Curtis Granderson began the best night of his career as a .208 hitter whose timing was slightly off.
Following a pregame session in the batting cage, Granderson regained his timing in a big way with three home runs in his first three at-bats and a 5-for-5 showing during Thursday night’s 7-6 victory over the Twins.
“My timing has been off all season,” Granderson said. “It’s just one of those things where I couldn’t get the rhythm right and I think that’s baseball being baseball and you see guys going through down points in the season. There is a lot of reasons why and timing is one of them.”
To remedy that issue of having his front foot not consistently staying still, Granderson spent time working with hitting coach Kevin Long and assistant Brett Weber in the batting cage in the tunnel between the Yankee dugout and clubhouse.
“We had Weber in the cage today and we just had him throw pitches from the windup. I really didn’t care about the result,” Granderson said. “I just wanted to make sure I was down in position to hit. I had Kevin Long standing behind me saying, ‘yes, no, yes, no’ if I got it right. I could feel it right away, ‘Hey I didn’t get it and OK I got that one.’ We weren’t even looking at the results.”
After looking at nothing but fastballs in his special session with Long, Granderson began his night by crushing a full-count fastball from Anthony Swarzak over the right-center field wall with one out in the first inning.
At that point, Granderson said Long enthusiastically said “Yeah, that’s what we worked on”.
An inning later, Granderson saw another fastball from Swarzak. The 3-1 offering wound up over the right field wall. That marked the first time a Yankee hit a home run in his first two at-bats since Jason Giambi on June 26, 2006 against Atlanta.
Not expecting to hit a third home run, Granderson did exactly that in the fourth off reliever Jeff Gray. This time, the pitch was a 2-2 slider he lined that over the right field wall.
“I was surprised that one got out,” Granderson said. “I think it hit me when I got in the dugout and CC [Sabathia] told me to go out there [for a curtain call].”
“I don’t think we’re really shocked he hit three home runs with as many home runs as he hit last year,” manager Joe Girardi said. “You don’t always see them bang, bang, bang. I don’t think people were really shocked by it just because we’ve seen what he’s capable of doing.”
Granderson became the first Yankee to hit three home runs at the new Yankee Stadium. He also became the first to do so in the Bronx since Alex Rodriguez homered three times against Bartolo Colon of the Angels on April 26, 2005.
“Anytime someone hits three it does [bring back the memories],” said Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson, who famously hit three homers in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series. “It’s nice to see it happen for one of our guys and we win.”
“It was quite a performance,” Girardi said. “What he did today was a special day and they don’t happen very often. He should cherish it and it’s fun to watch.”
Rodriguez also was the last Yankee to hit three in a game, doing so August 14, 2010 in Kansas City. He had the best view of anyone from the on-deck circle as Granderson slugged a solo home run in the first, a two-run home run in the second and another solo home run in the fourth.
Granderson’s night marked the 28th three home run game in Yankee history and the 20th player to do so. He also had two chances to join Lou Gehrig as the only Yankees with a four home run game.
Gehrig hit four on June 3, 1932 in a 20-13 win over the Philadelphia Athletics at Shibe Park. He hit three off George Earnshaw and slugged his fourth off Roy Mahaffey.
In his first chance at four, Granderson reached four hits for the 16th time in his career with a single to right in the sixth. In his next opportunity, in the eighth, Granderson reached on an infield single for his fifth hit.
It was Granderson’s third career five-hit game and first since July 30, 2008 at Cleveland when he had five singles out of the leadoff spot for the Tigers in a 13-inning game.
Granderson’s display helped the Yankees overcome a slow start by Phil Hughes. Hughes allowed six runs — four unearned — and six hits in 5 1/3 innings, but early on it did not look like he would last even that long.
Hughes fell behind the first five hitters and gave up four unearned runs in the top of the first. He gave up a two-run bases loaded single to Ryan Doumit on his fastball and a two-run single on his cutter to Danny Valencia.
Granderson’s third home run actually proved critical to Hughes’s chances of winning. That was because he gave up a leadoff walk to Justin Morneau and a two-run home run to Doumit with nobody out in the sixth.
Even though Hughes settled down after the first, he hardly was the model of efficiency as the Yankees failed to get a quality start for the 10th time in 13 games. He needed 103 pitches to 25 hitters and threw just nine first-pitch strikes.
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.