NEW YORK -- You see the impact Robinson Cano, the 22-year-old rookie second baseman, has made on the Yankees, and you imagine what the future might look like for the Red Sox with Hanley Ramirez.
And after last night, when Cano made a game-saving play for Randy Johnson, then hit a game-tying home run off Tim Wakefield in the Yankees' 6-3 win, you can be forgiven if you become impatient for the Sox to have a similar infusion of raw talent and youth.
''That kid at second," Joe Torre said, ''this was his first experience against the Red Sox, and he certainly took care of himself.
''You could see right from spring training that this kid didn't have any problems handling situations. He came up here, and seemed not to get panicked, and that's too strong a word. But he seems calm and confident. He's very confident in his ability and enjoys playing."
Cano is a year older than Ramirez. Like Ramirez, he is from the Dominican Republic, and began his pro career in the same season, 2001. His father, Jose, signed with the Yankees in 1980 and had a cup of coffee in the big leagues with the Astros in 1989. Jose Cano named his son after Jackie Robinson. ''Big Jackie," Cano said last night with a smile.
Cano, who played in the All-Star Futures Game in 2003, when one of his teammates was a Sox up-and-comer named Kevin Youkilis, came into this season ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the Yankees' organization. He'd been promoted to Triple A Columbus in midseason last year, and was back in Columbus at the start of the season. But when the Yankees got off to a miserable start, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman took drastic action. He moved Hideki Matsui from left field to center, moved second baseman Tony Womack to left, and brought up Cano to play second. The victim of Cashman's shuffling was Bernie Williams, the player Cano had shyly approached in one of his first camps with the Yankees to tell him he was his hero.
The impact was not immediate. Cano went 2 for his first 23, and the Yankees lost the first four games in which he played. The experiment had a Cla Meredith feel to it. But Torre stuck with the kid, and Cano responded with a torrid five games in which he had 13 hits in 22 at-bats. The Yankees reeled off 10 wins in a row and, working on a current streak of five straight wins, are now 16-6 since Cano's promotion.
Tuesday night, Cano hit his first big-league home run, against the Tigers in Yankee Stadium.
''That was just an add-on," Torre said. ''This was the first important home run of his career. That's pretty memorable."
The Yankees, Torre said, had given serious thought to having Cano sit this one out against knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. They elected to keep him in the lineup, Torre said, because of his ability to hit the ball the opposite way. What they may not have known is Cano had had some experience hitting knuckleballers, thanks to the Red Sox. ''Twice," he said. ''I faced [Charlie] Zink in the minor leagues. I went 4 for 6, a couple of doubles, four RBIs."
It wasn't a knuckleball that the lefthanded-hitting Cano hit over the right-field wall to tie the score at 3. Wakefield, who had just issued his seventh walk of the game, to Williams, tried to slip a batting-practice fastball past Cano. No such luck. It brought down Wakefield as surely as Cano had pancaked 6-foot-10-inch Yankee starter Randy Johnson with his throw to the plate to nab Johnny Damon as he tried to score from second on David Ortiz's infield hit.
''He made a great play," said Johnson, who had the number crunchers scrambling late into the night trying to find another instance in which a pitcher gave up hits to the last five batters he faced to end an inning, and came out with a win. ''He came in here smiling afterward and said he almost hit me. I said, 'Yes you did.' "
Cano had dived to his right to smother Ortiz's grounder up the middle, boxed the ball a bit, then came up firing as Damon circled third and headed for home.
Cano said he checked on Damon's progress before he uncorked his throw, one that had Johnson falling face-first to get out of the way.
''I thought in my mind that I had to make a perfect throw to get that out," Cano said.
A lot of kids in that situation, Torre said, rush to make the play and overthrow. Cano pitched a strike.
''Obviously that was the game," Torre said, alluding not only to Cano's play, but the previous play, in which converted infielder Womack nailed Mark Bellhorn on Edgar Renteria's single. ''Who knows what happens otherwise? Defense put us in a position to keep us close and win it."
Cano, as befits a kid three weeks into his big-league career, called this ''one of the biggest games of my life." It won't be the last, Johnson suggested.
''Good things happen to good people," he said. ''He's working hard. There are a lot of veterans here helping him out. Derek [Jeter], A-Rod [Alex Rodriguez], Ruben [Sierra] spends a lot of time talking to him. Robinson will only get better."
Anyone else looking forward to the day when folks say the same things about Hanley?