Bronx, NY – A healthy Curtis Granderson helped give the storied New York Yankees their earliest home win ever.
Granderson hit a go-ahead homer leading off the seventh inning and Mark Teixeira had a three-run shot off Justin Verlander, lifting New York over the Detroit Tigers 6-3 Thursday in the first March opener in the Bronx.
“It was great – except for the weather,” said Granderson, who arrived in New York around 11 p.m. Wednesday after playing in a rehabilitation game with minor leaguers in Tampa, Fla., earlier in the day.
CC Sabathia pitched six workmanlike innings, Derek Jeter added a sacrifice fly in the seventh using his new stride-less swing and Mariano Rivera, wearing his socks high for perhaps the first time, earned his first save and 560th of his career.
Newcomers Russell Martin and Rafael Soriano did their part as the Yankees got off to a quick start on a gray, blustery, 42-degree day.
“Their bullpen and the long ball is what did us in today,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. “I thought it was actually a decent game for the conditions. It was pretty rough.”
Sidelined with a strained side since March 22, Granderson made two spectacular catches against his former team and homered for the third straight opener – off a lefty, no less. He connected against former Yankee Phil Coke (0-1) as New York embarked on its first full season without George Steinbrenner as owner since 1973.
“He played a good game for being in a situation not knowing he would be here today,” Jeter said.
With the flags above the lights in right field whipping toward the foul pole, Teixeira connected off Verlander in the third inning. Normally a .235 hitter in the first month of the season, the first baseman didn’t get his first hit last season until his fifth game.
“I’ve been petitioning the league to start in March for years. “Finally they let us start in March because everybody knows my Aprils,” Teixeira said. “It’s great to start this way. … Last year was awful, it was embarrassing.”
Slimmed down by 25 pounds and healthy after having surgery on his right knee this winter, Sabathia gave up six hits and three runs – two earned. Starting on opening day in each of his three seasons with New York, Sabathia struck out seven and walked two.
Joba Chamberlain, Soriano, the AL saves leader for Tampa Bay last year, and Rivera pitched perfect innings and the Yankees retired the last 10 overall. Chamberlain (1-0) got the win.
“That’s the way we drew it up,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said with a smile.
Verlander was making his fourth straight opening day start, most for the Tigers since Jack Morris went 10 in a row. He was hoping to get off to a quick start to his season after going 1-2 with a 5.29 ERA last year in April before finishing 18-9, and he altered his offseason workout to help accomplish that.
“Obviously, coming out of the spring that I had, this is not the results that I wanted,” said Verlander, who had a 0.96 ERA this spring.
Pitching in shirt sleeves, the right-hander reached 97 mph on the radar gun in the first, but walked Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez before striking out Robinson Cano with his 31st pitch of the inning.
Verlander gave up just two other hits, including Rodriguez’s one-out double in the sixth that hit the fence in right-center just above the 385-foot marker. He walked Cano, but struck out Nick Swisher and Jorge Posada with two deceptive changeups, one 85 mph, the other 86.
Jhonny Peralta drove in his first run of the month. After going without an RBI in 66 spring at-bats, he hit a sacrifice fly to center in his first plate appearance to give Detroit the lead in the second inning.
Miguel Cabrera lined a single to left and, in his first at-bat with Detroit, Victor Martinez hit a hot shot to shortstop that Jeter, making a half-dive to his left couldn’t corral, for a base hit. Sabathia walked the bases loaded before Peralta flied to Granderson.
Detroit closed it to 3-2 on Brandon Inge’s two-out single in the fourth, and tied it on Cabrera’s sacrifice fly in the fifth with help from Cano’s error on Rhymes’ sacrifice attempt. Covering first, Cano closed his glove before Teixeira’s toss arrived and the ball fell to the field.
Swisher had an RBI single in the eighth.
Granderson right away tested the injured side, diving on the slick turf to make a catch on Will Rhymes’ sinking liner in the first. Granderson came up smiling and holding up his glove. He also made a running over-the-shoulder catch in the ninth.
“You worry a little bit more about the shoulder, he looked like he landed on it,” Girardi said of the first catch. “I saw him get up and run in and he was smiling. So I wasn’t too concerned.”
NOTES: Martin had a hit, stole a base and scored twice in his Yankees debut. … The last time these two teams met on opening day in New York was 1966, with the Tigers winning 2-1 on April 12. …. The Tigers failed to homer for the first time at the new Yankee Stadium. Jeter’s new walk-up music: Darth Vader’s theme from “Star Wars.” … The Yankees have won 13 of their last 14 home openers.