|Curtis Granderson is congratulated by Derek Jeter after hitting a home run. (US Presswire)|
NEW YORK -- Curtis Granderson, a man who seeks no extra attention, sits in the Yankees' batting order right between Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez -- perhaps baseball's two most famous players not named Pujols. But Granderson is the one who demands attention now -- from the opposing pitcher, from the fans in the right-field porch well within his reach, and from us, too.
Granderson may be almost a forgotten man on a Yankee team filled with marquee men. But pretty soon, perhaps someone will realize that, more than anyone, he is the one who makes the Yankees go now.
Granderson hit three home runs in the first four innings in the Yankees' 7-6 victory over the Twins Thursday night, which will finally bring some temporary good press to him before we get back to A-Rod's latest squeeze. Too bad he cost himself a chance at a historic record-tying fourth home run by merely singling in his final two at-bats. Three home runs in a game is still quite a feat, of course. Three-homer games have happened 28 times in Yankees history, counting Lou Gehrig’s four-homer game.
Yes, Granderson just might be the most overlooked, overshadowed and underrated superstar in the game today. Granderson led the American League in RBI and runs last season, a quinella almost always reserved for a slugger who bats third or fourth. But Granderson managed to do it all mostly out of the No. 2 hole, a spot historically reserved for guys who are willing to move over the leadoff hitter or give themselves up. You know, a background type.
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"I feel like I fit in right at the bottom," Ganderson said. "We've got great names like Derek, Alex and Mariano (Rivera). I feel like I can be one of the pieces, not the piece."
On a team where two Cooperstown-bound players frequently make Page Six (one makes it a lot more than the other), Granderson has never done a thing to warrant attention from anyone but an ink-stained sportswriter. If he has a life outside of 161st Street and River Avenue, no one has heard a word about it. Knowing him, it wouldn’t make scintillating copy, anyway.
He is a nice young man, the product of school teachers from the South Side of Chicago who’s best known in the clubhouse for his, shall we say, conservative ways with a dollar. A fancy night out for him might be Fridays.
For Granderson, this was living. He knocked the first one out to right-center field off Twins starter Anthony Swarzak, then drilled the second into the second deck in right field, also off Swarzak. Then he hit one into the lower right-field stands against reliever Jeff Gray to become the first to hit three home runs at New Yankee Stadium.
"That's kind of neat," Granderson said, "especially with all the guys that played here -- A-Rod and Tex (Mark Teixiera) and Swish (Nick Swisher)."
More than any of them, this is Granderson's spot, his home away from home. It was all made for him, the lineup and the stadium.The only thing that wasn't working for Granderson had been his swing., his timing was a bit off, and he was hitting only .208 entering the game, which led to extra pregame work with hitting coach Kevin Long. The two worked on Granderson's timing.
CC Sabathia had to push him out for his curtain call. Hard to believe, but he said it was his first ever.
He lined a single to right field in his fourth at-bat, then topped a roller toward first base he turned into a hit by beating left-hander Glen Perkins to first base. He talked about how he tried to extend the innings and move runners in a close game, and said shooting for a fourth home run "never crossed my mind,'' explaining that nothing good ever comes of trying for home runs in his case.
New Yankee Stadium was made for Granderson, who has 32 home runs there since September 2010. For all the power hitters the Yankees possess, no one’s swing is better-suited for the Stadium than Granderson’s.
Perhaps this is exactly what Yankees general manager Brian Cashman had in mind when he, along with then-Diamondbacks GM Josh Byrnes and Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski, engineered one of the most fruitful three-way trades in baseball lore at the Winter Meetings in Indianapolis following the Yankees’ 2009 championship season. The Diamondbacks came out of the trade with Ian Kennedy, who flopped in New York but turned into a Cy Young candidate in the desert. The Tigers got Austin Jackson, who is a superb center fielder but still working on his hitting approach. He’s using a big stride this year, and so far it’s working.
When Granderson came over in that trade he was identified in one story as “the speedy Granderson.’’ That was the beginning of the underestimation.