For Yanks, W matters most in Motown

DETROIT -- There are no style points in baseball.

This isn't gymnastics or figure skating or even boxing, where the difference between winning and losing can come down to a matter of opinion, and sometimes even when you win, someone is sure to say you didn't win the right way or look good enough doing it.

And that's a good thing for the Yankees, because there was little style in their 12-8 victory Wednesday night against the Detroit Tigers and no beauty in the way they went about their business, especially in the latter innings.

But for a team that had lost two in a row here and 12 of its past 18 games, seeing its lead in the AL East dissolve from 10 games to 4½, the nearly four-hour-long slopfest at Comerica Park was nothing short of a masterpiece.

"A lot of times, you don't care how you win games," manager Joe Girardi said. "Just win."

During the past five weeks or so, the simple act of winning has not been easy for the Yankees. On Monday night, they got shut down by Justin Verlander. No shame in that. On Tuesday, they fell behind to Rick Porcello but rallied in the ninth inning, only to fall short by a run. No shame in that.

But no wins, either.

Wednesday night, they played their sloppiest game of the three here so far -- the series has one more game to go Thursday afternoon -- and despite very nearly turning it into a heartbreaking, and perhaps backbreaking, disaster, were able to leave the ballpark not dreading the prospect of getting swept but dreaming of the possibility of salvaging a split.

"For us to be standing where we are right now," Nick Swisher said, "I feel like today kind of might have been that breaking-out game a little bit, so it's going to be exciting to see what happens when we come back tomorrow."

It came awfully close to going the other way, especially after the Yankees saw the 7-0 lead they had built up against Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez -- who turned out to be a much easier assignment than Verlander or Porcello -- evaporate to an 8-7 margin after an almost comically messy seventh inning.

And things had started out so well, from the moment Girardi posted the lineup card with a batting order that had been both shaken and stirred. Curtis Granderson, the leadoff hitter for the previous five games, had been dropped to sixth. Derek Jeter had been restored to the top spot. Swisher was slotted in behind Jeter, and Eric Chavez, given a DH day, was hitting fifth.

And, oh yeah, Casey McGehee, who had played in one game since being acquired from the Pirates at the trade deadline, was given a start at third. OK, so not all of the moves worked out, but more about that one later.

The reshuffled lineup performed better than anyone had a right to expect it to, with Granderson -- who had been 2-for-20 as a leadoff hitter -- singling in a run in the first inning and cracking a three-run homer, his team-leading 30th of the season, in the third.

Chavez, Swisher and Mark Teixeira had RBIs as well, and with CC Sabathia seemingly in cruise mode, the 7-0 lead the Yankees took into the bottom of the fourth seemed safe.

Even after the Tigers got on the board in the bottom of the fourth on Brennan Boesch's RBI single, things seemed to be well in hand.

But then, tiny cracks began to appear and a little water started to seep into the Yankees' carefully crafted facade. In the sixth, Sabathia allowed an infield hit, a ground-rule double and a two-run single and it was 7-3. It was a bad omen when Robby Cano committed an error on a routine grounder, ending the Yankees' streak of 13 consecutive errorless games, but no further damage was done.

The Yankees added a run in the top of the seventh on Ichiro Suzuki's RBI single, but then gave that back, and more, in the Keystone Kops bottom of the inning.

It started with a single by Austin Jackson and got really hairy following a Sabathia strikeout of Omar Infante. Miguel Cabrera, who killed the Yankees in the first two games of this series and has had his way with CC for much of his career, cracked a one-hopper at McGehee. What could have been an inning-ending double play became a costly error, putting runners at the corners.

After Sabathia got Prince Fielder to ground out to first base, scoring the Tigers' fourth run, Girardi for some reason pulled his ace after just 94 pitches and went to David Robertson, a move that Sabathia acknowledged "upset" him.

"You're always upset when you're not able to finish your inning," he said. "But that's why Joe's the manager and I go out and throw the ball."

Robertson gave up a fluky infield hit to Delmon Young when Teixeira decided to dive for a ball that could have been fielded easily by Cano. That gave Detroit runners on first and second. Left-handed pinch hitter Andy Dirks followed with a cue shot right down the third-base line that scored one run to make it 8-5. Boesch hit a swinging bunt toward third that McGehee, playing back, had no chance on, and it was 8-6. Then another pinch hitter, Alex Avila, served one into left field to draw the Tigers within one run.

At that point, any Yankee or Yankees fan with an awareness of what's been going on since the beginning of July had to be thinking, here we go again.

But Robertson got out of the inning without further bloodshed, and when the Yankees tacked on four more runs -- two in the eighth on RBIs from Teixeira and Chavez and two more in the ninth on a single by Cano and a balk -- the Yankees at last had some breathing room.

"It was definitely good to avoid losing the series," said Granderson, who went 3-for-5 with four RBIs in his new role.

Chavez, who was the most vocal Yankee in the clubhouse after Tuesday night's loss -- "I think there should be a high level of concern," he had said -- was only partially mollified by the Yankees' escape in this one.

"We've been losing, so if anybody's comfortable with that, I know I wasn't," he said. "We had a nine-game lead two weeks ago, and that's gone. I just want to win. However we get it done, the 'W' is all that matters."

The only style points that count in this game are the ones in the runs column on the scoreboard.