NEW YORK -- The New York Yankees' star-studded lineup received a rather painful reality check yesterday.
A few of the Tigers' young arms made the Yankees' band of All-Star hitters look like a flailing Triple-A squad as Detroit won Game 2 of their American League Division Series, 4-3, leaving New York in a tenuous spot.
The Yankees surrendered home-field advantage in the best-of-five series and must win two of three to keep alive their quest for their first world championship since 2000.
So much for the Tigers being an easy first-round pass.
New York took a 3-1 lead on Johnny Damon's three-run homer into the right-field upper deck with two out in the fourth. But Mike Mussina couldn't hold the lead, and the Yankees didn't threaten again, managing two singles in the final five innings against Justin Verlander, Jamie Walker, Joel Zumaya and Todd Jones.
"It's disappointing because we had a 3-1 lead and they kept scratching back into it, and we couldn't get anything else going," said Mussina, who allowed four runs in seven innings. "We had an opportunity to be up 2-0, but that's not what happened."
As the Yankees gathered their belongings for their charter flight to Detroit, players struggled to accept that they had lost a winnable game. "Moose should have won the game," catcher Jorge Posada said. "It's as simple as that."
When Derek Jeter followed Damon's shot with a line-drive double into the gap in left-center field, it appeared as if New York's multimillion-dollar offense was starting to heat up. "That was the time for us to start adding on," Damon said.
But their only two base runners after the fourth came on a one-out single by Posada in the sixth, which Robinson Cano followed by hitting into a double play, and a leadoff single in the ninth by Hideki Matsui, who had three hits.
Zumaya was especially impressive in his 1 2/3 scoreless innings, showing off a fastball that topped out at 102 mph on the Yankee Stadium radar gun and striking out three. The mid-afternoon shadows covering the area in front of home plate made him even more unhittable.
"One hundred miles per hour looked like 120, and 92 miles per hour looked like it was 105," Damon said.
Added Jeter, "Even when you see it, it's not easy to hit."
The Tigers scored single runs in the fifth, sixth and seventh to erase their 3-1 deficit. Marcus Thames doubled and scored on Curtis Granderson's sacrifice fly in the fifth, and Carlos Guillen homered in the sixth to tie it at 3. In the seventh, Thames singled and scored the tiebreaking run on Granderson's one-out triple to left-center on an 0-and-2 pitch from Mussina.
The Yankees had several early opportunities to score, leading off each of the first three innings with singles but stranding five runners in the first two innings. It didn't help that Gary Sheffield, Jason Giambi and Alex Rodriguez - their fourth, fifth and sixth hitters - went a combined 0-for-11 with seven strikeouts.
The first inning was especially frustrating, with Rodriguez striking out looking against Verlander to leave the bases loaded. But he wasn't the only culprit.
After Damon led off with a single, Jeter popped up a bunt attempt, an interesting strategy after he went 5-for-5 in Game 1.
"That's the way I play all year, so no reason to change anything now," he said. "If I had to do it all over again, I would do the same thing. I just probably wouldn't have bunted at that pitch."
Now New York has to lean on Randy Johnson, bad back and all, to pitch a solid Game 3 tonight while hoping their offense finds a way to flex its considerable muscle.
The last thing the Yankees wanted to think about yesterday was the possibility that this one-run loss could become their last game in the Bronx for another six months.
"We definitely want that opportunity to play in front of these fans again," Damon said, "whether it's Game 5 of this series or Game 1 of the next series." Jim Baumbach writes for Newsday.