When Curtis Granderson was traded from the New York Mets to the Los Angeles Dodgers this week, I knew we were all in for a little bonus.
Granderson’s first game with the Dodgers just so happened to be at Comerica Park in Detroit where he would face his first major league team, the Tigers, where he spent six years and one World Series.
His first game in Dodger Blue was exciting, especially for someone whose hero is Jackie Robinson. For the first time, Grandson put on that same Dodger uniform that Robinson once wore.
Here is what he tweeted:
Each game, I wear my socks high in honor of #JackieRobinson. Today I did it in a @dodgers uniform -and it felt really special #LetsGoDodgers.
Granderson scored a run and the Dodgers beat the Tigers.
Then came the main event, something Tiger fans weren’t sure they were ever going to see again: Granderson vs. Verlander.
They were teammates for four years, then faced each other plenty of times when Granderson was playing for the New York Yankees. But when Grandson moved to a different New York borough and joined the Mets, those opportunities for the Granderson vs. Verlander matchup dwindled quickly. The Tigers were not in the same league as the Mets, so interleague play would bring them together perhaps every three years. Then of course there was no guarantee Verlander would be pitching in a three-game series against the Mets.
Granderson was hitting .190 in 21 career at bats against Verlander coming into Saturday’s matchup at Comerica Park. He had four hits, including one home run.
That brought us to Sunday’s game. Tiger fans were buzzing as a rare glimpse at seeing Granderson was exciting enough, let alone facing Verlander. The stars are two of just four players from the 2006 pennant-winning roster who are are still active, with Verlander, of course, being the only one still with the Tigers. (Fernando Rodney and Jason Grilli are the other two).
I have to admit, it was the first excitement I have felt with the Tigers (other than Verlander’s near no-no a couple weeks ago) in a long, long time.
I was excited to see Granderson face Verlander, perhaps for the final time. I was excited that Michigan native and Central Michigan University alum Dick Enberg was calling the game, and even more excited when Al Kaline stepped into the booth to chat with Enberg and Kirk Gibson for an inning.
After a strikeout his first time up against Verlander, Granderson came up again when Kaline was talking. The Tiger legend stopped in his tracks when Granderson came up and said: “Curtis Granderson is one of the great people I have ever met in this game, a superhero human being. Even though he’s been a star baseball player, he’s going to be more important once he gets out of the game than when he was in the game.”
It was a fitting tribute to one of the great people, not only in baseball, but in our world. Granderson does so much for others, and does so with a cheerful smile on his face constantly. He is such an important role model for the rest of us.
After Kaline’s words, Verlander struck Granderson out again. It was starting to look like Verlander was in a zone that we have seen before.
He had not allowed a base-runner through four innings, then after a walk to Yasiel Puig, Verlander still had not allowed a hit through five innings. Neither had his counterpart Kenta Maeda for the Dodgers, who went five perfect innings to start the game.
The buzz was in the air. The fans in the stands could feel the electricity — and so could the fans watching on TV. This could be one of those special games.
It was, but it turned out to be for a different reason.
Verlander got the first two outs in the sixth inning before Granderson came up for the third time. Depending on how long Verlander was going to go in the game, it could have been the final time they faced each other in the game — and depending upon where the two ended up in the future, it could be the last time they ever face each other.
And what an at bat it was. Down 0-2 in the count, Granderson fought his way back, fouling off pitch after pitch. Then Verlander tried to jam Granderson inside with a slider, which had been stellar for him all game. Granderson got his bat down and launched the ball off the foul pole in right field for a 394-foot home run.
While many Tiger fans were rooting for Granderson this weekend, they were not rooting for that. Granderson broke up the no-hit bid for his former teammate — and the shutout. The way both pitchers were pitching, it looked like it could have been the only hit and only run of the game.
The Tigers got back into it with a two-RBI-double by Dixon Machado and a two-run homer by Justin Upton. Miguel Cabrera knocked in two more in the eighth as the Tigers went on to win 6-1.
Verlander got a win against the best team in baseball, giving him 30 career interleague wins, tied for the most. He gave up one more hit.
It was true that his friend spoiled his chance at an unbelievably rare third no-hitter. But the battle that led up to the home run was something Tiger fans are going to remember for a long time.
After all, it might be the last time Granderson and Verlander ever face each other again. What a way to go out.