Yankees on brink of elimination

DETROIT — The New York Yankees are not used to this sort of playoff scenario.

More often than not, the Yankees have been the team on the happy side of a 3-0 ALCS lead, looking to put the exclamation point on a Game 4 sweep before awaiting the World Series.

But times have changed. It’s the Yankees staring at a 3-0 deficit to the Detroit Tigers after a 2-1 loss in Game 3 in Detroit. The Tigers are the team that knocked them out of the playoffs in the ALDS last season and in 2006.

It certainly didn’t bode well when starter Phil Hughes had to leave the game in the fourth inning when his lower back tightened up. Hughes allowed a leadoff home run to Yankee-killer Delmon Young and a walk to Andy Dirks to start the fourth. Although Hughes had an 0-2 count on Jhonny Peralta, manager Joe Girardi elected to go to David Phelps.

“I was trying to stay in the game,” Hughes said. “Obviously, (Girardi) didn’t really like how things were going and opted for the bullpen instead.”

It didn’t help the Yankees that they were facing Justin Verlander, the reigning AL MVP and Cy Young winner. Verlander wasn’t striking out guys at his usual pace but until the ninth, he had allowed just two singles, both to Ichiro Suzuki.

Eduardo Nunez fouled off several pitches before hitting a leadoff homer off Verlander in the ninth, finally ending the Yankees’ scoreless streak at 20 consecutive innings. They also went 20 straight innings without scoring in 2000 against the Oakland A’s and Seattle Mariners.

In eight postseason games, the Yankees’ bats have been quiet. They are hitting just .200, a team record for worst batting average through the first eight playoff games.

Girardi benched Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher in favor of Eric Chavez and Brett Gardner in Game 3. Although Robinson Cano finally snapped his 0-for-29 skid with a ninth-inning single off reliever Phil Coke, it didn’t seem to help.

After the game, Girardi was asked if there was anything else he could do to get the offense going.

“I can’t hit, if that’s what you’re asking,” Girardi said. “I wouldn’t want to face Verlander, not at my age. So the thing that you do is you keep encouraging the guys and you keep telling them, ‘Hey, find a way, find a way to get it done.’

“The one thing about this group that I’m very proud of is they have overcome a lot this year, and there is nothing that has come easy for us. It has been a battle the whole year, and they have found a way to get it done. That’s what we’re going to have to do.”

If there’s one man who can get it done, it’s CC Sabathia, who is a Verlanderesque 2-0 with a 1.53 ERA this postseason.

“We’re still in this thing,” Gardner said. “If you’re down 3-0, you want CC on the mound.”

The Yankees know that coming back from a 3-0 series deficit is not impossible. It happened to them in 2004 when the Boston Red Sox made their infamous rally.

But that’s the only time a team has come back from a 3-0 deficit.

“You don’t want to be in this situation,” Cano said. “But this is the game of baseball. All you can do is not put our heads down and just prepare ourselves for (Game 4). It’s not over yet.”