By MIKE FITZPATRICK, AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK (AP) _ One rainy day after Game 1 started, Robinson Cano and the New York Yankees slammed their way to a blowout.
Cano hit a grand slam and drove in six runs, rookie Ivan Nova pitched brilliantly into the ninth inning in an unusual relief appearance and New York shook off a 23-hour delay to beat the Detroit Tigers 9-3 Saturday night in their suspended playoff opener.
A day after showers wiped out aces Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia after only 11/2 innings, play resumed in the bottom of the second with two new pitchers on the mound.
No national anthem, all Yankees.
Cano barely missed a homer on his tiebreaking double in the fifth and New York broke it open with a six-run sixth against losing pitcher Doug Fister. Brett Gardner had a two-run single on an 0-2 pitch with two outs to make it 4-1 and, moments later, Cano connected off Al Alburquerque for his fourth grand slam since Aug. 11.
“My goal is just to win it all,” Cano said.
Freddy Garcia starts for New York on Sunday afternoon in Game 2 of the best-of-five American League division series. Max Scherzer gets the ball for the Tigers, who will try to rebound the same way they did against the Yankees in 2006.
That year, Detroit dropped the postseason opener in New York before winning three straight to stun the heavily favored Yankees en route to the World Series. Game 2 of that playoff was postponed a day by rain. This time, it took two nights to finish Game 1, so the scheduled off day on Monday was eliminated.
Along with Curtis Granderson, Cano is one of New York’s two leading contenders for AL MVP –and he showed why.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi moved the slugger up from fifth to third in the lineup for the playoffs to get him more protection and pitches to hit.
Smart move so far.
“They put you third, so you want to do your job there. You don’t want to let your manager down,” Cano said. “I did my job today and hopefully I can continue doing it.”
Cano added a run-scoring double in the eighth to tie a club record for RBIs in a postseason game –this is New York’s 50th postseason appearance. His seventh career postseason homer was the 11th slam in Yankees postseason history and the first since Ricky Ledee connected in the 1999 AL championship series against Boston.
Rather than bring in left-hander Daniel Schlereth to face Cano in the sixth, Tigers manager Jim Leyland went with Alburquerque, a righty.
“To me, that’s one for everyone else to second-guess. To me that was a no-brainer,” Leyland said. “Left-handers are hitting .177 off Alburquerque, .200 off Schlereth. Cano is .320 off of left-handers, .295 off righties. Alburquerque has had a tremendous ratio of swings and misses. He had only faced him one time; he had struck him out.”
Derek Jeter threw out a runner at the plate to keep the score tied and bounced a fortunate single through the right side– with second baseman Ryan Raburn covering the bag on a steal play– during the sixth-inning rally.
Nova was demoted to the minors for most of July to open a roster spot when Phil Hughes came off the disabled list. But the right-hander won his final 12 decisions during the regular season and picked up where Sabathia left off Friday, pitching shutout ball into the ninth before 50,940 fans– the largest crowd at the new Yankee Stadium.
“I just wasn’t sure how he was going to control his emotions,” Girardi said. “I didn’t think he had his best stuff today and he still found a way to get outs. But I thought he pitched really well. He pitched to contact. … I loved what he did today.”
After loading the bases in the ninth, Nova was pulled. The 24-year-old rookie tipped his cap as the crowd gave him a standing ovation and pounded his chest when he got to the dugout.
“He’s a really good pitcher. He had a good fastball, a good slider. He mixed every pitch,” Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta said. “He controlled the plate.”
Detroit scored twice against Luis Ayala and Girardi took no chances, bringing in Mariano Rivera. The career saves leader got a three-pitch strikeout in a non-save situation to end it.
Rivera also threw out the ceremonial first pitch– Friday night –to longtime teammate Jorge Posada.
Fister, who went 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA after being acquired in a July 30 trade from Seattle, replaced Verlander. The right-hander retired 11 in a row before Granderson singled with two outs in the fifth.
Cano followed with a drive to left that hit the top of the fence as several fans in the front row backed away to avoid interfering. The ball caromed back to left fielder Delmon Young and umpires ruled it in play as Granderson scored easily to give New York a 2-1 lead.
Girardi came out for a brief discussion and four umps went under the stands to take a look at the replay. After a 4-minute delay, they came back out and upheld the call.
“Everyone in this row spoke about not reaching over and catching a ball,” said the closest fan, 37-year-old Chris Vitali
from New Brunswick, N.J. “We said, ‘Don’t do it. If it’s Detroit, fine. Catch it.’ … But, believe me, if it was a little bit further out, I would have dove over the top of the wall to catch it.”
The opener resumed after a delay of 23 hours, 29 minutes. There was no national anthem and official scorer Jordan Sprechman announced Verlander’s pitching line, a day later, one batter into the game. The Bleacher Creatures gave Yankees starters a second roll call.
The only other suspended game in postseason history was Game 5 of the 2008 World Series in Philadelphia, stopped after 51/2 innings because of rain and snow. Play picked up two days later, and the Phillies finished off Tampa Bay to win the title.
That bizarre scenario led Major League Baseball to adopt a rule in January 2009 ensuring that any postseason game halted after it begins will resume from the point of suspension rather than postponed and restarted another day.
The forecast was ominous for Saturday as well, and a steady drizzle cut short Detroit’s batting practice after only a few
minutes as the grounds crew covered the field.
But the sky cleared up and the tarp came off 50 minutes before the first pitch. Play began on time and was never interrupted on a windy, 55-degree night. The first day of the month, and it certainly felt like October.
Detroit nearly went ahead in the fifth when catcher Alex Avila tried to score from second on Peralta’s sharp single to center. Granderson fired to Jeter, who relayed to the plate from just behind second base. The throw was a little wide but in time for Russell Martin to apply a quick tag.
With runners at second and third, Leyland went to his bench. But pinch-hitter Wilson Betemit, a left-handed hitter, flied out to end the inning.
Nova caught a break in the sixth after issuing a leadoff walk with a 2-1 lead. With the runner going, Magglio Ordonez hit a grounder up the middle and Cano, covering second base on the steal, turned it into an easy double play. Nick Swisher followed with a diving catch in right, and Nova pumped his fist.
Young homered for the Tigers and Alex Rodriguez had an RBI groundout, both in the first inning Friday.
NOTES: It was the 50th anniversary of Roger Maris’ record-breaking 61st home run at the old Yankee Stadium on the
final day of the 1961 season. … Plate umpire Tony Randazzo was shaken up a couple of times when he was hit by balls that Nova bounced. One pitch went under Martin’s arm and hit Randazzo in the chin, like an uppercut. Randazzo went down and was checked by Yankees assistant athletic trainer Steve Donohue before remaining in the game. After the final out, Randazzo was taken to a hospital for precautionary X-rays.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)