Cano has arrived -- in No. 3 spot

Robinson Cano is congratulated by Derek Jeter after Robinson Cano is congratulated by Derek Jeter after hitting a grand slam home run in the sixth inning in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Tigers. (Oct. 1, 2011) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Anthony Rieber Newsday columnist Anthony Rieber

Anthony Rieber has been at Newsday since Aug. 31, 1998 and in his current position since July 4, ...

And so begins the postseason of Robinson Cano . . .

At least that's the way it seemed Saturday night at Yankee Stadium in the resumption of Game 1 of the ALDS against the Tigers.

With a go-ahead double in the fifth, a put-it-in-the-win-column grand slam in the sixth and a come-on-that's-just-not-fair RBI double in the eighth, the Yankees' new No. 3 hitter couldn't have announced his arrival as the key to the offense any louder if he had grabbed the public address announcer's microphone and shouted at the top of his lungs.

Cano's six RBIs powered the Yankees to a 9-3 victory and a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series. He easily could have had two home runs and seven RBIs if his tiebreaking double in the fifth had gone over the leftfield wall instead of off the tippy-top of it.

That double off Doug Fister gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead and set the stage for Cano's sixth-inning at-bat with two outs and the bases loaded against the superbly-named Al Alburquerque.

The Yankees were leading 4-1 and looking for the knockout punch when Tigers manager Jim Leyland removed Fister and called on the righthanded Alburquerque.

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Lefthander Daniel Schlereth also was warming, but Cano is immune to left-on-left splits (.879 OPS vs. lefties, .884 vs. righties).

In his rookie season, Alburquerque held lefthanded batters to a .176 average. He didn't give up a single home run to 182 batters in 431/3 innings.

He threw a slider to Cano for a called strike. He threw another one, and Cano deposited it into the second deck in rightfield for a grand slam and an 8-1 Yankees lead. The crowd of 50,940 -- the largest in new Yankee Stadium history -- called Cano out for a curtain call, and he obliged.

"To me, that's a no-brainer," Leyland said. "Alburquerque has had a tremendous ratio of swings and misses . . . He threw a slider and it didn't do anything. One of the best hitters in baseball hit it out."

Cano probably has been the Yankees' best hitter for a few years now. But it took manager Joe Girardi until the final week of the regular season to put him in the third spot and demote low-average, high-power Mark Teixeira.

Because the Yankees' offense is so productive, it hardly seemed like a big deal. But with Alex Rodriguez either so banged up that he can't perform like a superstar or just out of whack -- bet on the injuries, it says here -- Cano and Curtis Granderson are the engines that drive the offense now.

Granderson, who heard loud "M-V-P, M-V-P" chants before his at-bats, had an easy-to-overlook hand in the six-run sixth when he walked to load the bases for Cano.

In any other situation other than bases loaded, Leyland might have ordered an intentional walk to Cano and gone after A-Rod. That's a situation that bears watching during the postseason -- will teams start to give Cano the Barry Bonds treatment if Rodriguez can't get his mojo back?

For one weird night, though, the Yankees didn't have to worry about it. Friday's suspension after an inning and a half created the unique situation of a game beginning in the bottom of the second inning Saturday night.

Lineups were announced, but there was no national anthem. The Bleacher Creature roll call took place in the top of the third.

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It felt normal by the end, though, just a regular postseason game with a clear star. Cano got a standing ovation before his final at-bat and then bashed an RBI double to the centerfield wall.

"You want to be able to do your job with men in scoring position," Cano said. "But at the same time, if you go to first and your teammates do the job, it's not about one player, it's about the whole team. But good thing the manager put me in a spot where they had to pitch to me."

The baton has been passed to Cano. He used it Saturday night to club the Tigers.

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