Cano arrives as the Yankees' best hitter
Oct 2, 2011, 12:24 p.m.
By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Move over Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira, there is a new best bat in the New York Yankees lineup in Robinson Cano, who left no doubt he had come of age in New York's opening game of the 2011 postseason.
Cano, 28, rewarded manager Joe Girardi's decision to shift him into the place of honor as No. 3 in the batting order by smashing a grand slam, a run-scoring double off the top of the left-field fence and another RBI-double over to dead center in Saturday's 9-3 win over the Detroit Tigers.
Cano's ability was no surprise to keen observers of Major League Baseball, least of all Detroit manager Jim Leyland.
In the 2006 divisional series between the two teams, won by the Tigers, Leyland described the Yankees lineup as Murderers' Row plus Cano. The second baseman hit an eye-popping .342 that season with 15 home runs as a second-year player.
Times have changed, and Cano now combines a high batting average with prodigious power, slugging 28 homers and driving in 118 runs in a season in which he won the Home Run Derby at the All-Star Game.
"My staff think he's one of the top five players in all of baseball without question," Leyland told reporters before Sunday's Game Two of the best-of-five series. "He's a great player. He's one of the best players I've ever seen. He came up on the big stage last night."
Girardi got tired of seeing opposing teams pitch around Cano, who drew a rash of intentional walks late in the season from pitchers afraid to face him.
He decided to switch Cano to the third spot in the order and flip Teixeira to fifth so Cano would have clean-up hitter Alex Rodriguez hitting behind him as protection.
The move paid off as Cano repeatedly came up with men on base and delivered.
"They put me in the spot that they had to pitch to me," Cano said after his six-RBI performance in the opener. "It's good the way that came through tonight."
The easy-going Cano, a smooth fielder at second base with a cannon arm, said he did not feel any added tension.
"I'm not going to put pressure on myself ... in the third spot. I'll just go out there and just do what I did in the regular season. Do my job with men in scoring position."
Back in 2006, Cano was hitting ninth, last in the lineup. Girardi was asked how Cano had changed through the seasons.
"He's learned how to pull the ball," the Yankee manager said. "He's learned how to drive the ball more. I think he's learned how to hit in big situations.
"He's trying to do damage."
The left-handed hitting Cano still has the natural ability to go with an outside pitch and hit the ball hard to the opposite field, as he did with his double off the wall in left Saturday that gave New York a lead they never relinquished.
"He's going to take what the pitcher gives him. And he knows how to use the whole field. He knows how to hit the ball out all over the ballpark," said Girardi.
"A lot of times the last thing that comes for a young player is learning how to pull the ball and when to pull the ball. I think Robbie has figured that out," said Girardi, perhaps envisioning the towering grand slam Cano deposited into the second deck in right.
Despite the accolades and recognition for the three-time All-Star, Cano still considers himself an emerging player.
"Honestly, I look around me, you got Jeter, Alex, Tex, (Jorge) Posada," the Dominican said. "So you look around, you have a lot of guys around me. I still look at myself as one of the youngest, the guy that has to improve and keep getting better."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)