Originally posted on Pro Sports Daily  |  Last updated 4/29/12

NEW YORK -- The rookie making his major-league debut battled the superstar who had tied a Hall of Famer on the all-time RBI list earlier in the game.

It was the bottom of the seventh inning at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, and Detroit Tigers reliever Luke Putkonen endured an intimidating initiation in his major-league debut. He had pitched into and out of trouble in his first full inning and change in the big leagues and now he faced New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, with the Tigers trailing by a run.

There were runners on second and third with one out and the Yankees leading by just one run in a game they would eventually win, 6-2.

The game had been like the season so far for the Yankees, full of starts and stops, and ultimately remaining unsatisfying, with the Yankees unable to just pull away. It was especially frustrating with ace CC Sabathia (3-0) picking up the struggling rotation with a dominant performance that was in jeopardy of being in vain. Sabathia allowed two runs in eight innings while striking out eight, giving up a home run to Prince Fielder and a two-run double to Miguel Cabrera and little else.

Compounding the frustration, the Yankees had also lost Nick Swisher, who left with a tight hamstring in the third inning.

Putkonen threw the 3-2 pitch and Rodriguez rapped a grounder to short, the rookie seemingly winning the battle as Yankees catcher Chris Stewart ran home.

Tigers shortstop Ramon Santiago, who had been playing in with the rest of the infield, made his throw in time.

But Stewart slid his left leg just around catcher Gerald Laird's tag to give the Yankees their long-awaited insurance run, and a 4-2 lead. Detroit manager Jim Leyland argued, but to no avail, and replays backed up home-plate umpire Rob Drake's call.

Curtis Granderson added another run on a sacrifice fly for a 5-2 lead, and the Yankees were on their way to claim a series victory by winning their second in three games.

The RBI on the fielder's choice pushed Rodriguez ahead of Willie Mays for eighth place on the major-league all-time list with 1,904.

Like his first RBI of the game, which came on an infield single, it was not particularly impressive. But it was indicative of a day in which the Yankees both wasted and maximized their scoring chances. They stranded 15 base runners, but scored four of their runs on a bases-loaded walk, a fielder's choice, an infield hit and a sacrifice fly.

"We had a sacrifice fly, we had a play at the plate ... showed we could score in multiple ways," said Granderson, who also homered, "and not just rely on one."

Detroit headed home to play Kansas City having lost six of seven, along with Delmon Young, who was placed on the restricted list Saturday after his arrest early Friday morning in Manhattan, for a fight that included him shouting anti-Semitic remarks, according to police.

The Yankees peppered Tigers starter Max Scherzer (1-3) for seven hits in 4 2/3 innings, adding seven walks, but managed only three runs against the losing pitcher.

"We walked too many people," Leyland said. "We're not supposed to do that. Major League pitchers are not supposed to do that, walk that many. He just couldn't command his pitches. Once again, he got his pitch count way up there way too early."

While the Yankees picked up the win, they will lose Swisher for "probably ... more than a few days," manager Joe Girardi said, adding he did not expect Swisher to go on the DL.

Aside from Granderson's home run to right-center field in the fourth -- almost stolen by a superb play by Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson, who reached over the fence, but lost the ball as he tried to bring it back -- and Andruw Jones' homer in the eighth, the Yankees' offense did not flex its star-studded muscles.

But New York was able to ride Sabathia's strong left arm in his best start of the season. The ace often takes some time to get going, but his improved performance was especially important with the Yankees' rotation struggling, forcing Girardi to use his bullpen more lately.

"Yeah, I always feel a responsibility to pitch well; it's nothing extra," Sabathia said, when asked if he felt pressure to step up. "I tend to throw harder as it warms up. I just feel better as time goes on."

Granderson also reached a RBI milestone in unusual fashion, notching his 500th on a bases-loaded walk in the second inning to score the game's first run. Rodriguez followed with a dribbler that third baseman Cabrera couldn't handle to make it 2-0.

Granderson's homer in the fourth made it 3-0, but Detroit made things tense as Scherzer and Putkonen wiggled out of trouble and Detroit pulled within 3-2 in the sixth.

NOTES: Yankees RHP Freddy Garcia was demoted to the bullpen Sunday, a day after he raised his ERA to 12.51 by allowing six runs in 1 2/3 innings. RHP David Phelps will take over his spot, Girardi said after the game. ... With Phelps unavailable in relief, RHP D.J. Mitchell was called up from Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. RHP Cody Eppley, who pitched three innings Saturday and had a 1.69 ERA this year, was demoted. ... RHP Doug Fister (strained rib cage) was scheduled to make a rehab start for Class AAA Toledo next Wednesday.

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