The Yankees' Curtis Granderson rounds the bases after hitting his...

The Yankees' Curtis Granderson rounds the bases after hitting his tiebreaking solo home run in the seventh inning against Detroit. (Mar. 31, 2011) Credit: Chris Ware

We know it's a marathon, yet we can't help ourselves. Not we in the public, not the players and often not the folks making the decisions.

Everyone wants to be ready for Opening Day.

The Yankees took the plunge on Curtis Granderson, a question mark 24 hours before first pitch, and their 6-3 victory over the Tigers -- at frigid Yankee Stadium -- might not have occurred without their recovering centerfielder's contributions. He hit a tiebreaking home run in the seventh inning, a solo blast off Tigers lefthander Phil Coke -- one of the players the Yankees traded to get Granderson -- and excelled defensively.

The Yankees experienced their roughest offseason in recent memory, but when plate umpire Dale Scott proclaimed, "Play ball!" the Yankees looked ready. Granderson, now a second-year Yankee, especially so.

"Someone said [Wednesday in Tampa], 'How do you think you'll feel on a dive?' " said Granderson, who had an excellent diving catch and a running, over-the-shoulder catch among his six putouts. "I go, 'You know what? I hadn't even thought about that.' . . . It felt fine."

Said Joe Girardi, "He looks great."

As Girardi worked out the rest of his team in the Bronx on Wednesday, a chance for the club to get re-acclimated to the elements, Granderson stayed in Florida and played in a minor-league game, subjecting his injured oblique (an injury suffered March 22) to a final test. The Yankees have proved capable of patience in these scenarios, so their green light reflected a strong confidence that Granderson would be all right.

The dive came on the game's second batter, Will Rhymes. Girardi was anxious for a moment. "I saw him get up and smile," the manager said, "so I wasn't too concerned."

In the ninth, Granderson sprinted back to track down Brandon Inge's long line drive with a backhand catch. "A wonderful, wonderful play," Mariano Rivera called it. "In summertime, that's out of the park."

For Granderson, the greater concern came at the plate. "The good thing was, with the pain, as long as I made contact, it was good," he said. "Swings and misses were a little iffy."

That he possessed the strength to go deep surprised him "a little bit," he said. That he did it off Coke provided an especially encouraging snapshot. First, because Granderson has struggled so much against lefty pitching. And second, because in 2010, the Tigers got the better end of the Granderson deal, thanks to the success and cheap paychecks of Coke and Austin Jackson.

Most trades must play out longer before you can fully evaluate them, and Granderson's turnaround late last year -- as he and hitting coach Kevin Long dramatically reworked Granderson's swing -- provides hope that this year might work out better.

Really, when you scan the Yankees' roster, the 30-year-old Granderson looks like the best breakout candidate among the everyday players. Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter all could bounce back from rough 2010 campaigns, but Granderson is the one guy who could reach new heights.

"I look at it as, all the firsts are out of the way," Granderson said. "I knew of [the other Yankees players]. Now I know these guys. I knew of the city and the fans, and now I know how it is. So all of these question marks are all gone, versus looking forward to it like I am now -- and being ready for it because I know exactly how it is versus wondering what it's going to be.

"I'm very excited for this season, and hopefully looking to push forward. Who knows what will happen when it's all done, but I'm excited to get it going."

He looked ready. As did Joba Chamberlain and Rafael Soriano. As did pretty much everyone, really.

The Yankees know what's in front of them and certainly won't celebrate completing the first of 162 laps. But there's no harm in looking good out of the gate.

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