A few things to notice about the Tigers decision to go to Al Alburquerque to face Robinson Cano in the sixth inning.
1. Alburquerque is a right-handed pitcher, not a lefty.
2. In 43.1 innings this season, he’d allowed just 21 hits, not one of which was a home run.
3. The one time he faced Cano earlier this year, Alburquerque got one of his 67 strikeouts.
“I was surprised,” Cano said. “They have a lefty (and) righty in the pen, but he brings in the righty. So, it ended up in our favor. I mean, that’s the decision he made, but I was looking for something that Ic an drive. Not looking for the home run, something I can at least get one RZBi so we can put some more runs in the lead.”
By now you know the result. Cano clobbered Alburquerque’s second postseason pitch for a grand slam, the 11th postseason grand slam in Yankees history. Cano tied a franchise posteason record with six RBI in the game, all of which came with two outs.
“It’s not a guy that, when he goes up there and there’s a runner on, he’s just trying to get a hit,” Joe Girardi said. “He’s trying to do damage… You look at what he’s done the last two years for us, he has been big for us. What he did in the playoffs last year, he did a lot of damage. We talked about moving him up and we couldn’t seem to get all our guys in the lineup the same day for a while there. It’s a kid that’s blossomed into quite a player is what he’s done.”
In the last week of the season, Girardi’s decision to bat Cano third against right-handers and fourth against lefties was a clear indication that this is Cano’s team now. He talked about taking notice of what Alex Rodriguez did in the playoffs in 2009, and now Cano seems poised to have the same sort of singular impact. He’s that good, and he showed it tonight.
“Robbie’s been doing it all year,” Derek Jeter said. “Robbie’s a tough out. He can beat you with a home run, he can beat you with pulled balls, he can hit balls the other way. He’s tough to pitch to, and he showed that today.”
“When you throw an inning like that, a quick inning in a situation like today, that lets you know that everything is the same,” Nova said. “It’s the same game. A little bit more pressure, of course, but it looked the same for me.”
Nick Swisher said Nova “controlled the game,” and Jeter said he was “as good as we could hope for.” A strong regular season earned Nova the No. 2 spot in the rotation, and tonight only solidified it.
“Robbie has been through the moment a lot already. Ivan has not,” Girardi said. “Ivan did a great job tonight. Our prayer is that it continues… I talked about if he was able to control his emotions, I thought he could pitch pretty well.”
Said Nova: “I was so excited, my first postseason start. I could not believe it. I was really excited. After the first inning, I came back normal. I was more confident, and I slowed down everything, so it was good.”
• It wasn’t The Dive or The Flip, but Jeter made another big defensive play in a big spot. With the game still tied in the fifth, Jhonny Peralta singled to center, and Jeter’s relay from Curtis Granderson hit Russell Martin in the chest. “I’m not the cutoff man to the plate,” Jeter said. “But Peralta hit it hard and Curtis sort of had to wait for it and couldn’t charge it, so I thought if I step in, we might have a chance to get him. Fortunately we did.”
• Most of the credit for the play went to Jeter, but it was a nice play by Martin as well. He kind of caught the ball and applied the tag in one motion. “It was a good throw,” Jeter said. “In that situation you’re just trying to get rid of it as quick as you can. I thought we had an opportunity, I thought it would be close, and fortunately we were able to get him. At the time, it was, what, tied at the time? So it was a big play for us.”
• Nick Swisher went asked about Cano’s pair of doubles, home run and six RBI: “Sounds like Matsui.”
• In a five-game series, winning Game 1 is huge. “You want to win games,” Jeter said. “It was a little odd. We were a good team for seven innings today because it was a continuation game, but a lot of good things happened.”
• Cano in response to a question about whether fans should be chanting “MVP” for him instead of Granderson: “That’s something not in my mind. We have to give credit to Granderson the way he helped the team the whole year. Right now my focus is in the playoffs, so I’ll let you guys decide (the MVP). Like I said, my goal is just to win it all.”
• Nova said the only pitch that was really working for him early was his fastball, but eventually everything fell into place. “I think I got everything today for me,” Nova said. “That’s the way I feel. I only throw one changup, but everything for me was working fine.”
• Cano’s reviewed double was the 10th play reviewed by video replay at the current Yankee Stadium, and the second in the postseason. The first was last year when Lance Berkman had a home run overturned and ruled foul.
• The last Yankees postseason grand slam was Ricky Ledee in the 1999 ALCS. The only other Yankees grand slam in the division series came from Paul O’Neill in 1997.
• Nova is the first Yankees rookie to win his postseason debut since Orlando Hernandez in 1998.
• Jorge Posada tied Bernie Williamss for the second-most postseason games all-time. Posada has played in 121. Jeter is at the top of the list with 148.
• Russell Martin has hit safely in seven of 10 career division series games.
• Jeter has reached base safely in 28 of 31 Game 1′s.
• Girardi’s final word on his rotation situation: “Right now we’re planning on CC on Monday and probably A.J. on Tuesday.”
• Tonight’s attendance of 50,940 was the largest single-game attendance at the current Yankee Stadium.
Associated Press photos