NEW YORK — Five months to the day after Joe Girardi was introduced at Yankee Stadium as Yankees manager, he picked up his first official win. It was a narrow 3-2 win over the Blue Jays, and a historic victory, as it marked the final opening day at the 85-year-old Yankee Stadium.
What is expected to be a season-long wave of nostalgia over the events of the past 86 seasons played in The House that Ruth Built began Tuesday night. There was a ceremonial first pitch by Reggie Jackson, who was accompanied by Yogi Berra; and after the fifth inning (when it became an official game), principal Owner George Steinbrenner stood in his suite and flipped a lever that changed a centerfield scoreboard countdown to 80 games remaining.
But while people are emotional about the stadium, the Yankees and their fans are far more passionate about wins. The announced crowd of 55,112 that came out to see opening day take two, after Monday’s rainout, got the win it came for. It was a win by design, as closer Mariano Rivera pitched a perfect ninth for the save before handing the gameball to Girardi.
“I just congratulated him, and said, ‘Good job, boss,”’ Rivera said.
Girardi said Rivera told him: “That’s No. 1, and let’s have a lot more.”
Girardi has been focused on preparing his team for the task at hand since he was named the manager. He urged his players to show up to spring training in shape, then put them through a demanding camp.
“I saw it pay off tonight,” Girardi said. “I saw guys scoring from first (Bobby Abreu) and running really easily. I saw guys hitting triples (Johnny Damon). And, you know, it’s an unbelievable feeling when you actually get to play for real because that’s what you work for.”
A slew of Yankees’ offseason decisions came up for quick review. Alex Rodriguez and Melky Cabrera, each of whom were potentially ticketed out of town, played leading roles in the win. Chien-Ming Wang, the goat of last year’s first-round playoff exit, shone by allowing just two runs in seven innings. And even the choices to have Jason Giambi play first base and use Joba Chamberlain in the bullpen worked out.
Wang matched up well against Blue Jays starter Roy Halladay, a former Cy Young Award winner. Girardi called Wang’s work “awesome.”
Rodriguez scored the winning run in the seventh when Hideki Matsui avoided an inning-ending double play with his bases-loaded hard grounder to second. The Yankees held the lead when Chamberlain pitched a one-hit eighth, striking out Vernon Wells and Frank Thomas to escape the inning.
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The Yankees took a first-inning lead when Rodriguez’s double to right-centerfield scored Abreu from first. The Blue Jays tied it in the second when Marco Scutaro’s fielder’s choice scored Thomas. Toronto pulled ahead 2-1 in the fifth as Shannon Stewart’s groundout scored Scutaro from third.
The Yankees knotted the score as Cabrera began the bottom of the sixth with a homer that carried just over the wall in the corner of rightfield. Cabrera was already a hit after a leaping catch at the wall of an Overbay hit in the fourth inning, plus a staggering, diving catch of an Aaron Hill hit later that inning. The crowd chanted “Melky! Melky!” loudly enough to get him out for an enthusiastic curtain call.
“Melky is an exciting player,” Girardi said. “He brings some dimensions to the team.”
Distributed by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service