Things largely went according to plan for the Yankees on Thursday. Despite the threat of rain and an intermittent drizzle, the Yankees' Opening Day tilt against the Tigers started on time and was played without interruption. CC Sabathia turned in a quality start in his first game of the year for the first time since his Cy Young season of 2007. Mark Teixeira hit a three-run bomb into the second deck off Justin Verlander. Curtis Granderson broke a 3-3 tie with a solo shot to the same spot off lefty Phil Coke. The offense added a couple of insurance runs, and Joba Chamberlain, Rafael Soriano, and Mariano Rivera each pitched a perfect inning to nail down the 6-3 win.
It wasn't a flawless performance, however, as the Yankees got away with a number of questionable-to-sloppy plays. Here then are some of the action items (not all of them bad) that don't appear in the box score:
First the good. Curtis Granderson made three great catches, two of which appeared to owe directly to great positioning. Granderson appeared to be playing absurdly shallow on Will Rhymes in the first inning and Alex Avila in the sixth but both times was able to charge and make a diving catch on a sinking liner over the infield that looked like a clean single off the bat. Then, in the top of the ninth, he got on his horse and chased down a Brandon Inge shot to deep straight-away center field off Mariano Rivera (seen above) that I didn't think he was going to catch until he did. There was also one line drive hit directly at Brett Gardner while he was pulled in and toward the left-field line, I believe also by Rhymes, which again highlighted how well the Yankee outfielders were positioned in this game.
That said, in the sixth, Inge looped a hit into the left-field gap that perfectly split Gardner and Granderson but didn't seem to be hit hard enough to be more than a single. Gardner gave up on the ball, apparently assuming Granderson was going to chase it down, only to have to hustle after it when he realized Granderson didn't have it, thus allowing Inge to reach second with a double that technically didn't get past the outfielders. Fortunately for Gardner and Granderson, Inge was stranded.
Speaking of Gardner, he dropped down two bunts in this game, neither of them resulting in a base hit, though the first seemed like more of an attempt at a hit, while the second looked more like a pure sacrifice (both were successful sacrifices, whatever the intention may have been). Over at the Yankee Analysts, Moshe Mandel took a closer but sufficiently succinct and measured look at Gardner's two bunts and the idea of Gardner bunting in general. I agree with every word of his post and suggest you give it a read.
Getting back to the defense, with a man on first and none out in the second, Derek Jeter was eaten up by a sinking liner to his left off the bat of Victor Martinez with the ball ticking off his glove and heading into the outfield for a single. Had Jeter fielded the ball cleanly, he might have been able to turn a double play, resulting in a none-on, two-out situation. Had he simply gotten his body in front of the ball, he likely could have gotten at least one of the two runners. Instead, that leadoff runner came around to score the first Tigers' run of the game.
In the fifth, again with one on and none out, Rhymes bunted up the first base line. Mark Teixeira fielded the ball and flipped to Robinson Cano, who was covering first, but Cano took an awkward two-handed stab at the ball and effectively swatted it to the ground, allowing Rhymes to reach on an E4. The lead runner later scored on a two-out sac fly.
In addition to those two misplays (only one of which was ruled an error, though I'd have given Jeter an error on Martinez's hit), the Yankees made a pair of baserunning blunders and might have gotten away with a third.
With one out in the sixth, Alex Rodriguez crushed a ball to the Yankee bullpen, but the wind held it up and it hit off the bottom of one of the windows in the outfield wall and ricochetted past Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson, who then had to double-back to retrieve it. Had Rodriguez busted it out of the box, he could have had a triple, but he thought the ball was a home run off the bat and did his usual routine of looking into the Yankee dugout only to ultimately settle for a double. The Yankees didn't score in the inning.
With one out in the eighth, Nick Swisher singled to right to score Rodriguez from third, but took too large of a turn around first base and was hung up for the second out when Tigers right fielder Magglio Ordoñez hit cut-off man Miguel Cabrera on the infield grass.
The questionable baserunning play that worked out for the Yankees came in the third, when, with one out, men on first and second, and Mark Teixeira at the plate, Russell Martin stole third. Martin was safe because Alex Avila's throw was in the dirt in front of the bag and third baseman Inge had to smother it rather than field it cleanly to make a tag, but the throw beat Martin by a lot. Mark Teixeira homered on the next pitch, explaining why Martin's mad dash was ill-advised even if it worked out. Martin ran on his own; Jeter stayed put at first, so he wasn't getting an additional man in scoring position. With a thumper like Teixeira at the plate and Martin already in scoring position, the risk of losing a baserunner wasn't worth the reward of the extra base. Here's hoping Martin doesn't do much more running on his own this year. He got lucky on that one.
Finally, I have to mention two awful checked swing calls on Will Rhymes. Both times, Rhymes barely got the bat off his shoulder, but in the third inning he was rung up for strike three by home plate umpire Dale Scott, who didn't even consult with the third-base ump. Later in the game, Scott did consult with third-base ump Dan Iassogna and though Rhymes clearly didn't go around, Iassogna said he did. Rhymes did jaw at the umpires considerably after the first call, so one wonders if the second call was a message to a young player. If so, that only makes it worse. Though the alternative, that Iassogna got the call that wrong, doesn't feel any better, even if it has moral integrity. Scott also had some brutal called strike calls during the game on pitches that skimmed the outside batter's box.
All of that might sound like a whole lot of (figurative) rain on the Yankees' Opening Day parade, but I'll end on an up, if you'll allow me a personal note. Thursday's game was the first that I really got to enjoy with my 22-month-old daughter. She was a bit too young to pay attention to the games last October but had been looking forward to this one all morning. We watched the top of the first and final three frames together (she took her nap in between) and she enjoyed pointing out the fact the players were wearing hats and playing with a ball, demanded an encore from the big flag that was displayed in center field during the National Anthem, learned the names of "CC" and "Mo," enthusiastically counted the three strikes in the middle of four stylistically diverse renditions of "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" performed by her father (the last three also encores she demanded), and seemed to master the phrase "Go, Yankees!" (Hey, I may have to remain objective, but there's no reason she should have to). She also watched closely as I attempted to explain the game as simply as I could (surprisingly difficult, particularly when you can't resist pointing out the fact that the manager is trying to gain the platoon advantage), was generous with her high-fives, and was disappointed when the game finally came to an end. Little does she know how many more baseball games she has in her future.