Detroit's young pitching, on the other hand, played a major role.
Justin Verlander held the Tigers in the game before Jamie Walker relieved him and the Tigers took the lead. Joel Zumaya lit up the radar gun with a memorable relief effort. It all added up to a 4-3 Detroit win, sending the series back to Motown all knotted up at one game apiece.
Verlander allowed three runs over 5 1/3 innings in his first career postseason start. Zumaya retired all five batters he faced -- striking out Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi and Alex Rodriguez in dominating fashion.
"It's not easy coming into this ballpark as a young player to perform the way they did," manager Joe Torre said. "I don't want to put the blame on our hitters as much as credit their pitchers."
This marks the fifth consecutive postseason in which the Yankees have split the first two games of the Division Series. They won Game 3 twice -- both against the Twins -- before winning the series, but the two times they lost Game 3 -- both against the Angels -- they were knocked out in the first round.
"The only thing this game means is that neither team is going to sweep," Jeter said. "Game 3 is really important for us, so we have to come out and play well."
Mike Mussina (0-1), who allowed four runs over seven innings, was unable to hold on to a two-run lead in the fifth inning. Mussina allowed eight hits but did not walk a batter, striking out five.
Johnny Damon accounted for all of the Yankees' runs when he hit a three-run blast in the fourth inning. New York's bats went cold, though, as the Yankees (1-for-8 with runners in scoring position) managed just two hits over the final five innings.
"It's disappointing because we had a 3-1 lead and they kept scratching back into it, and we couldn't get anything else going," Mussina said. "We had our opportunities to be up 2-0, but now it's a best-of-three."
The Yankees threatened early and often against Verlander, but the 23-year-old wouldn't break. After loading the bases with two outs in the first, Verlander got ahead of Rodriguez with a pair of fastballs that registered 99 and 100 mph on the scoreboard. With A-Rod looking fastball, Verlander froze him with an 84-mph breaking ball, escaping the jam.
"He showed through the last six months that he's very capable," Rodriguez said. "He showed it again today."
"He's had to do a lot of maturing this year, getting to the big leagues and now pitching in the postseason," Damon said. "For him to get ahead of A-Rod like he did and then throw that hammer, that's tough."
Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada reached base to open the second, putting Verlander in another tough spot. But the young right-hander retired Robinson Cano, Damon and Jeter to escape without any damage.
"For a youngster coming in here in that situation, Verlander did one whale of a job," Torre said. "We had some opportunities, but we just couldn't cash in."
"If you have good stuff, you have good stuff whether it's the regular season or the postseason," Jeter said. "He pitched well. He throws 98 or 99 mph, has a good breaking ball and changeup and mixes them up well. It's not like he's out there just throwing -- he's pitching."
Detroit took a lead in the second with a pair of two-out hits against Mussina. Craig Monroe doubled and Marcus Thames singled in the game's first run.
Verlander couldn't pull his Houdini act in the fourth, however, as Damon drilled a 1-0 pitch into the upper deck in right field for a three-run homer. It was Damon's second career Division Series homer and the fifth overall in his postseason career.
Unfortunately for New York, the offense dried up after Damon's homer. Jeter followed the home run with a double, but the Yankees managed just one hit from the fifth through the eighth.
"We got the lead, but then we just stopped," Damon said. "They pitched us tough. There were innings where we could have piled runs on, but we didn't. Our lineup is pretty special, we just ran up against some good pitching today."
The Tigers tied the game at 3 with runs in the fifth and sixth, then grabbed the lead against Mussina in the seventh on Curtis Granderson's RBI triple. Mussina finished the inning before turning the ball over to the bullpen. Scott Proctor and Brian Bruney each threw a scoreless inning for the Yankees.
Walker (1-0) threw a scoreless inning before handing off to Zumaya with one out in the seventh. Zumaya promptly disposed of Jeter and Bobby Abreu to move the game to the eighth, where he got Sheffield to fly out to open the inning.
Zumaya then struck out Giambi with pitches that all registered over 100 mph. That brought A-Rod to the plate, and Zumaya made quick work of him, striking him out on a 101-mph fastball.
"He's got a phenomenal arm, no doubt about it," Giambi said. "That's definitely the reason why they're here."
Todd Jones allowed a leadoff single by Matsui to open the ninth, but he earned the first postseason save of his career by retiring the next three batters.
"A lot of people wanted to count Detroit out after the first game, but those guys battled all year," Giambi said. "They have great starters, [an] unbelievable bullpen and guys that take good at-bats and grind the whole game. They played a great baseball game."
Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.