One of the most underrated New York Yankees is Curtis Granderson. In a few days, it will be one year since he led the Yankees to their opening day victory against his former team, the Detroit Tigers, on a day when the wind-chill was 31 degrees.
Batting eighth in the lineup against Justin Verlander, Granderson struck out his first time at the plate. He would strike out 168 more times in 2011, setting a dubious Yankees record, but he would drive in 119 runs and score 136 to lead the league in both categories.
The Yankees took a 3-1 lead on Mark Teixeira's three-run homerun in third inning. All Granderson could do against Verlander in the fourth inning was ground out to first baseman Miguel Cabrera with the pitcher covering.
The Tigers tied the score in the fifth inning with the help of a Robinson Cano error. It was still 3-3 when Granderson led off the seventh inning against left-hander Phil Coke.
After having problems batting against left-handers the first part of 2010, Granderson, with the help of batting coach Kevin Long, adjusted. He hit .268 against lefties the second half of the season after batting only .183 the entire 2009 season, which was his final year with the Tigers.
Granderson stepped into the batter's box. Coke got the signal from Alex Avila, nodded assent and went into his delivery. The ball landed in the second deck in right field becoming the third home run that Granderson had hit on opening day.
The much-maligned Rafael Soriano pitched a one-two-three eighth and when Mr. Sandman was played, everyone was certain that the game was over. Mariano Rivera retired Jhonny Peralta and Brandon Inge on fly balls to the outfield and struck out Avila on a called third strike to end the game.
Granderson did more than hit the game-winning homerun.
In the first inning, he made a spectacular diving catch on a sinking line drive to rob Will Rhymes of a hit and in the ninth inning, playing a shallow center field, Granderson raced back to rob Inge of a double.
After the game, Granderson spoke to the media.
“All of the firsts are out of the way, you know,” Granderson said. “I knew of the city and the fans, and now I know how it is. So all those question marks are gone, versus looking forward to it, like I am now."
Derek Jeter was more succinct in describing the game. “It was, as scripted,” Jeter said.