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Big League Stew

Two-timer: Granderson dazes Detroit with a pair of unreal catches

Big League Stew

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DETROIT — The performance that A.J. Burnett spun on Tuesday night to push the ALDS to a decisive fifth game may have come as a surprise to some Detroit Tigers fans.

But the assistance Curtis Granderson gave him in the Yankees' big 10-1 win?

That looked a little familiar.

Must have stung like hell, too.

Granderson, of course, made his name with the Tigers and spent four full seasons patrolling Comerica Park's spacious center field, diving into the grass for sinking line drives and climbing the fence to stop blasts that were trying to escape. He became such a fan favorite that he even achieved the unthinkable in Detroit, receiving cheers in a Yankees uniform every time he's returned since he was traded before the 2010 season.

But here's how big his effort was in Tuesday's win: By the time he came up to bat in the eighth inning, you could hear four or five people booing in the stands. In a town where his name is still golden, the scattered jeers qualified as a deafening roar.

The always-optimistic Granderson wouldn't own up to hearing any razzing, saying "I think I saw a sign that said 'Detroit still loves Curtis,' that was a good thing." The two stellar defensive plays he made, however, should have earned him some under-the-breath cursing. Both prevented Burnett from heading off the rails early and laid the foundation for one of the main storylines after the Yankees victory.

Check the plays out here: {YSP:MORE}

Granderson's first big save of the night came in the first inning. Though there were already two outs, a wild Burnett had walked the bases loaded and reliever Cory Wade was already warming up in the bullpen. Right fielder Don Kelly came to the plate and hit a fast-rising liner to center field. Granderson said he initially believed the ball to be coming right at him and so he froze for a moment and waited.

He quickly realized he had made a bad read off the bat.

"From my perspective, it kind of went up," Granderson said. "I was like, 'Oh man.'"

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After the game, Curtis Granderson Sr. was asked in the interview room if he believed his son would make the catch. He would only smile and shake his head "no," but it couldn't be considered a betrayal by dear old dad. Almost everyone in the crowd of 43,527 believed the ball was going to rocket over Granderson's glove and head all the way to a center-field wall that measures 420 feet from home plate. With Granderson on the ground, three runs would score. Maybe Don Kelly, too. Burnett's night would fit the script and the Yankees would be down in an early 4-0 hole. A 97-win season was on its way to waste.

Derek Jeter, however, professed to have faith as he watched things unfold from his position at shortstop. Never a doubt, said the smirk on The Captain's face after the game.

"I think he's made that catch against me here when he played for Detroit," Jeter laughed.

Jeter's statement might have been fiction, but Granderson leaping to make the catch and returning to earth with the ball in his glove was not. The grab ended the inning and sent Burnett into the dugout with a safe escape from the "25 to 30" awful pitches he joked that it took him to get loose on Tuesday.

On the other side of the field, Tigers manager Jim Leyland knew what had just happened.

"Sometimes you pick a key out in the game and I think the key in the game happened in the very first inning when Donnie Kelly smoked that ball," Leyland said. "If it would have gotten over [Granderson's] head and he had fallen down, it might have been an inside-the-park home run."

The second unbelievable catch the center fielder made might not have caused as much damage — Brett Gardner was backing him up so the ball wouldn't have gone far— but Granderson said it rated higher on the difficulty scale and noted that it also ended the possibilities of an extended sixth inning one batter after Burnett had been lifted. Instead of scoring a run or putting runners on second and third, Jhonny Peralta's drive into the left-center field disappeared into the glove of a diving Granderson.

The play preserved what was a 4-1 Yankees lead and also caused plenty of concern after Granderson remained on the ground for a few moments after completing the catch.

"The reason I was slow getting up [was that] I ended up knocking the wind out of myself," Granderson explained. "I think I hit my head a little bit as well because I had a little headache afterward."

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As the series heads toward Thursday's win-or-go-home Game 5, Granderson is the one leaving his former employers with a headache. He also contributed a RBI double on Tuesday night and is hitting .250/.368/.625 with a homer, a triple and three RBIs over the series' four games. Though it's true that the three-way trade between Detroit-New York-Arizona involving Granderson has worked out for all of the teams involved, it surely couldn't have helped Detroit fans get over the impact that their former (and still) hero had against them on Tuesday.

What once was theirs had come back to hurt them.

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