Bronx, N.Y., March 28, 2019; Yankees 7, Baltimore 2 — Yankee fans could be forgiven for thinking Thursday’s home opening win was in the bag four batters into the bottom of the first. Staff ace Masahiro Tanaka had held the visiting Orioles off the board, and one-out sharp singles to right field by Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton set up a monstrous home run by DH Luke “LUUUKE” Voit on a 3-1 count into Monument Park, 3-0 Yankees. That left fielder Dwight Smith, Jr., had to reach above the fence to corral a following drive from Miguel Andujar added to the certainty.
Given the 7-2 final, fans were right to be optimistic, despite a spotty Opening Day history by Tanaka, but the Yankees would make the least of several opportunities in later innings, twice on double plays, one of them truly bizarre. They upped their lead to 4-0 in the third, though they scored just one after loading the bases with none out. The unfortunate Andujar, who hit the ball hard four times, grounded into a 6-4-3 for the tally; then Gary Sanchez backed Smith to the wall to catch his long drive. Sanchez was yet another who deserved better than the lone single he tallied.
Two runs were added after yet another bases-loaded, no-outs setup in the fourth, this one courtesy of three straight walks. Voit got his fourth rbi once victimized by an ugly looking hit by pitch, then Andujar benefited from a second long drive to left, notching a sac fly rbi. Sanchez then lifted a soft fly to right, a sure base hit it seemed, but Joey Ricard charged valiantly and made a superb catch. The third strike out of first baseman Greg Bird, which produced some ugly rumblings best addressed later, closed the frame.
That rally had given the home team a four-run lead, because Baltimore did score in the fourth, helped by an Andujar throwing error. It was a tough try on a swinging bunt in front of him, and did not miss by much. But Baltimore would add a run in the sixth on a Trey Mancini double over Brett Gardner’s head in center. I think most would agree that on Brett’s best day he makes this catch, but it was a iow line drive with carry. Another hitter with bad luck, it was Mancini’s third hit of the day, and he would be robbed on a great Gleyber Torrez play his last time up.
Mancini’s rbi drove Tanaka from the mound, ushering Adam Ottavino to his Yankee debut, and he nailed it, garnering four straight outs, three of them strike outs. Chris Britton would survive a walk and single in the eighth with the help of the aforementioned Torrez play on Mancini. Aroldis Chapman closed it following a leadoff infield single in the ninth. It was nice, though colder than you’ve heard. Mariano Rivera got us off with a ceremonial first pitch following Thin Lizzy’s stadium anthem, The Boys Are Back in Town. it was played in front of 46,000-plus, and Devo’s Whip It fulfilled “the Eighties in the Eighth” segment the ballpark introduced last year.
Tanaka threw the kitchen sink at them; he had everything: 93-mph heat, split fingers in the high 80s, sliders in the low, and an occasional big curve a few ticks further down the speed gun. His 56/27 strikes/balls ratio was right on, and he got 14 swings and misses though he only struck out five.
The game had a few strange touches. Although second base ump C.B. Bucknor appeared to miss it, Jonathan Villar was out in the first when Mancini’s first hit struck him in the baseline. But more bizarre still, in light of what we’ve said about wasted Yankee chances, was the remarkable Sanchez at bat in the home seventh. Following a one-out walk to Voit and an Andujar single, Gary fouled off eight David Hess pitches before popping a ball up that would clearly illustrate why the infield fly rule was instituted. In the growing late-game breezes, the ball struck off Hess’s 14th pitch drifted somewhat foul, then floated toward the mound. With the umps clearly unsure they were looking at a fair ball, catcher Jesus Sucre stumbled toward the mound, then dropped the ball. Caught flat-footed at their respective bases, the runners were easily doubled up.
Another thought before I publish. In my mind, the score of this one was Yankees 7, O’s 2, fans 0. Following an offseason with members of the fanbase obsessed with the idea that Voit must be the first baseman, and Bird sent away, attendees enjoying a solid victory began to boo Bird after his second swinging strike out. The noise grew when he was called out in the fifth (the called third strike call by Fieldin Culbreth seemed to be on an outside pitch), but it got loud as he took strike one, strike two in the eighth. Then he blasted a homer to the visiting bullpen, to forge the final 7-2 score.
So the Yanks won this one fairly easily despite failing again and again to take advantage of multiple scoring opportunities. It has to be said: Orioles pitching put the Bombers in those spots repeatedly. The Yanks had nine hits, but the reason they scored seven is because seemingly every time they came to the plate, there were guys on base. Baltimore pitching issued eight walks, and added a hit-by-pitch for good measure.
Zoologist and adventurer Marlon Perkins, who famously hosted an old-time nature show, was born on this day in 1905. The Yanks outhomered the visitors 2-0. But they won by five because the Orioles made the Bronx into a