Rain may have helped Yanks this time

When the Yankees and Tigers opposed each other in the American League Division Series five years ago, a rainout proved a benefit to Detroit, which went on to win the series. This season, a suspended game due to rain in the ALDS may prove to have been in the Yanks’ favor.

It is too early to tell after one game, naturally, but the Yankees moved a step up on the Tigers after Game 1, which took two nights to complete because of inclement weather. The Yankees had their bats in full gear against Detroit’s Doug Fister and won big, 9-3. On a night when the sellout crowd of 50,940, a record at the current Yankee Stadium, chanted “M-V-P” every time Curtis Granderson came up, Robinson Cano proved he is in the same category with a six-RBI game.

The chief danger in opposing the Tigers in a best-of-5 series was the task of having to face AL Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Award candidate Justin Verlander twice. The rain that forced the suspension of Game 1 after 1 ½ innings Friday night changed all that. Verlander will have only one shot at the Yankees now, and maybe only if he starts Game 3.

Of course, CC Sabathia can only pitch once in the ALDS for the Yankees. But Ivan Nova besting Fister, who was 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA after coming to Detroit from Seattle in a July 30 trade, gave the Yankees an edge. It takes a lot of pressure off Game 2 starter Freddy Garcia. Manager Joe Girardi said after the game that his plans call for Sabathia to start Game 3 and A.J. Burnett if there is a Game 4.

Fister was first hurt by Cano with a run-scoring double in the fifth that the Yankees thought might have been a home run. By the time Cano hurt the Tigers again, Fister was out of the game. With runners on second and third and two out in the sixth, Fister froze Brett Gardner with two fastballs. The righthander then went with a breaking ball, which only served to speed up the bat of Gardner, who punched a single to center for two runs and a 4-1 lead.

Fister lost if after that, yielding a single to Derek Jeter and a walk to Granderson. Despite having lefthanders Daniel Schlereth and Phil Coke in the bullpen, Tigers manager Jim Leyland brought in righthander Al Albuquerque to pitch to the lefty batting Cano, who crushed a 0-1 slider for a grand slam to right. Leyland defended his decision by pointing out that Albuquerque, who was 6-1 with a 1.87 ERA in the regular season, had not allowed a home run all year and permitted only three inherited runners to score and held lefty hitters to a .177 batting average.

It was Cano’s seventh career postseason homer (third in the ALDS) and the first postseason salami for the Yankees since Ricky Ledee in Game 4 of the 1999 AL Championship Series against the Red Sox. Beginning with Tony Lazzeri in the 1936 World Series, the Yankees have hit 11 grand slams in postseason play.

Maybe Leyland knew something after all about Cano against lefties because Schlereth gave up an RBI double to him in the eighth. Cano’s six RBI tied the franchise record for a postseason game, joining Bobby Richardson in Game 3 of the 1960 World Series against the Pirates, Hideki Matsui in Game 6 of the 2009 World Series against the Phillies and Bernie Williams in Game 1 of the 1999 ALDS against the Rangers.

Nova was, well, super, as the crowd likes to chant. He pitched six innings of shutout ball before the Tigers got two runs in the ninth when Luis Ayala allowed a pair of inherited runners to score. The move to Ayala did not work. The move to Mariano Rivera did. He ended the game by striking out former teammate Wilson Betemit.

Five years ago, the rainout of Game 2 at the old Stadium worked in the Tigers’ favor. It was made up the next day with a 1:10 p.m. start. After Mike Mussina blew a 3-1 lead, the Yankees went down meekly in the late innings as twilight approached against the 100-mph stuff of Joel Zumaya. In Detroit, Kenny Rogers eked out his revenge against the Yankees with seven shutout innings in bearing Randy Johnson in Game 3, and the Tigers wrapped up the series the next day by pounding Jaret Wright.

Five years later, a much different scenario may emerge.

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