NEW YORK -- There would be a place on Robinson Cano's trophy shelf for an American League Most Valuable Player Award, should the votes pile up in his favor. But that can wait, because this much is certain today: There is no more dangerous hitter in the Yankees' lineup.
Cano connected for his team's first postseason grand slam in nearly 12 years, supporting Ivan Nova's 6 1/3 sterling innings and leading the Yankees to a 9-3 victory over the Tigers in Game 1 of the AL Division Series on Saturday.
"It's not about one player; it's about the whole team," Cano said. "But they put me in a spot that they had to pitch to me. It's good the way that came through tonight. We're not going to take it for granted."
The Yankees made a late tweak last week to improve a lineup that scored 867 regular-season runs, bumping Cano to No. 3, and bestowing that badge of honor on the second baseman has already paid dividends.
Cano's towering blast to right field off right-hander Al Alburquerque highlighted a six-run New York sixth inning, helping the Yankees pull away in a game that was suspended after 1 1/2 innings by rain on Friday.
The support would be plenty for Nova, who won his postseason debut by providing outstanding relief of CC Sabathia. The ace started on Friday and completed two innings before rain pushed the game back a night.
"I was so excited; I could not believe it," said Nova, who scattered four hits while walking four and striking out five. "After the first inning, I came back normal. I was more confident, and I slowed down everything."
Cruising into the ninth inning, Nova departed after loading the bases with one out. A 16-game winner this year, he was charged with two runs, both of which scored against Luis Ayala after Nova's exit.
"I thought he did a very good job today," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I didn't think he had his best stuff today, and he still found a way to get outs. He pitched to contact. I loved what he did."
THE CANO SHOW
Justin Verlander started for Detroit on Friday and was replaced by Doug Fister when the clubs resumed play in the bottom of the second inning. Friday's heavy rain permitted the largest crowd in this Yankee Stadium's history -- 50,940 -- to see the oddity of the home team batting first on Saturday.
"I was joking with [Nick Swisher] earlier in the day," the Yankees' Brett Gardner said. "I told him, 'I'm batting third and [you're] batting ninth.' It was definitely weird to come in from stretch and not have an anthem and start with us at the plate."
Getting back on the field to resume a 1-1 tie, courtesy of a Delmon Young homer off Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez's RBI groundout off Verlander, New York couldn't muster much early against Fister.
Instead, defense kept the game close. Derek Jeter made an expert relay throw on a Jhonny Peralta single to center field in the fifth, cutting down Alex Avila at the plate with a strike to catcher Russell Martin.
"It was a good throw," Jeter said. "In that situation, you're just trying to get rid of it as quick as you can. I thought we had an opportunity. I thought it would be close, and fortunately we were just able to get him. At the time, it was a big play for us."
Cano was the first to strike against Fister, belting a deep fifth-inning drive to left field that clipped the top of the fence and bounced back into play.
Cano thought it might have been a homer, but a video review -- the ninth at Yankee Stadium and the second in a Bronx postseason game -- saw the original ruling upheld as a run-scoring double.
That was just a precursor of what was to come. Gardner slapped a two-run single off Fister in the sixth, and with chants of "MVP!" ringing throughout the stadium, Curtis Granderson walked to load the bases.
Division Series History
"I thought Fister made one bad pitch all night," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "I thought that was the pitch to Gardner that he got the base hit on."
Fister departed in favor of Alburquerque, who hadn't allowed a home run in 43 1/3 innings this year, but served up the first Yankees postseason grand slam since Ricky Ledee hit one in Game 4 of the 1999 AL Championship Series off the Red Sox's Rod Beck.
Cano added a run-scoring double in the eighth to pick up his sixth RBI, which tied Bernie Williams' Game 1 performance in 1999 for the club record for RBIs in an ALDS game. The Major League record is seven RBIs.
"It's a kid that has grown and blossomed into quite a player," Girardi said. "Robbie knows how to handle it."
Glowing as his team would enjoy the early jump in the best-of-five series, Cano seems to have embraced the responsibility of being the No. 3 hitter in pinstripes, and done so in convincing fashion.
"It's big -- really big," Cano said. "I'm not going to change my game. I'm not going to put pressure on myself because I'm in the third spot. I'll just go out there and do what I did in the regular season."