By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Robinson Cano crushed a grand slam home run to lift the New York Yankees to a 9-3 rout of the Detroit Tigers on Saturday and complete their rain-delayed opening game of the Major League Baseball (MLB) playoffs.
Cano drove in six runs, including two run-scoring doubles, to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five American League division series after a prolonged game that began on Friday but was suspended because of rain.
"You want to be able to do that with men in scoring position," said Cano, who became the fourth Yankee ever to drive in six runs in a postseason game following Hideki Matsui (2009), Bernie Williams (1999) and Bobby Richardson (1960).
The game resumed on a chilly night in the Bronx with the score tied 1-1 in the bottom of the second inning with Doug Fister on the mound for Detroit and Ivan Nova pitching for New York.
The hard-hitting second baseman snapped the tie with a near home run in the fifth when his shot to left landed right on top of the eight-foot wall and bounced back on the field.
Television replays confirmed it was a double and not a home run but it still allowed Curtis Granderson to score and make it 2-1.
Cano left no doubt about his home run bid in the next inning, belting an 0-1 pitch from right-handed reliever Al Alburquerque into the second deck in right with the bases loaded to cap a six-run burst that made it 8-1.
"Left-handers are hitting .177 off Alburquerque," noted Leyland, who said he would not second guess his decision to go to Alburquerque, calling his move a "no brainer".
"Alburquerque has had a tremendous ratio of swings and misses. He had only faced him one time. He had struck him out," the manager said. "He's been tremendous.
"He threw a slider and it didn't do anything and one of the best hitters in baseball hit it out."
Cano's towering blast came after a two-run single by Brett Gardner off Fister had padded the lead to 4-1.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who late this season shifted Cano from fifth in the batting order to number three, saw the move pay off in grand style.
"(He's) a kid that's grown and blossomed into quite a player," Girardi said about the 28-year-old Dominican. "He swung the bat great all night."
The 24-year-old Nova, who posted a 16-4 mark this season, got the win, holding down the Tigers with six shutout innings before being charged with a pair of runs in the ninth.
Detroit rallied in the ninth against a tiring Nova and reliever Luis Ayala, scoring two runs and loading the bases with two outs.
All-time saves leader Mariano Rivera was summoned to put out the fire and the Panamanian did just that, striking out Wilson Betemit on three pitches to end the game.
In Sunday's second game, New York's Freddy Garcia (12-8) will take the mound against Max Scherzer (15-9). The best-of-five series shifts to Detroit for Game Three on Monday.
Girardi said he expected CC Sabathia to pitch Game Three with inconsistent starter A.J. Burnett the likely starter for Game Four. Tigers skipper Leyland has scheduled Justin Verlander for Monday followed by Rick Porcello.
"It's always nice to win the first one. Tomorrow becomes an important game," Girardi said.
(Editing by Julian Linden)