Performer of the Game: Yankees' Granderson

Performer of the Game: Yankees' Granderson

DETROIT -- Nick Swisher had perhaps the best view of anyone in Comerica Park, ranging to his right as Curtis Granderson went airborne. This was in the sixth inning Tuesday, an hour or so after Granderson altered the course of American League Division Series Game 4 with his grab of Don Kelly's bases-loaded liner. That catch was fine, Swisher said. Somewhat expected.

"But the second one was great," Swisher said. "Flying through the air like that, he looked like Superman."

The way his teammates praised him afterward, all Granderson lacked was the cape. With the Yankees still clinging to a three-run lead in the sixth, Jhonny Peralta hit a sinking fly ball to the left-center-field gap, where Granderson raced across Comerica Park's spacious outfield dimensions to meet it. Calling off left fielder Brett Gardner, Granderson launched himself toward the ball, seemingly freezing time while parallel to the ground.

Ball met glove, man met grass, and Granderson went sliding. The crowd led out a collective groan -- dismay mixed with a shot of disbelief. Nothing happened for a moment. Then, with the ball safely cradled in his glove and the breath back in his lungs, Granderson regained his footing and jogged off the field.

"He's been doing that all year long for us," Swisher said. "I don't want to say I expect him to make those plays, but in a sense I kind of do."

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Perhaps the most remarkable part of that catch, however, was that it was not Granderson's most significant defensive contribution to the game. Five innings earlier, after Yankees starting pitcher A.J. Burnett walked the bases loaded to put himself in position for an early exit, Kelly smacked a line drive to straightaway center. Unable to judge the ball properly off the bat, Granderson took one step forward before retreating. And retreating. And retreating. Sprinting backward, he caught up to the ball during the final stage of its rapid descent, cradling it to save at least three runs.

"If I miss that one," Granderson said, "there's nothing there but the wall back there and some ivy."

Combined, the two catches saved four total runs and quite possibly more. Had Granderson not caught Kelly's drive in the first, Burnett's entire night might have been different. Had he not snared Peralta's ball in the sixth, moments after Yankees manager Joe Girardi turned to his bullpen, Girardi might have faced untold grief for removing Burnett.

"Those were the difference," Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge said. "If we could have gotten those hits right there, especially right off the bat, maybe we could have put their backs to the wall and put some pressure on them."

"That's probably what I was thinking," Burnett said. "'Wow, thanks for saving me.'"

Though most of Granderson's teammates agreed that the degree of difficulty on his second catch was higher, they almost universally called his first-inning grab the play of the game. So much was made of Burnett's erratic tendencies heading into the game that, had the Tigers plated three runs in the first, he might not have escaped the inning. The Yankees might have had to dip into their middle relief far earlier than expected. And the Tigers might have been celebrating with champagne.

Instead, the two teams are now scheduled to play a decisive Game 5 in New York. That is not a coincidence.

"Curtis has played great center field for us all year long," Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said. "You come to expect those kinds of plays."

Even more well-known for his offensive exploits this season, Granderson also blasted a Rick Porcello fastball for an RBI double in the fifth inning, giving the Yankees yet another critical run. Over the first four ALDS games, Granderson is batting .250 with a double, a triple, a home run and three RBIs, continuing to wreak the sort of havoc he did all season long.

Compared to his catches, of course, that double wound up being a footnote -- and for good reason. Playing against his former team, in his former park, Granderson gave the Yankees new life with his defense. Twice.

"On both plays, to get them out of the situation and get runners off the field and get us another chance," Granderson said, "it definitely ends up being big."

Afterward, the only evidence of his defensive contributions were the grass stains on his uniform and a lingering headache in his skull. Laundry detergent and a good night's sleep should take care of that.

For all his teammates, however, the effects will remain.

"He may have saved the season," third baseman Alex Rodriguez said. "Not once, but twice."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.