Curtis Granderson's Defense Saves A.J. Burnett; Yankees Beat Tigers, Force Game 5

A.J. Burnett was the last pitcher Yankees fans wanted to see in this series. Curtis Granderson saved the day for Burnett and New York.

The one thing New York Yankees fans worried about the most in the Division Series with the Tigers was seeing A.J. Burnett start a game.

Check that. It wasn't worry; it was abject fear and terror, which I personally overheard and also saw in the faces of some Yankees fans on the New York City subway Friday night when I was returning to my hotel from the suspended Game 1. That suspension meant that CC Sabathia would only be able to start one further game (Game 3, as it turned out) and that Burnett would have to start Game 4. The fear was justified; in 13 starts Burnett made after the All-Star break, he posted a 6.88 ERA and allowed 14 home runs in 70⅓ innings.

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Burnett is an unlikely hero, then, of the Yankees' 10-1 win over the Tigers Wednesday night at Comerica Park in Detroit. He threw 5⅔ innings and allowed four hits and four walks and just one run. Burnett pitched competently -- but he owes Yankees center fielder Curtis Granderson. Big-time.

With two out in the first inning, after Burnett walked the bases loaded (one of the walks was intentional), Detroit's Don Kelly sent a sharp line drive to center field that began to sail away from Granderson. He came in on the ball, then raced back and at full extension of both his body and left arm, caught it. You've probably seen it, but it's worth another look:

If the ball goes even six inches farther, it goes over Granderson's glove and at least three runs score. Yes, "at least", because with Granderson's dive, and the deep dimensions of Comerica Park, and Kelly's above-average speed, he could have had an inside-the-park grand slam.

Instead, Burnett got out of the inning scoreless; the Yankees took a 2-0 lead in the third on a Derek Jeter double, and after Victor Martinez cut the lead to 2-1 with a solo homer in the fourth, the Yankees got a pair of runners on base. An attempted bunt failed to advance them, but Granderson came through again, doubling in a run. A sac fly made the score 4-1 off Detroit's Rick Porcello, who scared Tigers fans almost as much as Burnett did to their New York counterparts. Porcello pitched credibly enough, completing six innings with those four runs allowed, but his team's offense couldn't help him.

After Kelly singled with two out in the sixth, Joe Girardi replaced Burnett with Rafael Soriano. Soriano got Jhonny Peralta to hit a sinking liner into left-center field. Granderson then saved his pitcher's butt a second time:

The Yankees proceeded to blow the game open in the eighth inning, scoring six runs on seven hits, a walk and a balk by reliever Al Alburquerque, to set up a decisive fifth game at Yankee Stadium on Thursday. This will be the first Game 5 in a division series since 2004, when the Braves and Astros went the distance.

And to think, Yankee fans feared A.J. Burnett appearing in this series. They should have known that someone would step up to help. Tuesday night was Curtis Granderson's night to shine.

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