NEW YORK -- Let's be honest: No one would have really blamed Curtis Granderson if he said he couldn't play Thursday.
After all, it was only a few days ago that the Yankees were pondering whether to put Granderson on the disabled list to start the season with an injured oblique, and they left him behind in Tampa for an extra day so he could play in a Minor League game Wednesday. If Granderson had said he needed an extra day or two of rest -- particularly since the Yankees were facing Detroit ace Justin Verlander in their opener -- it wouldn't have been hard to understand.
But Granderson didn't want to wait. So after flying up to New York on his own Wednesday evening, Granderson was in the lineup Thursday and made two remarkable catches in center field to go with a go-ahead home run as the Yankees beat the Tigers, 6-3.
Since Granderson played six years with the Tigers before coming to New York, it was about as perfect an Opening Day as he could have: Great plays in the field and an important homer, all coming against his former team.
"Yeah, it was great -- except for the weather," Granderson said afterward.
The cold, windy conditions were part of the reason that Joe Girardi was concerned about Granderson's ability to come through in the game without re-injuring himself. In fact, the Yankees manager said he wasn't able to relax until Granderson came running off the field after the first inning, moments after making a diving catch.
He saw the smile on Granderson's face and realized his oblique had come through the tumble without a problem.
"He's been a different player for us, going back to the last three months of last season and the playoffs," Girardi said. "He's very important."
Now in his second year with the Yankees, Granderson is hopeful that this Opening Day performance is the start of a more consistent season in the Bronx. Granderson has heard questions ad nauseum about his performance against left-handed pitchers, and it's something he's worked on with hitting coach Kevin Long.
Their regiment led to greater success towards the end of last season, and Granderson said he was able to pick up the same routine when he got to Spring Training this year. On Thursday, facing lefty Phil Coke in the seventh inning, Granderson launched a towering shot into the right-field seats that broke a 3-all tie and put the Yankees ahead for good.
It was the third straight season that Granderson has hit a home run on Opening Day and the emotion of the hit was matched only by how he felt two innings later when he went back on a screaming line drive from Brandon Inge and made an over-the-shoulder catch to help Mariano Rivera finish off the Tigers in the ninth.
"It was a wonderful play," Rivera said of his view from the mound. "In summer time, that ball is out of the park. The wind held it up today and [Granderson] made a play on it."
That defense is one of the reasons the Yankees traded for Granderson before last season, but they also believe he'll ultimately be able to provide length to their lineup. Despite his much-publicized previous struggles against left-handers, Granderson is supposed to be a presence right behind the power hitters in the Yankees' order. If he continues to provide blasts like Thursday's, opposing pitchers will struggle to take a breath against their lineup.
Not surprisingly, Granderson doesn't want to look too far ahead. He talks about his routine with Long -- some tee work, some soft-toss and some traditional batting practice -- and how he hopes it will continue to inspire improvement.
"I just want to keep playing and keep getting better," he said.
It started on Thursday, a day where everyone would have understood if Granderson wanted to rest. Ultimately, he didn't, and the Yankees couldn't have been happier.