NEW YORK -- Derek Jeter somehow escaped playing the hero on all of those nights the Yankees were flinging whipped cream pies for the last few years, but now that the practice seems to be old news, it figures that the captain would be at the center of the story.
Jeter dashed from third base and slid home with the winning run on a passed ball in the bottom of the ninth inning on Friday as the Yankees defeated the Tigers, 7-6, at Yankee Stadium, marking New York's first walk-off victory of the young season.
"As much as I'd like to say that was great baserunning tonight, basically all I had to do is run," Jeter said. "But that's how you win games sometimes; being aggressive. We caught a break."
In past seasons, pitcher A.J. Burnett would have stealthily emerged from the Yankees' dugout with a messy towel in hand, ready to smash the hero's face in celebration. Fans never found out how Jeter would react, and with Burnett now in Pittsburgh, it seems that they won't have the chance.
"Not me. That's not my gig, bro," said right fielder Nick Swisher, suggested as the likeliest candidate to keep the pies coming. "You can't have a position player do that."
That was fine, because the Yankees had plenty of other reasons to celebrate the evening, hanging tough with Justin Verlander and taking starter Ivan Nova off the hook for what would have been his first losing decision since June 3.
After plugging away for a season-high five runs off Verlander, last year's American League MVP and Cy Young Award winner, New York tied the game on Mark Teixeira's eighth-inning sacrifice fly off Joaquin Benoit. Mariano Rivera pitched a perfect top of the ninth inning for the victory.
"It was fun," said Alex Rodriguez, who was 3-for-4 with a solo home run. "It was a nice win, a nice way to start the homestand with a good win, especially being behind twice in that game and able to come back against a top-notch pitcher like Verlander. It's definitely a good sign."
Brayan Villarreal recorded the first out of the ninth inning, but Jeter walked and alertly hurried to third base on a wild pitch. Villarreal's last pitch blew past catcher Alex Avila as Rodriguez hurriedly waved toward the plate. Jeter took off just in time to cover the 90 feet past Villarreal, who couldn't handle Avila's throw home.
"I never saw it," Jeter said. "I'm at third, and when Avila turns around, I can't see him. I saw Al waving me in so I just went. It was a lot closer than it should have been."
Said Avila: "It's pretty tough to get over there when it's 96 [mph]. I did what I could do to try to knock it down."
The Yankees have a home-field advantage over Verlander, who hasn't yet won at the new Yankee Stadium. Perhaps due in part to the chilly game-time conditions, the Tigers received another human effort from their ace in the Bronx.
Verlander surrendered seven hits in six innings, including two homers -- A-Rod's solo blast in the fourth and Russell Martin's two-run shot in the fifth. He hasn't won in New York since Aug. 16, 2007, at the old Stadium.
"Obviously, it could've been a lot better," Verlander said. "Our team goes out and gives us six runs against a guy like Nova tonight, you've got to make that work. Obviously it wasn't easy out there. It was cold and everything, but man, they battled. It's a shame we didn't win."
The Yankees' late surge kept Nova's string of 15 straight winning decisions intact, despite allowing six runs and 11 hits in 5 1/3 innings. Detroit did most of its damage against Nova in a loud three-run sixth, as Jhonny Peralta and Ryan Raburn scored on Austin Jackson's two-run double to right field. Prince Fielder greeted Boone Logan with an RBI single to knock in the Tigers' sixth run.
"I was focused. I got hit today," Nova said. "I knew one day I was going to get hit. The good thing is that we didn't lose. We won and it's not about [me], it's about the team."
Nova, one of the bright spots in a questionable Yankees rotation thus far, also allowed a second-inning RBI triple to Brad Eldred that eluded Raul Ibanez's dive in left field. Miguel Cabrera and Fielder punched run-scoring singles facing Nova in the third inning.
After the game, Nova voiced issues with home-plate umpire Joe West's strike zone.
"He wasn't right all the time," Nova said. "Sometimes you throw a pitch that you think is a strike, like the one that I threw low. For me, it was a strike. He didn't give it to me, so I tried to throw it higher. That's when I got in trouble."
Joe Girardi would agree, as he was tossed by West in the seventh inning for arguing balls and strikes, hurdling the railing in front of the dugout to make his points clear with the veteran crew chief.
"I didn't care for the way it went," Girardi said. "These games are very serious to us. Every game is very serious to us. That's how I approach it. We've seen too many times where one game has cost a team a playoff spot. You never take anything for granted."