Rookie Cano continues to impress
Second baseman sets Game 1 tone with three-run double
ANAHEIM -- Not that he'd convey anything different, but Yankees manager Joe Torre struck a confident chord when asked about rookie second baseman Robinson Cano before Game 1 of the American League Division Series.
"I'd be surprised if he didn't handle it like everything else," Torre said.
With the exception of a few throws and a few ground balls -- particularly early in the season -- Cano, 22, has handled everything well this year. And such was the case again Tuesday night.
A tough ground ball in the ninth inning ate him up, and moments later he made a mental mistake on what could have been an inning-ending double play. But his three-run double with two out in the first inning is all anyone is likely to remember when they look back on Cano's postseason debut.
"He's a special kid," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said after New York's 4-2 victory at Angel Stadium. "He's got a lot of capabilities, and he's been a huge asset for us. So I was happy for him and happy for us when he got that big hit. It kind of set the stage."
With two out in the first, Jason Giambi singled. Gary Sheffield singled. Hideki Matsui singled, too, but Yankees third-base coach Luis Sojo -- seeing cannon-armed Angels right-fielder Vladimir Guerrero coming up with the ball -- wisely stopped Giambi at third.
As Cano strode to the plate for his first playoff at-bat, against Cy Young Award candidate Bartolo Colon, he had a quick chat.
"I just said, 'Oh God, let me do something with this at-bat,' " Cano offered. "'This is my first one. If you can help me and I can get a hit, that's gonna be great.' "
"No," he said. "I was excited."
After his opposite-field poke looped over the head of left fielder Garret Anderson and cleared the bases, it was his teammates who were excited.
"This kid is sharp; he's gold," said closer Mariano Rivera, one of Cano's closest friends on the team. "Against Colon, the way he was throwing, for Cano to do that was outstanding. He hit like a veteran, like he's been here for years."
"Robbie's been very impressive all year," said third baseman Alex Rodriguez. "He's one of the biggest differences for this team compared to last year's team. He gives us a punch in the middle of the order."
Batting sixth for only the fourth time this year, Cano made Colon pay dearly for the mistake of leaving a fastball up in the strike zone.
"I was looking to throw a fastball away, which I did, but maybe it was higher than I wanted," Colon explained. "With two outs, I'm looking for a tap-out or a flyout. We got the flyout, but unfortunately it got over Garret's head. He hit it harder than I wanted him to."
Said Cano: "That's what I was looking for."
Cano has been everything the Yankees were looking for since he was called up from Triple-A Columbus as part of a roster shakeup in May.
Playing himself into Rookie of the Year contention, Cano led all qualified AL rooks in batting average (.297), runs (78), hits (155), doubles (34), multihit games (47) and total bases (239).
"He's going to be like a Miguel Tejada," said Giambi, who was with Oakland when Tejada broke into the big leagues. "The older he gets, the more patient he gets, the better hitter he'll become. That's what made Tejada such a great hitter; he used to swing the bat early, but he matured as a hitter and became one of the most dominating run producers in the game.
"I think Robinson's going to follow right behind him once he becomes more comfortable with the league."
Cano also hit 14 homers, drove in 64 runs and led the league -- not just rookies -- with a .335 batting average on the road during the regular season.
"I was doing the same things at home," Cano said. "I do the same thing every day."
"Offensively, defensively ... he's always enjoys himself," confirmed shortstop Derek Jeter. "He's always smiling. ... He has a lot of confidence in his abilities."
He's not perfect by any means. He made 17 errors during the regular season, and he could have been charged with one in the ninth inning Tuesday night, when he whiffed on a bouncer by Darin Erstad that was scored a single and brought Bengie Molina, who had homered earlier, to the plate as the potential tying run.
Molina hit a slow bouncer to Jeter, who hit Cano with a perfect feed, but Cano appeared to have no clue that Molina is to slow what water is to wet. By the time Cano realized he still had a play, his throw to first was a split-second late, and first baseman Tino Martinez couldn't scoop it up.
"I was thinking first about getting one out," Cano said.
"I was definitely thinking double play," Rivera admitted.
So was Jeter, but he and his teammates had nothing but love for Cano after Rivera broke pinch-hitter Casey Kotchman's bat and popped him up to Rodriguez to end the game.
"When he makes a mistake, he doesn't shy away from playing the way he normally plays," Jeter said.
"Whether he plays well or doesn't, it's not because he's going to be in awe of the situation," Cashman added. "It's a simple baseball game for him."
Mychael Urban is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.