Granderson’s gravity-defying diving catch in the sixth inning was the most visually-stunning play of the night — one that will make its rounds on ESPN’s SportsCenter for weeks — but his leaping grab in the bottom of the first was the play that demoralized the Tigers and their fans and earned the Yankees a fighting chance to win the series on Thursday.
The Tigers had loaded the bases on the Yankees’ fragile starter, A.J. Burnett, who couldn’t find the strike zone to save his life. With two outs, the Tigers’ hot-hitting right fielder Don Kelly came to the plate. He ripped a laser shot into center field. Granderson was initially fooled by the ball, starting in before turning and sprinting backward with his familiar lengthy strides that cover so much ground in such a hurry.
Had the ball gone over Granderson’s head, all three runners would have likely scored, and the Tigers would have been in prime position to blow open the game and advance to the American League Championship Series.
Instead, Granderson did his best Clark Kent impersonation, turning into Super Man as he left his feet and snared the ball as it passed over his shoulder, recording the third out of the inning to silence the Tigers’ rally.
“If I miss that one, there’s nothing there but the wall back there and some ivy,” Granderson said, who was such a popular player in Detroit as much for his off-the-field charm as his on-the-diamond exploits. “Who knows what would have happened at that point — especially with it being the first inning. We get behind in an elimination game, here in Detroit, the fans stay in it.”
Instead, the fans were silenced, watching as Burnett suddenly came to life, inducing barrage of weak ground balls and harmless pop flies over the next several innings as the Yankees slowly built their lead.
Victor Martinez did his best to awaken the slumbering home crowd with his towering home run to right field in the bottom of the fourth inning, drawing the Tigers to within a run at 2-1.
But back came Granderson in the bottom of the fifth, using that long swing to belt a run-scoring double to the wall in right field to put the Yankees on top, 4-1.
Granderson saved his most dramatic heroics for the bottom of the sixth inning. After Kelly reached on a single, Jhonny Peralta lifted a fly ball to left-center.
Granderson got a fantastic jump on this ball and flew to his right, then dove and snared the ball a fraction of a moment before it would have hit the ground. Granderson hit the turf and slid several yards, looking like a child on a slip-n-slide, before coming to a stop with the ball securely trapped inside his glove.
Just how great was that catch? His teammates gave him a well-deserved standing ovation in the visitors’ dugout.
“That was an interesting one because I was a little bit out of position, partly because I’m playing the odds of where I think he’s going to possibly hit it,” Granderson said. “The ball hung up a little bit longer than we thought it was going to and I was able to go ahead and extend long enough to be able to catch it.
“I knocked the wind out of me. That’s the reason why I ended up staying down so long.”
Granderson’s heroics were more than enough for the Yankees to get past the Tigers. Detroit starter Rick Porcello was solid but not spectacular. The Tigers’ bullpen, on the other hand, was atrocious. Phil Coke, Al Alburquerque and Daniel Schlereth combined to allow six runs in the eighth inning alone as the Yankees pulled away for a lopsided Game 4 win.
If the Tigers hope to play another game at Comerica Park this fall, they’ll have to do it the hard way, going back to the Bronx and beating the Yankees on their home field. It can be done — the Tigers won there in Game 2 — but their best chance was to win it at home.
Granderson never gave them a chance.