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Yankees 10, Tigers 1

Granderson grabs help Yankees force fifth game

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / October 5, 2011

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DETROIT - For all those who didn’t believe, who doubted, who thought the Yankees’ season was over with the Tigers leading the series, 2-1, and A.J. Burnett set to take the mound in an elimination game, the first inning was just more of the same. The same disappointment. The same crumbling under pressure. The same A.J.

Three walks. The bases loaded. New York had a reliever up in the bullpen. The Yankees were finished. Right?

Not quite. Because when Burnett got out of the inning on a highlight-reel catch by Curtis Granderson on a ball hit by Don Kelly, the center fielder coming in first, then backing up and extending as far as he could to grab the ball, something changed. Something clicked.

“It’s funny, sometimes you pick a key out in the game, and I think the key out in the game came in the first inning,’’ Tigers manager Jim Leyland said after the Yankees had beaten the Tigers, 10-1, at Comerica Park to extend the American League Division Series to a decisive Game 5 tomorrow.

“It’s impressive,’’ Burnett said of Granderson’s grab. “That’s probably what I was thinking: ‘Wow, thanks for saving me.’ ’’

Because that could have been it for Burnett. He might have been out of the game. He wasn’t.

“I thought it was going to be an out,’’ Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “Then it just kept carrying and carrying, then I got a little bit nervous. If that ends up a base hit, it very well could have changed the complexion of this game.’’

Burnett had been nervous, amped up in the first inning. He hadn’t pitched in a while. But, after that frame, things settled for him.

“I felt everything got a little better,’’ Burnett said. “Just get that first inning out of the way, I guess.

“I wasn’t going to let little things bother me. I didn’t care if I walked eight, whatever. How many hits, how many homers you give up, I was just going to get the ball back and let it fly. I took that approach tonight, and it worked.’’

It took Burnett 10 pitches to get through his 1-2-3 second inning, and he didn’t allow a hit until former Red Sox catcher Victor Martinez took Burnett out to lead off the fourth. It was the first run for the Tigers, the first hit, and yet it didn’t really affect the run Burnett was on. He had regained his curveball, and that was a big part of the difference.

“I was proud of what he did,’’ Girardi said. “In a must-win situation for us, he pitched one of his best games of the year.’’

As shortstop Derek Jeter said, “He’s the reason we get a chance to play on [tomorrow].’’

And though Burnett lasted just 5 2/3 innings, allowing four hits and that one run, that was more than enough, especially when the Yankees were extricated from the sixth by another sensational catch by Granderson on a fly by Jhonny Peralta, this diving grab leaving him horizontal in the outfield, and down on the turf for a minute.

The catches just might have saved the season for the Yankees. As Burnett said, “We don’t win that game tonight without defense.’’

So New York and Detroit will return to Yankee Stadium tomorrow night for the chance to face the Rangers in the ALCS.

“It doesn’t surprise me that the series is going five games,’’ Leyland said. “That doesn’t surprise me at all.’’

The Yankees got their first two runs in the third inning, as Rick Porcello led off by hitting Jorge Posada with a pitch. Russell Martin followed with a single and, after Brett Gardner struck out, Jeter stepped to the plate. He had been 0 for 10 off the starter, a fact he discovered when he caught a glimpse of the scoreboard.

Jeter doubled to center for two RBIs. The Yankees added two in the fifth, then broke the game open in the eighth with six runs.

Tomorrow night in the Bronx, the Tigers’ Doug Fister will face the Yankees’ Ivan Nova, the winner going to the ALCS.

“We have an opportunity. We have an opportunity to win a series,’’ Girardi said. “We fought all year long to have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Hopefully we can get it done [tomorrow].’’

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.

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