After Eduardo Nunez smacked his leadoff homer in the ninth inning Tuesday night, Justin Verlander was at 124 pitches. There was nobody out, the Tigers led by just a run and Jim Leyland came to the mound.

The Tigers manager wanted to know if Verlander could retire Brett Gardner. With Ichiro Suzuki on deck — he had two hits off Verlander already — Leyland was only permitting Verlander to throw to one more batter, Gardner. If Verlander could do it, that is.

"Normally I guess you don't take Secretariat out in the final furlong, but that was pretty much it for him," Leyland said. "I was not going to let him face Ichiro."

Verlander retired Gardner on an eight-pitch comebacker, finishing his night with a season-high-tying 132 pitches, two outs shy of a second consecutive postseason complete game. The Tigers ace pitched 8 1/3 innings of one-run, three-hit ball in a 2-1 Game 3 ALCS win — putting the Yankees a loss away from vacation and the Tigers a win away from the World Series for the first time since 2006, when Verlander was a rookie.

"Every game in the postseason is a must-win. You have to keep momentum on your side," Verlander said. "And hopefully we can go out [tonight] and shut this down."

In Game 1 of the ALDS, Verlander surrendered a run in the first inning against the A's. He proceeded to pitch 23 straight zeroes after that until Nunez's homer. For the postseason overall, he's 3-0 with a 0.71 ERA.

Verlander struck out just three last night but walked nobody, even though he was behind in a slew of counts in the middle innings. His fastball ranged from 92 mph all the way to 99, the first 99 of his night coming on his 122nd pitch.