This game kind of started out with the same level of dread of the two previous games against the Astros. On their last night in Houston to a crowd about half the size of Opening Day, the Yankees went into tonight’s game looking for their elusive first win of the season, so as not to get out of Texas completely shut-out. So they did just that.
Ivan Nova got his first start of the season and went 5.2 innings, 88 pitches, giving up all 6 of the Astros’ hits and both runs. Nova had a bit of trouble finding the strike zone, walking 5 batters and hitting 2 (some might see that as “retribution” for the Opening Day pitcher having hit 2 of the Yankees, but I call it a coincidence). But fortunately, Nova could rely on a truly amazing infield tonight, who backed him up with 4 double plays in each of the 1st, 3rd, and 5th innings. To me, that was a sign that the Yankees showed up tonight. The runs were scored on grounded into a force out in the 1st and a single RBI in the 5th.
After Nova walked the 5th batter, clearly showing signs of fatigue, they went to the bullpen for Adam Warren, who finished the 6th and threw the 7th inning, flawlessly with 2 strikeouts. Shawn Kelley (my theory for set-up man this year) proved my guess pretty accurate in his 8th inning outing, 3 batters up, 3 batters down (and 2 strikeouts of his own). So who would you call for the save? Closer David Robertson, of course. And while Yankee Universe collectively held their breaths for Rivera’s heir apparent’s first attempt to fill those legendary shoes, Robertson proceeded to throw 13 pitches and quickly get those 3 outs. All doubts were gone. “Right man for the job” seemed to echo on everyone’s lips.
Now, of course, pitching’s only going to work if you have offense. And fortunately, the Yankees had offense tonight. Primarily in the form of Yangervis Solarte, who was in the line-up to give 3rd baseman Johnson the night off. A lucky break for all involved, as Solarte continued to prove why he was the right choice for that coveted 25-man roster spot.
After getting off to a rather slow offensive start, the Yankees finally broke through in the 3rd inning as Ichiro Suzuki singled, advanced to 3rd on Solarte’s first major league hit (a single), and scored on Brett Gardner’s single. With one out, bases were loaded after Derek Jeter walked, so Carlos Beltran’s sacrifice fly easily scored Solarte.
Then in the 5th, Solarte doubled. With 2 outs, Solarte scored on Derek Jeter’s single. However, Jeter overshot first in anticipation of the throw to be made at home, and after seeing Solarte safe, Jeter basically stood in the base path to get tagged out rather than get caught in a rundown he wasn’t going to win (rather amusing, really). The Yankees tacked on another run in the 7th, as Ichiro doubled and then scored on (who else?) Solarte’s single. Now, that single really should’ve been caught as a pop-up on the infield, but the Astros’ defense resurfaced by the 3rd inning, which allowed for the Yankees to poke holes enough to make up for a slow start.
And I’m also just going to interject here that Ichiro and Solarte hitting back-to-back is the most ingenious idea of 2014 so far. And can we please see a whole lot more of that?
So the Yankees won tonight 4-2, though the Astros technically take the series 2-1, as the Yankees head off to get their passports stamped in Toronto for their weekend series.
And there was an interesting moment in the 9th inning, with Solarte batting, where the umpires called for a review to confirm a 3-1 count at the plate. The next pitch walked him, but that use of replay, while not what most people consider the primary objective of instant replay, is a valid use of replay. Look, I know sometimes the scoreboard doesn’t always keep up with the count, but this seemed a little extreme of its use. But then again, getting practice in and out of the way now will certainly ease up as umpires, managers, players, and fans get used to this “new-fangled” technology as a regular part of baseball. (I sound like my grandparents now.)
Now, the best part about the Yankees tonight is that when they’re working together as a team, they really just seem to have a lot of fun. And that to me was evidenced by how at ease they all seemed to be on the field. When Cervelli’s foul ball seemed to ruin the camera in the dugout, Girardi himself went to adjust it. When Jeter had a ball to give to the crowd, he selected a sweet little girl and made sure she was the one who got it over the clamoring, grabby hands of other fans. And overall, the Yankees as a whole seemed to just really relax in and enjoy the game today. Sure, it helped that once they grabbed the lead, they never let it go. But it was more than that. I hope they can remember that feeling and keep the momentum going north of the border on into Yankee Stadium next week.
I know it’s only one win, but I took it as a good sign. And why not? You take what you can get this early in the season.