Robinson Cano thought he had a home run in the fifth inning, but the ball struck on top of the left field wall.
An inning later there was no doubt Cano had a home run.
Cano launched a grand slam into the second deck in right field to highlight a six-run sixth inning as the Yankees opened the ALDS with a 9-3 victory over the Tigers Saturday night at Yankee Stadium.
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Cano was moved up to third in the Yankee order partially for his ability to hit in clutch spots such as with the bases loaded. Five years after hitting ninth against the Tigers in the ALDS, Cano was the fourth Yankee to have six RBI in Yankees postseason history. The grand slam was the 11th in Yankee postseason history.
“He did exactly what we needed him to do,” Derek Jeter said. “Basically he has been doing that all year.”
“It is a kid that has grown and blossomed into quite a player,” Yankee manager Joe Girardi said. “He swung the bat great all night.”
He was the fourth Yankee to have six RBI in Yankee postseason history.
After grounding out in his first at-bat against Doug Fister, Cano’s huge night started when he drove a 1-1 pitch that appeared as though it might have gone over the left field wall for a home run.
Replays showed that the ball hit on top of the wall and following a brief review, Cano was given an RBI double that scored Curtis Granderson with the go-ahead run.
The Yankees held their one-run lead until the sixth when they began getting to Fister, who had pitched decently against them in his final start for Seattle. It began when Mark Teixeira roped a first-pitch fastball for a double, and continued when Jorge Posada drew a one-out walk.
Luck also aided the Yankees on two instances.
Russell Martin hit a ground ball to shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who elected not to go for the double play even with Posada running at first. That preceded Brett Gardner’s two-run single to right field.
Three pitches later, the Yankees caught Detroit second baseman Ryan Raburn out of position anticipating a possible steal by Gardner. As Raburn moved towards the bag, Jeter slapped a base hit.
Fister’s night ended after walking Granderson and two sliders later, the rout was on as Cano crushed an Al Alburquerque pitch into the second deck. It was his fourth grand slam in 2011 and the first by a Yankee in the postseason since Ricky Ledee in Game Four of the 1999 ALCS in Boston.
“It was kind of a funny pitching change because I thought they might bring a lefty in,” Nick Swisher said. “But Robby hits lefties probably as good as he does righties, so pick your poison.”
“I was looking for something that I just can drive,” Cano said. “I was not looking for something that I can drive and was not looking for the home run.”
Besides having luck and Cano’s lethal bat, the Yankees also had an outstanding performance from Ivan Nova. Pitching without nervousness in his postseason debuts, Nova was originally slated for Game Two but when Game One was suspended in the second inning, he was tabbed to finish CC Sabathia’s outing.
Nova was just as effective as he was during most of his 16 regular-season wins, going 6 1/3 innings and allowing just four hits. His biggest spot was second and third immediately before the Yankees took the lead when Wilson Betemit batted for Brandon Inge. Betemit flied out to center field.
Nova was the first rookie to win his postseason debut since Orlando Hernandez evened the 1998 ALCS with seven scoreless innings in Game Four against the Indians.
“He almost allowed us not to use our bullpen at all,” Girardi said. “I loved what he did today.”
Just as the Yankee offense was helped by luck, Nova was assisted by his defense on two occasions.
The first immediately preceded Betemit’s at-bat.
Peralta lined a single to center field and the Tigers sent catcher Alex Avila from second. Granderson threw to Derek Jeter, who made a perfect throw to catcher Russell Martin for the out following a collision at the plate.
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“I kind of got lucky,” Martin said. “It could have been lucky, but I’m glad I got the out. It’s a big play. We get an out, it takes away a run from them. If we don’t make that play they score a run and have guys in scoring position. That changes the game completely.”
The second was when it was a one-run game.
Delmon Young appeared to get another hit to right field but Nick Swisher raced over, made a diving catch and moments later the game significantly changed in favor of the Yankees.
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.