I almost missed a big moment to start the game when Michael Kay gave us the "Rock a tux" comment on the telecast, but luckily I snapped out of the funk in time to witness Travis Hafner’s three run dinger straight over the center field fence’s 400 Foot sign to give the Yankees a 3-0 lead. It must have felt good for Pronk to jack that one in his first at bat of the day after receiving a nice ovation from the Cleveland fans during the lineup introductions before the game. Ubaldo Jimenez had a good start in his first appearance of the season over the Toronto Blue Jays, but he returned to his struggling ways in the first inning of Cleveland’s home opener here.
The big question mark before the game was how ready was Hiroki Kuroda and his middle finger after having to leave his last start early trying to bare-hand a sharp comebacker off Shane Victorino’s bat. Early signs were not good as he walked one of the greatest threats on the base paths in Michael Bourn to lead off the bottom of the first. He then, once again. tried to reach with his pitching hand to snare an Asdrubal Cabrera ground ball back up the middle. Maybe he needs a lesson from Mike Mussina and Ron Guidry on how to field his position.
Luckily for him he couldn’t reach it, but unluckily for the Yankees Eduardo Nunez had a bit of a deep line that led him to try and play the grounder from behind second base. Subsequently, the ball hit the bag and kicked away from both Nunez and Robinson Cano into right field, leaving runners on the corners and no outs. Jason Kipnis delivered a long sacrifice fly ball into right field to produce Cleveland’s first run of the game, followed by Nick Swisher’s first at bat against his former mates, which produced another single and two runners on again. Michael Brantley then came up with a grounder to the right side that first baseman Lyle Overbay overplayed, deflecting the ball off his glove and past Cano into right field leading to another run scored and runners on the corners again.
Kuroda, now having thrown over 20 pitches in the inning had to face the dangerous Carlos Santana, who he walked on four pitches to load the bases. The Yankees' decision to let Kuroda start today, even though he was not 100% ready, was coming back to haunt them. After getting behind Mark Reynolds 3-1, Kuroda threw a gutsy off speed pitch and had Reynolds way out in front, but Reynolds took the 3-2 fastball into deep left field for another sacrifice fly in the inning, tying the score at three. Kuroda was able to retire the struggling Lonnie Chisenhall on three pitches to get out of the first after a mere 34 pitches.
In another one of those moments that just defines everything that is great, and at times perplexing about the game of Baseball, both pitchers settled down in the second inning, retiring the sides in order. Amazing. The third inning, however, started off with Cano lining his first extra-base hit of the season off the left field wall. After Kevin Youkilis was called out on strikes, Mr. Pronk delivered a sharp line drive into center field that scored Cano and gave Hafner four RBI’s through three innings.
Weird symmetry continued in this game, as Kipnis led off the bottom of the third with a long double off the center field wall. Swisher then stepped up with an opportunity to drive in a run against his former club. Kuroda, however, was able to get him to ground out to first, allowing the runner to advance to third with one out. Kuroda then made a nice stab of a Michael Brantley comebacker, this time with his mitt, and got the second out, while holding the runner at third base. Persuaded that his strategy worked the first time, Kuroda walked Santana on four pitches, and after getting away with a first pitch fastball to Reynolds, escaped the inning after inducing a fly ball to right field.
The Yankees added their fifth run in the fourth inning after Chris Stewart singled with two outs, and then made a nice Posada-esque steal of second base while Jimenez wasn’t paying any attention to him. Brett Gardner picked up the RBI on a looping single that fell in front of Bourn in center. Kuroda escaped a lead off four pitch walk to Chisenhall in the bottom half, and through four the Yanks were up 5-3.
The fifth inning showed more signs that Cano is waking up from his first week slumber, taking a belt high first pitch from Jimenez over the high wall in left field to give the Yanks a 6-3 lead. It was Cano’s first home run of the season and the fact he took it the other way is hopefully a good sign. Ubaldo’s day was done two batters later after a walk to Hafner. He gave up seven earned runs on seven hits, three walks, and four K’s in only 4.1 innings pitched. The last run scored after Vernon Wells and Ichiro Suzuki both singled off of Matt Albers, who had supposedly entered the game in relief of Jimenez, a supposition I’m sure that many Cleveland fans had their doubts about after watching the results.
The first inning struggles limited how far Kuroda could go, but he did settle down and wrapped up his start in 5.1 innings, giving up three earned runs with five hits, four walks, and six K’s in 111 pitches. Not the usual Kuroda control that one might expect, but it looked like it was going to be a whole lot worse than a potential W.
By the sixth inning it was more than safe to say Cano was back, as he launched his second homer of the game, and season, over the right field wall on a knee-high curve ball on the inside of the plate. That extended the formidable Yankee lead to five runs.
The run parade didn’t end there for the Yankees, as they added two more in the seventh inning on an errant throw from the shortstop and a wild pitch from new reliever Rich Hill. A sacrifice fly from Nunez tacked on another run, and extended the score to 11-3 through their frame in the seventh. It also extended the Yankees streak to five innings in a row with a least one run scored and six out of the first seven innings in total.
Cleveland saw most of the fans had left the park and decided to do something productive, as Mike Aviles hit a two run homer off of a fatigued Shawn Kelley. That’s right, who had Kelley in their most appearances out of the bullpen for the Yankees this year prediction pool? Bourn then tripled to deep center field and later scored on a wild pitch, making the score 11-6 after eight innings of play.
Before the game could end, however, Carlos Santana and Chris Perez got crossed up when Santana turned his glove down to block a breaking ball for a Perez fastball, which ended up hitting him directly in the wrist and forced him to leave the game. Hopefully it didn’t break anything in there, but it didn’t look good the way he was holding his wrist. Santana is one of the top hitting catchers in the American League, and arguably the best overall catcher if you include his defense. Losing him for an extended period of time would be a huge blow to Cleveland’s playoff aspirations this year.
In the end we got to see Joba Chamberlain, sans soup strainer, return to finish the last frame with the umpteenth viewing of the infamous midges mound event from years past. Thanks YES. Tomorrow Andy Pettitte will try to keep the love flowing and get the Yankees back to .500 baseball on the season.