In tonight’s matchup between the Yankees and the Mariners, the excellent pitching matchup of Felix Hernandez and Hiroki Kuroda was largely in the background. Most prominent in the minds of Yankee fans was the return of Jesus Montero, one-time Yankee top prospect and now Seattle’s cleanup hitter and occasional catcher. Montero was making his return to Yankee Stadium for the first time since the Michael Pineda trade, one which in the early going has not looked so good for the Yankees. No doubt he hoped to make the Yankees regret their decision.
Kuroda continued his pattern of 1st inning struggles when Dustin Ackley took him deep for a leadoff home run, giving King Felix and the Mariners an early 1-0 lead. However, Kuroda was able to rebound to retire Brendan Ryan and Ichiro, bringing Montero to the plate with 2 outs and nobody on. Despite his rookie status, Kuroda was very careful with Montero. He kept the ball away and threw Montero 5 straight sliders, the last of which was grounded weakly to Cano to end the inning.
The Yankees looked to strike back in the bottom of the 1st, and did just that. After Derek Jeter flew out to lead off the inning, Curtis Granderson singled to right. Hernandez retired Alex Rodriguez with a strikeout to bring the suddenly red-hot Robinson Cano to the plate. After Granderson stole second on a ball in the dirt, Cano lined a single to right to score Granderson. Cano was thrown out trying to advance to second when Ichiro’s throw was cut off by Justin Smoak, but the Yankees were on the board.
Hernandez and Kuroda took care of business in the 2nd and 3rd, and the Yankees got a rally going in the 4th. Rodriguez and Cano led the inning off with back-to-back singles, putting runners on 1st and second with nobody out and Mark Teixeira up. Teixeira blooped a single to left, but a good throw by left fielder Mike Carp gunned the aggressive Rodriguez down at the plate, a potentially costly mistake. The Yankees still had 2 runners on with only 1 out, but Hernandez was able to work out of trouble by getting Nick Swisher to ground out and striking out Raul Ibanez.
After both sides went down in the 5th, Kuroda went back to work in the top of the 6th looking to keep it a 1-1 game. Jesus Montero, leading off the inning, had other ideas. Montero stroked an opposite-field homer that served as a painful reminder how well his power stroke fits in Yankee Stadium. The home run seemed to suck some of the air out of the stadium, and created endless trolling opportunities that some of Twitter’s finest took full advantage of. Kuroda worked around a single by Justin Smoak to keep it a 1-run game.
The Yankees picked Kuroda up in the bottom of the inning, when a leadoff walk and another hit by Cano put 2 runners on for Teixeira. While I was busy getting deja vu, Teixeira grounded out to first and Swisher went down on strikes, bringing Raul Ibanez to the plate with 2 outs. Ibanez wasted no time, crushing a 1st-pitch fastball to deep right to put the Yankees ahead 4-2.
After Kuroda worked a 1-2-3 of the 7th, a 2-out single by Rodriguez chased Hernandez from the game. With Robinson Cano at the plate, however, it did not matter whether Felix Hernandez or Charlie Furbush was on the hill, he was still going to get a hit. And that is exactly what he did, doubling to right to send Rodriguez to 3rd. Sadly, Teixeira once again did not come through with 2 men on, grounding to short to end the inning.
After 7 solid innings from Kuroda, the Yankees turned to the bullpen to handle the 8th inning. Rafael Soriano was unavailable because he pitched 3 consecutive games, so the Yankees had to get creative. As a result got to witness some vintage Joe Girardi managing, as he played matchups, using 3 different pitchers (Clay Rapada, Cory Wade, and Boone Logan) to face the 1st 3 hitters in the inning. All 3 got the job done, retiring their man, and sparing us the inevitable litany of tired binder jokes that would have ensued if things had gone poorly. I probably would have preferred to let Wade face the 3rd batter (a lefty) with a 2-run lead in case the game went into extras, but it wasn’t an exceptionally big deal.
The Yankees added on in the bottom of the 8th on a 2-run home run by Andruw Jones, who pinch-hit for Chavez, pushing the advantage to 6-2. This allowed Joe Girardi to hopefully give David Robertson another night off, and keep Boone Logan in the game for the 9th. Things did not exactly work out as planned. Logan struck out the leadoff man and gave up a weak infield single to Smoak, sending Girardi to the bullpen to summon Robertson to finish the job. Logan was evidently on a very tight leash, and Girardi was taking no chances. Robertson gave us a nice, drama-free end to the game, retiring the last 2 batters to give the Yankees the win. I guess he can handle the 9th inning after all, who knew?
Kuroda put forth a strong outing, lasting 7 innings and giving up 2 runs (both solo homers) on 6 hits and 3 walks, with 3 strikeouts. He didn’t seem to have his good splitter working (hence the lack of strikeouts), but he was able to effectively mix his fastball and breaking pitches to keep Seattle hitters guessing. The length of the outing was very helpful for the Yankee bullpen, who was going to be a man short because of Soriano’s recently heavy use. Obviously the Mariners are not exactly an offensive juggernaut, but it was nice work nonetheless.
Cano was the offensive star of the game, continuing his hot stretch by going 4 for 4 with a double. Rodriguez and Teixeira each chipped in 2 hits. Both of Tex’s hits went to the opposite field, but they were largely of the dinky variety (an infield single against the shift and a blooper to left). Ibanez and Jones came up big with the clutch home runs to put the Yankees in control of the game. Felix Hernandez has historically been dominant in the new stadium, but the Yankees got the upper hand this time around.
It was a good start to the series for Kuroda and the Yanks, and they will go back to work tomorrow with Phil Hughes on the hill. He’ll look to build off the positive progress he made in his last outing, and it’ll definitely be worth keeping an eye on his fastball velocity.
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