So that felt pretty good.
The Yankees beat the Tigers 6-3 on Thursday afternoon, marking their 11th consecutive Opening Day victory at home, but perhaps more importantly, the team’s first Opening Day victory since Chien-Ming Wang beat Roy Halladay in 2008. CC Sabathia (6 IP, 6H, 3R, 2 ER, 2BB, 7K) and Justin Verlander (6 IP, 3H, 3ER, 4BB, 8K) were as good as advertised, with Verlander probably just a bit more dominant that Sabathia, but also more wild. While Sabathia battled — and you’ll obviously take two earned runs over six innings each and every time out — he definitely wasn’t quite vintage CC (eight baserunners, with the leadoff hitter reaching base in three of six innings), but he also showed why he has been and will continue to be the Yankees’ ace and one of the top five pitchers in the game — on a day when he didn’t have his best stuff, he still (excuse the cliche) grinded the start out and gave the team an opportunity to win.
Following a one-two-three top of the first, the Bombers appeared poised to do some damage in their half of the frame, as Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez each drew two-out walks off Verlander, but the threat was quelled after Robinson Cano struck out. Still, the team made Verlander throw 30 pitches, which almost certainly contributed to Verlander not lasting past the sixth inning.
After the Tigers scored first on a Jhonny Peralta sacrifice fly in the second, the Yankees answered an inning later with a monster three-run home run off the bat of Mr. April himself, Mark Teixeira. Detroit would ultimately battle back to tie, and both starters saw their outings end after six innings apiece. Verlander wiggled out of yet another jam in his final inning of work in the sixth, striking Jorge Posada out on a 3-2 count with runners on first and second. Three batters prior, A-Rod just missed a go-ahead solo home run, and had to settle for a double.
With Verlander gone, the Yankees wasted no time striking against the Detroit bullpen, with Curtis Granderson taking trade partner (and lefthander) Phil Coke deep on a booming solo shot to lead off the seventh inning, giving the Yankees a 4-3 lead they wouldn’t relinquish. The Yankees added two more runs on a Derek Jeter sacrifice fly (nice to see the Captain — who also lined out, walked and grounded to short — get the ball in the air) and a Nick Swisher single, plating A-Rod’s second walk of the game.
The Yankees’ vaunted bullpen shut the door after Sabathia departed, with Joba Chamberlain throwing a scoreless seventh and picking up the win, Rafael Soriano a scoreless eighth, and Mariano Rivera once again closing it out in the ninth for his first save of the season.
All in all, if you were designing a Yankee win from scratch, you couldn’t have drawn it up much better. As Moshe mentioned to me in an e-mail, this was about as textbook a win as it gets for the Yankees — the powerful, patient offense wearing an elite starter down until it gets to feast on the bullpen (which has of course been the Yankees’ M.O. for as long as I’ve been aware of the team’s existence), all the while receiving a quality outing from their starter while the bullpen locked things down. If the Yankee starters can keep the damage to a relative minimum, this team is certainly going to win its share of games.
Moshe also noted that this was easily the best day ever for the Yankees as far as the Granderson/Austin Jackson and Phil Coke trade, between Jackson striking out three times and Grandy taking Coke yard for the go-ahead home run.
I for one loved what I saw from Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez in this game. Obviously Tex had one heck of an afternoon, with the biggest WPA swing of the game (.211) and highest total WPA on the team (.190), but I was just as if not more impressed with A-Rod, who saw 20 pitches over his four plate appearances, drawing two walks and ripping that double that just missed being a home run. As I (and the entire Yankee blogosphere) kept reiterating all offseason, one of the big keys to A-Rod’s 2011 will be a return to classic Alex patience, and it was great to see him reach base three times in his first four plate appearances of the season.
And of course, the other big star of the game was Granderson (who Matt gave proper due to shortly after the game), who showed no ill effects from the oblique strain in diving for and running down several key outs, in addition to the huge home run (.182 WPA) he hit in the seventh. While it’s impossible to know otherwise, it’s also probably not a stretch to say that the Yankees might not end up winning this game without Granderson — who also managed the neat trick of hitting a home run in his third straight Opening Day (as you’ll recall, he took Josh Beckett deep last year at Fenway Park in his first at-bat as a Yankee) — starting in center field.
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