A.J. Saves Yanks With Some ‘Grand’ Intervention

AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES – GAME 4

YANKEES 10, TIGERS 1

When the Detroit Tigers traded Curtis Granderson to the New York Yankees in 2009 they never could have envisioned how badly the principal in that trade would come back to the Motor City to haunt them.

With the Tigers needing only one victory to advance to the ALCS in front of sellout crowd of 43,527 at Comerica Park on Tuesday night, Granderson made two spectacular highlight-reel catches and drove in a key run early to back the solid pitching of A.J. Burnett as the Yankees staved off elimination with a decisive thrashing of the Tigers.

For Burnett (1-0), the night was sweet redemption from past postseason failures and the travails of two very bad regular seasons. Burnett was not even scheduled to start in this series before rain forced a suspension of Game 1. Coming off a season in which he was 11-11 with a 5.15 ERA, Yankee fans had there hearts in their throats in the opening frame as Burnett, almost true to expected form, walked the bases loaded with two outs and Don Kelly heading to the dish.

After Burnett fell behind 1-0, Granderson’s grandiose evening in the city where he started his career began. Kelly laced a sharp line-drive that was heading right over Granderson’s head in centerfield. Granderson first took a step in and then retreated, spun his head around, extended his glove as high as he could and corralled the ball in the tip of the webbing of his glove to save three runs from scoring.

From that moment on Burnett was a different pitcher. Other than giving up a solo home run to Victor Martinez to lead off the fourth, Burnett was able to command the strike zone with his fastball and unleash his deadly curveball to keep the Tigers off balance.

Burnett gave up only four hits and, despite walking four batters, he struck out three in 5 2/3 innings. It was Burnett’s first postseason victory for the Yankees since his scintillating shutout of the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 2 of the 2009 World Series. The road from an anathema to a postseason savior has been a very long one for the 34-year-old right-hander.

Granderson’s catch also seemed to spark the offense, which was oddly dormant for the last two innings on Monday and the first two innings against Tigers starter Rick Porcello (0-1).

Pocello opened the third by hitting designated hitter Jorge Posada with an 0-1 pitch. Russell Martin followed with the Yankees’ first hit.

One out later, Derek Jeter laced a double over the head of Austin Jackson (who the Tigers acquired from the Yankees in the Granderson deal) off the base of the centerfield wall that scored Posada easily. But Martin had to slide to the extreme outside of the plate and reach back with his left hand to avoid the relay throw from Jhonny Peralta and the swipe tag of catcher Alex Avila.

After Martinez’s home run that sliced the lead to 2-1, the Yankees added to their margin in the fourth off Porcello.

Martin opened the frame with a another single. Instead of laying down a sacrifice bunt to move Martin, Gardner fooled the Tigers and sliced an opposite field single to left.

Jeter then botched a sacrifice bunt by hitting the ball right back to Porcello, who turned and forced Martin at third.

But Granderson bailed out Jeter and the Yankees by lacing a double off the wall in centerfield to score Gardner and advance Jeter to third. After Robinson Cano was walked intentionally to load the bases, Alex Rodriguez drove in his third run of the series without the benefit of a hit with a sacrifice fly to deep center.

Energized by a 4-1 lead, Burnett was able to keep the Tigers off the board and he was removed in the sixth inning after he gave up a two-out single to Kelly.

Rafael Soriano came in to relieve Burnett with Peralta strolling to the plate.

Peralta turned on Soriano’s first offering and lofted a high fly ball into the gap in left-center. That is when Granderson came back to take another giant bite out of the hand of the team that once fed him.

Granderson raced into left-center and laid out his body in a full dive and caught the ball again in the tip of the webbing in a play that easily outshone the multi-run-saving catch he made in the first inning. Tiger players and Tiger fans watched stunned as the centerfielder they once cheered and loved had come back to put a nice leather-laced dagger in their collective hearts.

While Soriano, Phil Hughes and Boone Logan pitched no-hit ball the rest of the way, the Yankees’ offense unleashed a torrent of hits on the Tigers’ bullpen to ensure that any thoughts of a Tiger comeback was futile.

The Yankees ripped former teammate Phil Coke (who was also part of the Granderson trade), poor mistreated Al Alburquerque, Daniel Schlereth and Ryan Perry for six runs on seven hits as they sent 11 batters to the plate in a 35-minute eighth inning.

The Tigers did really get generous when Alburquerque balked in a run and Schlereth uncorked a wild pitch to allow another run to score.

Cano capped off the inning with a two-run single that pushed the margin to 10-1, marking the most runs the Yankees have scored in an ALDS game.

By that time, most of the Tiger faithful had abandoned their playoff seats and headed home, which is where they will have to watch the fate of their team in Game 5 on Thursday night at Yankee Stadium.

With Granderson’s support in the field and with his bat, the night truly belonged to Burnett, however.

Manager Joe Girardi said it best: “I was proud of what he did. In a must-win situation for us, he pitched one of his best games of the year.”

 

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