Don Kelly and Delmon Young hit consecutive home runs in the first inning, then Doug Fister and the Tigers spent the rest of a thrilling game trying to preserve their lead.
They did – barely – and advanced to the AL Championship Series against Texas.
Joaquin Benoit followed Max Scherzer in the seventh and walked Mark Teixeira with the bases loaded, pulling the Yankees within a run. Benoit struck out Nick Swisher with a 95 mph fastball to keep the lead.
After Brett Gardner singled with two outs in the eighth, Derek Jeter flied out to Kelly just in front of the right-field wall.
Valverde pitched the ninth for his second save of the series, remaining perfect in 51 chances this year. After Valverde struck out Alex Rodriguez to end it, the Tigers’ closer crouched and pumped both arms as his teammates ran out to celebrate.
Detroit won its first all-or-nothing postseason game since beating St. Louis in Game 7 of the 1968 World Series.
With the Tigers vying for their first World Series title since 1984, ace Justin Verlander will start the ALCS opener at Texas on Saturday night against the Rangers’ C.J. Wilson.
Before a new Yankee Stadium record crowd of 50,960 fans, New York had its chances, but the Yankees went 2 for 9 with runners in scoring position and 0 for 4 with the bases loaded, and they stranded 10 runners.
While the Yankees led the AL with 97 wins during the regular season, the early exit in the first round and second consecutive season without a World Series title will set off a restless offseason search for more starting pitching and offense.