-tale ending for Jorge Posada.

Just a long, cold winter to look back and wonder why one of baseball's best lineups whiffed when it mattered most.

Doug Fister and three relievers stopped the Yankees in their tracks, pitching their way out of several pressure-packed jams and sending the Detroit Tigers into the AL championship series with a 3-2 victory in Game 5.

"I thought we had it, man," Cano said.

New York manager Joe Girardi tried almost everything. He went to the bullpen early, pulling his ailing rookie starter, Ivan Nova, after two shaky innings. CC Sabathia came in for the first relief appearance of his professional career.

None of it was enough. The bats let the Yankees down.

"This is a really empty feeling," Girardi said, "and it hurts."

Derek Jeter made a bid for a go-ahead homer in the eighth, but his drive to right was caught just in front of the fence. Jeffrey Maier was nowhere to be found to haul it over the wall as the young fan did to help New York in the 1996 playoffs.

Quite literally, the Yankees came up just short.

"Anything less than a championship is a lost year," Mark Teixeira said. "None of us were ready to go home. I don't think any of us thought we were going home. We had a lot of confidence."

They went 0 for 4 with the bases loaded and stranded 11. They finished 2 for 9 with runners in scoring position, and neither hit delivered a run. Cano cracked a solo homer that gave him nine RBIs in the series and Teixeira drew a bases-loaded walk.

That was it.

A stirring season that featured feel-good celebrations for Jeter's 3,000th hit and Mariano Rivera's record-setting save ended with a whimper.

"The level of disappointment is through the roof," Sabathia said.

In a quiet clubhouse, the 40-year-old Posada got choked up and cut off questions about his future.

"I gave it all on the field," said the longtime Yankees catcher, in the final year of his contract.

And when Rodriguez, in a most fitting finish, went down swinging against Jose Valverde for the final out, the Tigers rushed out of the dugout to celebrate on New York's home field. Bookends for Rodriguez — he whiffed to end last season, too, in the ALCS against Texas.

Batting cleanup and nagged by injuries in the second half, the three-time MVP struck out three times Thursday and went 2 for 18 (.111) in the series. Right behind him, Teixeira was 3 for 18 (.167) as New York was knocked out of the playoffs by Detroit in the first round for the second time in six seasons.

"This one especially stings. Obviously, Game 5 at home," Rodriguez said. "This is a game that we felt really good about. We should have won, and we had opportunities there late."

Twice, the Yankees loaded the bases with one out. They managed only one run. Russell Martin and Brett Gardner popped out to end the fourth. Swisher went down swinging on a high pitch to end the seventh.

"The feeling I have in my stomach now, it's just a nasty feeling," he said.

Earlier in that inning, A-Rod was booed after fanning with the sacks full for the second out.

"That's a dream at-bat. Those are at-bats I relish, and I had a lot of confidence I would get something done there in a positive way," Rodriguez said. "He gave me one splitter that I laid off of, and I couldn't lay off the other."

Cano flied out with two on to finish the third.

Facing elimination in Detroit, the Yankees earned a reprieve Tuesday. Two spectacular catches by center fielder Curtis Granderson helped shaky starter A.J. Burnett save the season with a 10-1 victory in Game 4.

Back home in the Bronx, 50,960 fans turned out to see New York advance to its third straight AL championship series. Fister, Max Scherzer, Joaquin Benoit and Valverde spoiled the party.

"I tried to do everything I could, it just wasn't happening," Teixeira said.

Nova went 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA this year, leading major league rookies in wins. He won 12 straight big league decisions to close the season and earned another win in his unusual playoff debut.

The 24-year-old right-hander relieved Sabathia in Game 1, one day after it was suspended by rain. Nova took over the following day in the third inning and held Detroit scoreless into the ninth inning of a 9-3 victory.

So the Yankees had plenty of reason to feel good about their super Nova in a crucial situation. After all, he hadn't lost in the majors since June 3.

The kid never looked nervous. He threw 14 of his first 15 pitches for strikes, but the Tigers came out swinging and took advantage. Surprise playoff star Don Kelly, the second batter of the game, homered to right. Delmon Young hit the next pitch out to left, setting a Detroit record with three homers in a postseason series.

After a leadoff double by Magglio Ordonez in the second, Phil Hughes began warming up in the bullpen. Nova worked his way out of a jam, but Girardi went to Hughes to start the third.

Standing in the dugout with teammates around him, Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera looked out toward Hughes and put his hands up as if to say, "What's this?"

Two innings later, the Yankees announced that Nova was removed with tightness in his right forearm. He was scheduled for an MRI Friday.

Hughes and Boone Logan kept the score 2-0 until Sabathia came on in the fifth for his first professional relief appearance. He has made 370 major league starts, including 15 in the postseason, and 51 in the minors.

In New York's 5-4 loss in Game 3 at Detroit, Sabathia walked six in 5 1-3 shaky innings for a no-decision.

Working on two days' rest, he gave up a busted-bat double to speedy leadoff man Austin Jackson. After two strikeouts and an intentional walk to Cabrera, the AL batting champion, Victor Martinez hit an RBI single to make it 3-0.

"It was weird," Sabathia said about pitching in relief. "Everything went really fast, from me warming up to getting in the game. I felt like I was ready.

"Just didn't make pitches, and that's pretty much my whole postseason this year."

Martinez had been 6 for 29 (.207) against Sabathia — the two were teammates for years in Cleveland.

"I didn't necessarily think it was a hard game to manage," Girardi said. "It's a hard game to swallow."

NOTES: Sabathia can opt out of the $161 million, seven-year contract he signed with the Yankees before the 2009 season. ... General manager Brian Cashman's deal is up and he reiterated that he wants to stay on. "I have a contract that runs to the end of the month. It's going to be a long month," he said. ... Young also had solo shots in Games 1 and 3.