DETROIT — Two great catches by Curtis Granderson helped A.J. Burnett save the Yankees’ season.
The center fielder foiled his former team with his glove, and Burnett came through when New York needed him most, leading the Yankees past the Detroit Tigers 10-1 Tuesday night to send their American League playoff series back to the Bronx for a decisive Game 5.
Derek Jeter rebounded from a game-ending strikeout Monday, putting the Yankees ahead to stay with a two-run double in the third inning.
Granderson also had an RBI double, and New York broke it open with six runs in the eighth.
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“We don’t win that game tonight without defense,” Burnett said.
Shaky all season, Burnett started only because Game 1 was suspended by rain Friday. He was in trouble in the first after loading the bases on walks but Granderson made a leaping grab of Don Kelly’s line drive in center field, preventing at least three runs.
Game 5 is Thursday night in New York and rookie right-hander Ivan Nova, who shut down the Tigers in the opener, will start against Doug Fister. Both came on as relievers Saturday after Game 1 started Friday night but was halted after 1 1⁄2 innings.
“He’s been great for us all season long,” Granderson said about Nova. “Don’t expect anything different for him out there two days from now.”
Saved by Granderson’s glove, Burnett allowed a run and four hits in 52⁄3 innings before turning it over to the bullpen.
“I told you, his stuff is so good that he can shut you down. I thought we hit some balls pretty decent. He wasn’t real sharp early. We had our shot,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “That was a big play in the first inning.”
Granderson was on the Detroit team that went to the World Series in 2006, but the Tigers traded the popular outfielder to the Yankees as part of a three-team deal after the 2009 season. Max Scherzer, a pitcher Detroit received in the deal, left his mark on this series with an impressive Game 2 start. Then it was Granderson’s turn.
After hitting 41 home runs during the regular season to become an MVP contender, Granderson made his biggest impact Tuesday with his glove.
The Yankees didn’t plan to start Burnett in this series, but they didn’t have much of a choice after Game 1 took two days to finish. So they sent the erratic right-hander to the mound, hoping for the best.
“I was thrilled for him, but I was thrilled for us. What he did, 5 2⁄3 and only giving up that one run, a great performance. Struggled a little bit in the first inning and then really settled down nicely,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I was proud of what he did. In a must-win situation for us, he pitched one of his best games of the year.”
New York’s worst fears appeared justified in the first. In fact, the Yankees’ bullpen was already stirring when Burnett walked three hitters, one intentionally, to bring up Kelly with two outs and the bases loaded.
Kelly — a surprise addition to the Detroit lineup — hit a hard line drive to center field. Granderson appeared to misjudge the ball at first before backing up and jumping at the last second to rob Kelly of an extra-base hit.
“Don Kelly put a great swing on the ball to the middle of the field and hit it really hard,” Granderson said. “Talking to (teammate) Andruw Jones, you know, probably one of the greatest center fielders, he said that’s one of the toughest balls, too, because you don’t know if it’s going to fall in front of you or take off like it did, and somehow I was able to stay in the right spot and make a play on it.”
Burnett is in the third season of a five-year, $82.5 million contract. He’s been largely a disappointment, but he gave the Yankees the start they needed with the season on the line.
“Maybe it took me 25-30 to get loose, maybe. I don’t know. I was just letting it go. And if it didn’t go for a strike, it didn’t go. I wasn’t worried about it,” Burnett said. “I was able to find somewhat of a rhythm after that. It was a little nerve racking in the first. I hadn’t been out there in a while.”
Rafael Soriano relieved Burnett in the sixth, and Jhonny Peralta lifted a fly to left-center. Granderson came sprinting over and made a diving catch even more impressive than the first one, sliding across the outfield grass on his belly after making the grab. He appeared shaken up for a bit afterward but stayed in the game.
“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.”
New York players stood and clapped in the dugout as Granderson trotted in. Burnett came over to give the center fielder a hug.