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DET@NYY: Smyly stifles Yankees to notch his first win

NEW YORK -- Drew Smyly spent his first day in the Big Apple on Friday taking the subway around town with fellow Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer.

"He told me I need to experience it," Smyly said.

On Saturday, Smyly took the mound and acted like he owned the Bronx. In the process, he claimed most of the hitters who reside there. He also claimed his first Major League win and a piece of historic territory -- not in the city, but in the recent record books.

Though Jose Valverde's rocky ninth inning made a drama out of the Tigers' 7-5 win on Saturday, the six-plus innings of two-hit, one-run ball Smyly posted to start it felt almost eerily smooth. The Nick Swisher home run to put the Yankees on the scoreboard two batters into the game didn't rattle him, nor did the crowd of 44,686, nor the deep drives that sent left fielder Andy Dirks on the run to catch.

"It feels great getting my first 'W,' and then the team's on a losing streak and you're able to help the team get over that hump, so hopefully this is what jump-starts us," Smyly said. "Hopefully we can start rolling from there."

Smyly so quieted the normally raucous crowd that former Yankee Phil Coke drew barely a murmur of boos when he ran in from the bullpen to replace Smyly after a leadoff single in the seventh. The Yankees bats from Swisher's first-inning solo shot until Alex Rodriguez's leadoff single on Smyly's 93rd and final pitch had been silenced.

In between, Smyly retired 17 of 19 with two walks and seven strikeouts. He fanned five in an eight-batter span from the fourth inning into the sixth, starting with a cutter that snuck in on Robinson Cano for a called third strike and a curveball that sent Rodriguez down swinging.

"The first inning, they were hitting the ball pretty hard," Smyly said. "I gave up the homer to Swisher and then a couple hard-hit balls from [Derek] Jeter and Cano. But after that, I wanted to just come back out in the second. They threw up three more runs, so I had a 6-1 lead, so I was thinking, 'Throw strikes, get outs and keep the team in the game.'

"After the second, I was feeling good. All my pitches and my changeup were on. My cutter and curveball were right where I wanted them to be the whole game, so I was able to have a good mix between my fastball and those two pitches, and I was able to keep them off balance."

Smyly looked like someone who had pitched here before. Never mind that the Arkansas native had never been to New York.

"He pitched, really pitched, like a veteran pitcher, to be honest with you," manager Jim Leyland said. "Not a lot of guys can do that. Guys that pitch a long time can't do that."

Leyland is trying to be cautious in his praise for fear of helping feed the hype. With each compliment came the warning label that these hitters hadn't seen him before. He praised Smyly's poise and pointed out that he hasn't been hit around, which will provide a better test of mettle when he has to come back from that.

Still, the Yankees have their advance scouts, who were watching the Tigers in Spring Training when Smyly was out winning a rotation spot. They had video of Smyly's previous starts to watch what he did to hold the Rays, Royals and Rangers to one run each.

This was arguably better.

"I really like his mound presence and demeanor," Leyland said. "He doesn't seem to get too excited, but he hasn't gotten hit around yet. But he's impressive."

When Smyly first caught the eye of Tigers scouting director David Chadd, he was pitching for Arkansas on the road at Louisiana State. What stood out for Chadd, he said earlier this month, wasn't the stuff so much as the way Smyly kept his cool in a hostile environment.

This was like that, only bigger.

"Before I throw the first pitch, I'm on the mound and I'm staring at Jeter. That's exciting," Smyly said. "Especially for me, that's fun. But after the first pitch, it's back to business. You've got to be able to continue to get him out."

Swisher, the one Yankee who saw him consistently well Saturday, was nonetheless impressed.

"He's one of those guys that just mixes speeds, uses breaking balls, sliders, got a little cutter," Swisher said. "He's kind of like a slinger almost. It feels like he just kind of comes back and slings at you. You've got to give him credit, man, just a great job today."

For what Smyly has done through four starts, there's precious little hype to go around. According to baseball-reference.com, Smyly is the first pitcher to give up one run or fewer in his first four Major League outings, all of them starts, since Fernando Valenzuela in 1981. He's only the third pitcher to accomplish the feat in the last 50 years, and the only Tiger to do it in the live ball era.

He also leads the American League in ERA, with a 1.23 mark.

There is no Smyly-palooza to rival Fernando-mania, and there probably won't be. Justin Verlander is the dazzling pitcher on this team. Yet even Verlander, for all he did as a rookie in 2006, is impressed with what Smyly has done so far.

"I've been very impressed with him," Verlander said afterwards. "The way he's carried himself on the mound, and the way he's pitched, he's just going out there and pitching."

Verlander wanted to make sure Smyly didn't change a thing. So after Verlander was done battling the Yankees for six innings Friday night, he took a moment to go to Smyly and give him a pep talk.

"I said, 'Don't do anything different,'" Verlander said. "I said, 'The stuff that you've been throwing up there is going to do well against these guys. You don't need to try to do anything different.'"

He didn't. And when Eric Chavez's drive to right field fell into Don Kelly's glove just in front of the fence for the game's final out, Valverde took the game ball and gave it to Smyly.

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