One of the charming things about baseball is the big spot always seems to find a player who is facing increased scrutiny. In the second inning of the Yankees’ series opener against the Texas Rangers, that’s exactly what happened when Eduardo Nunez strolled to the plate with the bases loaded.
Earlier in the day, Nunez was thrust into the spotlight when it was announced that the Captain’s Quest for 3,000 hits would be put on hold for at least 15 days. As a result, the rookie was given an invaluable gift just one day shy of his 24th birthday: a prolonged chance to prove he can play shortstop in the major leagues.
With six professional seasons and nearly 3,000 minor league plate appearances under his belt, Nunez has patiently bided his time for an opportunity to play regularly in the majors, and thanks to yet another rain delay in the Bronx, the eager rookie would have to wait an extra 45 minutes. Once the game started, however, Nunez took immediate advantage of his new found opportunity by lining a run scoring single to left field in his first at bat of the game. While the Yankees hope Nunez’ base hit bodes well for the next 15 games, the clutch hit proved invaluable in helping the team put last night’s bitter 1-0 defeat* behind them.
*According to Elias, the Yankees became the first team in the DH era to lose a game 1-0 after loading the bases with no outs in the first inning.
Alexi Ogando entered the game at 7-0 with a 2.10 ERA, so had the Yankees squandered another early opportunity, who knows if they would have had a chance to score again. As things turned out, the Bronx Bombers scored early and often, knocking Ogando out of the game after only 1 2/3 innings. In addition to marring his perfect record with a loss, Ogando also failed to go at least six innings for the first time all season.
Unlike in many games over the first third of the season, the Yankees didn’t rest on the laurels of their six-run second inning. Instead, the team doubled its run output over the next four innings, thanks in large part to home runs by Nick Swisher, Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson, whose sixth inning homer tied Jose Bautista for the league lead with 21.
The Yankees have scored at least 12 runs on five occasions, and each time Sabathia has been on the mound. Perhaps that’s why after being staked to a big lead, C.C. seemed to channel his inner Jack Morris by pitching to the score? After all, he’s certainly had enough practice. Whatever the reason, the Rangers did threaten in the middle innings, but each time they tried to truly climb back into the game, the Yankees’ ace slammed the door.
Despite turning in a solid seven innings, the most impressive part of Sabathia’s outing had nothing to do with his pitching. In the first inning, the big lefty and first baseman Jorge Posada combined on two 3-1 putouts. With the image of Bartolo Colon pulling up lame on a similar play still fresh in the Yankees’ consciousness, you can just image the thoughts running through Joe Girardi’s head as his ace pitcher sprinted at full speed across the wet infield grass.
All season, the Yankees’ offense has been difficult to figure out. On the one hand, it currently ranks among the league leaders in various categories, while on the other, it has exhibited maddening inconsistency. Although scoring 12 runs is a satisfying response to the previous day’s shutout, it would be better if the offense could avoid going to such extremes…or, at the very least, find a way to have their outbursts when a different pitcher is on the mound.