After all, Rogers had never pitched more than 5 1/3 innings in the playoffs, had lost seven consecutive decisions to the Yankees dating back more than a decade and posted a 6.45 career ERA against the Bombers.
But Rogers pitched the game of his life, putting the Tigers one win from the American League Championship Series and the Yankees one loss from another early October exit.
"That's why you don't go on numbers, don't go on the past or play the game on paper," shortstop Derek Jeter said. "You have to go out on the field and perform. Today it didn't happen, so now we have to go win a game tomorrow."
Playing their first postseason game in Detroit since 1987, the Tigers rolled to a 6-0 win over the Yankees in Game 3 of the American League Division Series, taking a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series.
Rogers pitched 7 2/3 innings of shutout ball, crushing the Yankees' hopes by holding them hitless in eight at-bats with runners in scoring position. Rogers allowed five hits and two walks, striking out eight for his first career postseason win.
"He was phenomenal," first baseman Jason Giambi said. "I don't ever remember him throwing that hard for that long. You could see him start to settle in, which gives him more and more confidence as the game goes on."
The Yankees had baserunners in each of the first eight innings, but never had more than one in any frame, going 0-for-18 with men on base. The 3-4-5 combination of Bobby Abreu, Alex Rodriguez and Giambi went a combined 0-for-10.
"Offensively, we just couldn't do anything, and when we started with base hits, we just couldn't produce," manager Joe Torre said. "Not much to talk about -- we didn't do it.
Randy Johnson, pitching for the first time in 13 days because of a herniated disk in his back, allowed five runs over 5 2/3 innings, but he threw much better than his final line indicated.
"I thought Randy was fine," Torre said. "He gave up the three runs in the one inning, but I thought he showed consistency, good stuff, battled his tail off."
New York's season now rides on the right arm of Jaret Wright, who takes on Jeremy Bonderman in Game 4 on Saturday afternoon at Comerica Park.
"Jaret's been throwing well for us, but it doesn't make a difference how well we pitch if we don't score," Jeter said. "We need to score some runs."
The Yankees' offense picked up where it left off in Game 2, when New York managed just two hits over the final five innings at Yankee Stadium.
Rogers allowed a baserunner in each of the first six innings, but shut the Yankees down once a man hit the basepaths. The Yankees went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position during that span and 0-for-13 with men on base, as Rogers worked one effective inning after another.
"I think all the experts thought we would have a good game against him, but unfortunately, we didn't," Johnny Damon said. "He pitched to contact. We saw the ball decent, we just couldn't get enough hits to fall in."
Johnson got through the first after giving up a leadoff single, but the Tigers got to the Big Unit in the second. Carlos Guillen, Ivan Rodriguez and Sean Casey opened the frame with consecutive singles, giving Detroit a 1-0 lead.
One out later, Curtis Granderson -- the hero of Game 2 for Detroit -- brought another run in with a fielder's choice, beating out a potential double play to allow Rodriguez to score the Tigers' second run. Placido Polanco poked a single up the middle to score Granderson, who had stolen second, as Detroit took a 3-0 lead.
Johnson settled down after giving up the three runs, retiring eight in a row and nine of the next 10.
"He was outstanding. I've got to give him a lot of credit," catcher Jorge Posada said. "He was a fighter. I'm really, really proud of what he did today. I'm really happy with what he did. I've got a lot of encouraging words. He really fought out there."
But Rogers made the runs stand up, rolling through New York's powerful lineup with relative ease.
"We were trying to get Randy some runs early in the game, but we got shut down," designated hitter Bernie Williams said. "We may have been on our heels a little bit from the beginning and may have started pressing too much as the game went on. It happens, man."
Detroit added a pair of runs with two outs in the sixth, as Rodriguez and Casey hit back-to-back RBI doubles against Johnson, driving the left-hander from the game.
"I have to go out and do my job," Johnson said. "I felt I did it for five innings and kind of regrouped a little bit and then the sixth inning, they put a couple of more hits together."
Posada led off the seventh with a double to left-center, but Rogers worked his magic again, retiring Hideki Matsui, Williams and Robinson Cano to strand yet another runner.
Rogers struck out Damon to open the eighth, then walked Jeter. Abreu looked at strike three for the second out in the inning, as Tigers manager Jim Leyland emerged from the dugout to take Rogers out of the game.
"He threw the ball awesome. That's not the Kenny I remember," A-Rod said. "Give him a lot of credit. He was phenomenal. He handled our lefties, he handled our righties. We took probably three or four good swings the whole night."
The sellout crowd of 43,440 rose to its feet to salute Rogers with a standing ovation, as Joel Zumaya came in from the bullpen and retired A-Rod to end the eighth. Todd Jones closed out the win, preserving the shutout with a scoreless ninth.
Now, the Yankees' season comes down to one game. If they win, they live to see another day. If not, it's another long winter of wondering how things got away from them.
"We just have to believe how good we are," Damon said. "I think we're the best team out there, we just have to show it to ourselves."
Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.