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Oh, such a glorious Opening Day on which the Yankees and their fans could bask during Friday’s traditional built-in “weather day.” Luke Voit’s power. Masahiro Tanaka’s poise. Greg Bird’s perseverance.
And, let’s not forget, not too many damn home runs.
Oh, Voit and Bird both went yard Thursday afternoon at Yankee Stadium, elevating the first-base sweepstakes that entertained us in spring training. No one else, though. And Voit’s first-inning blast to center field scored the game’s first three runs because it followed opposite-field singles by resident behemoths Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.
In all, the Yankees stroked six singles and a double in addition to their two dingers, giving them a team batting average of .310 in addition to a .462 on-base percentage and .552 slugging percentage. They struck out eight times, a drop from last year’s average of 8.8 Ks per game.
In this tiniest of sample sizes, the Yankees offered hope that maybe, just maybe, they can diversify their offense and not be so boom or bust. That they can be something closer to the 2017 Astros and 2018 Red Sox that raked all the way to parades in their respective cities.
“We obviously have got a lot of big strong guys up and down the lineup who can hit the ball all over the field, all over the ballpark,” Brett Gardner said Thursday afternoon, after the Yankees pounded the Orioles by a 7-2 count. “But depending on how guys are pitching you, and depending on how the defense is playing, I thought some guys came through with some big at-bats today not trying to do too much. Just trying to keep the line moving.
“When we do that, that’s when we’re at our best. Just pass the baton and let the next guy do the damage. I thought we did a real good job of that today.”
Said Judge: “I think the biggest thing is coming away with quality at-bats. You can go up and down [our] lineup and see that, one through nine, guys were having quality at-bats. They were spitting on pitches, getting into good counts. When you have nine guys doing that throughout the whole lineup, that wears on other teams.”
Judge notched the first hit of the 2019 Yankees season, after Gardner struck out, when he grounded a base hit to right field against Baltimore starter Andrew Cashner. Stanton followed with a laser to right, with Orioles second baseman Jonathan Villar shaded closer to the bag, that registered an exit velocity of 120.6 miles per hour, the fifth-hardest base hit of the Statcast era (since 2015), according to MLB.com.
“For the most part, we’re going to give singles the other way to Stanton and Judge, Gary Sanchez, guys like that who can hurt you and do real damage,” said Orioles rookie manager Brandon Hyde, who saw Sanchez, too, tally his first hit of the season with a first-inning grounder that went through a ginormous hole on the right side.
For sure, the O’s would rather have Judge and Stanton — and Sanchez — on first base than rounding all four bases at once. Nevertheless, the Yankees’ lineup appears deep and fearsome enough to leverage that small ball by their bigs. That plan worked in the opener thanks to Voit.
And before you try to write off the Opening Day success because of the subpar opposition, keep in mind that both Judge (2-for-11) and Stanton (2-for-22) entered the day with lousy career numbers against the veteran Cashner.
“We had a game plan going in against Andrew,” said Judge, who finished the day with two singles and two walks. “He’s got good stuff. For us, it was just about making sure we just hammer the pitches in the zone. Lay off the two-seamers in, sliders off the plate that he likes to do. … But when we’re able to control the zone and get him in the middle of the plate, we can do some damage. We saw that with Luke Voit.”
The plan worked, the execution shined. If ever there was a day to celebrate just two of nine hits leaving the yard, it was this one. Aren’t you curious to see whether this proves to be only a mere tease or truly a new beginning?