I think most Yankee fans thought this opening series would be an "easy series". They were facing the Houston Astros, a team that lost 111 games in 2013 and they weren't looking much better in 2014. It's a good thing I'm not a betting man. The Astros made the Yankees look positively foolish in the first two games of the season, as the Yankees only scored three runs between the two games. Joe Girardi said before the game that he wanted to shake things up by replacing Brian McCann for Francisco Cervelli, Kelly Johnson for Yangervis Solarte, and Jacoby Ellsbury for Ichiro (probably to give him rest because of his calf injury). The Yankees also gave the ball to one of their bright young arms in hopes that he could help them avoid the sweep; that man is Ivan Nova.
Nova got off to a bit of a rough start. It looked like it was just early season jitters, because his location was just all over the place, but in a way that wasn't just missing spots but wild. He allowed a couple of singles to Dexter Fowler and Robbie Grossman, and his wildness continued as he hit Jason Castro to load the bases. Nova allowed a run on a fielder's choice, loaded the bases again, but magically worked out of it with a double play. And so the Yankees, like in the previous two games, fell behind as early as the first inning.
But, the Yankees struck back! In the third inning, singles from Ichiro, Yangervis Solarte (!!!!!), and Brett Gardner gave the Yankees their first run and a tie game. They were able to push across one more run on a Carlos Beltran sacrifice fly and, in the 21st inning of the season, finally had their first lead, 2-1. After that, Nova and the Yankees cruised into the fifth. In the top of the fifth inning, the Yankees pushed across another run to make the score 3-1 on a Solarte (!!!!!!!!!!!!) double and a Derek Jeter RBI single, but he was thrown out at second on a run-down.
The Astros were able to fight back due to--no surprise--Dexter Fowler. Jonathan Villar hit a double in the bottom of the fifth and Fowler knocked him in with an RBI single to reduce the Yankee lead to 3-2. Nova would pitch until the sixth to put together a decent night: 5.2 IP, 6 H, 5 BB, 2 ER, 1 K. That's certainly not a great line, but he definitely was able to work out of jams when it mattered most, as he was able to get four double plays throughout his outing.
Considering that the Yankees haven't had a lead so far this season, they probably would have been alright with a one-run lead. But, the Astros pulled a "2013 Astros" and gave them an extra run. In the top of the seventh, Ichiro hit a double to bring up Solarte once again. Solarte popped up in the infield, and then this happened:
Thanks, Astros. The Yankees got another run as Ichiro came home on the play to make the score 4-2. That pretty much sealed it. Adam Warren relieved Nova in the sixth and pitched a perfect inning and a third with two strikeouts, and Shawn Kelley was Kelley as usual as he pitched a perfect eighth with two strikeouts. And then we entered the post-Mariano Rivera Era. David Robertson came into the ninth inning to relieve Mo of his duties and--I'm not going to lie--I was kind of nervous. I know that Robertson is an amazing reliever, but it's going to take some time before I have the same level of comfort in the ninth. It's not scientific or anything, but just the feeling of Mo coming in made me feel at ease. I think Robertson will eventually give me that feeling. And by the first out, he did! He got three quick outs and the Yankees got their first victory!
There was a lot to like tonight. Solarte had a perfect day and his first major league hit, Nova worked through some adversity, Ichiro got some hits, and the bullpen was completely shutdown. They looked a little shaky at the beginning, but it was smooth sailing after they took the lead. Let's hope there are 90 more games like this one. The Yankees will immediately fly to Toronto for the Blue Jay's home opener; but more importantly for Yankee fans, it will be Masahiro Tanaka's major league debut. I'm excited and I'm sure every Yankee fan is. The game starts at 7 PM ET and can be seen on YES or MLB.TV.