Eduardo Nunez was playing left field for the very first time in his major league career, so of course the very first batter of the game hit one his way. Nunez actually caught it, however, as well as catching the final out of the inning coming in on a softly hit ball from the bat of Nick Markakis. The landing looked a little rough, but on the whole Nunez was actually not terrible in the outfield tonight.
Raul Ibanez was a different story in right, however, as he misplayed a high fly ball off the bat of Matt Wieters at the wall in the second, allowing Adam Jones to advance to third, though holding Wieters at first, at least. To be honest, at first blush I thought it was a decent play by Ibanez to knock the ball down before it went over the wall, but upon review it turned out Ibanez just horribly mistimed his jump and completely missed a ball most competent outfielders would catch 9.5 times out of 10. Ironically enough the next batter, Chris Davis, lifted a high fly ball to left that sent Nunez ranging back for it but, again, Nunez made a nice catch in the outfield to record the out. Jones did score from third to put the Orioles up 1-0, but Kuroda would get Wilson Betemit to hit a ground ball up the middle that Derek Jeter played into a 6-6-3 double play to end the inning.
Not keen to stay behind for long, the Yankees put the leadoff batter on in the bottom of the inning when Mark Teixeira singled on a hard hit ball up the first base line that looked to be a foul ball, but first base umpire Bob Davidson ruled went over the bag at first base (Sidebar, in the “things I learned today” category: Jim Palmer does not much care for Bob Davidson, and isn’t afraid to let you know about it either). After Ibanez lined out for the first out of the inning, Hammel hung a two-seam fastball in the middle of the hitting zone on his first pitch to Eric Chavez, and Chavez promptly turned it around and deposited it in the bullpen for his third home run of the year to put the Yankees on top 2-1.
After that, it was basically all about the pitching, as both starters settled into a pretty good grove, especially Jason Hammel, who looked like he had the Yankees’ hitters guessing at his pitches for most of the game. Both teams would finish the game with just five hits, and though the Orioles did hit some balls pretty well, only to see Yankees’ fielders make some very nice plays on them (especially Jeter and Mark Teixeira, both of whom had a very nice leaping catch on line drives off the bats of Davis and Mark Reynolds, respectively), neither team would really threaten to add any more runs until the sixth, when the Yankees got two men on base with one out, only to see the inning abruptly ended when Ibanez hit into a double play.
The Orioles would finally look poised to get back in the runs column in the top of the 7th inning, when Nick Markakis reached via a lead off single and took second on a deep fly ball to center by Adam Jones. Hiroki Kuroda would hit Matt Wieters in the knee area with a pitch to put runners at first and second, but a wild pitch to Chris Davis moved the runners up to second and third. Things continued to stay hairy as Russell Martin dropped strike three of the at bat and very nearly threw his throw to first into right field, but a superb stretch by Teixeira saved the out and kept Markakis at third. Kuroda would finally dance out of trouble when Markakis attempted to score on Kuroda’s second wild pitch of the inning, only to be cut down at the plate.
That would pretty much do it for the offense on the night. Matt Lindstrom and Jim Johnson pitched two perfect innings out of the Baltimore bullpen, while David Robertson struck out the side in order for the Yankees in the top of the eighth. Mariano Rivera would come on in the ninth looking for his fifth save of 2012 and, though J.J. Hardy would get a single off of him on a well struck ball going the other way, Jeter would make a nice stop in the hole in the very next at bat to start an all too easy-looking 6-4-3 double play to end the game with the Bombers on top.
The win moves the Yankees to 4-0 in their first four games against the Orioles this season, and closes out an up-and-down April on a high note, as not only do the Yankees win to push their record to 13-9, but they get back to back quality starts from Kuroda for the first time this year.
Eric Chavez: For the second straight year, Chavez is proving himself to be a useful option off the bench, at least in the season’s first month. Hammel made probably his biggest mistake of the game with that hanging fastball in the 2nd, and Chavez made him pay for that, which is exactly what you need to do as a role player with limited opportunities. After hitting his third home run of the season tonight, Chavez already has more home runs in 2012 than he did in all of 2011.
David Robertson: Three batters faced, three strikeouts. Hard to do much better than that.
Derek Jeter:“Only” went 1-4 at the plate, but made some very nice plays at shortstop at key moments. That leaping catch of a line drive also provided the fodder for an immensely entertaining bit of comedy on the MASN broadcast, as their camera crews were able to get some pitch perfect facial expressions from Jeter as Gary Thorne and Jim Palmer had a bit of fun joking about The Captain’s age. Probably the most entertaining part of the game between Chavez’s home run and the top of the 7th, at least from my vantage point.
Raul Ibanez: 0-3 at the plate, and also had another blunder in the outfield that set up the Orioles lone run. I’m not even joking when I say that Joe Girardi should have left Nunez in left for the 9th and brought Andruw Jones in to replace Ibanez instead. (To wit, Girardi did do this, and I’m saying that I agreed with the move, albeit in the most unclear of manners.)
Russell Martin: 0-3 with two strikeouts, also looked a little rough behind the plate at times, including that nearly disastrous throw in the 7th. Maybe I’m nitpicking, but not one of Martin’s prettier performance.
The Yankees and Orioles hook up tomorrow night for a matchup of former top pitching prospects turned human pinatas, when Phil Hughes takes the mound for the Bombers, opposed by Brian Matusz of the O’s. The only thing that could make this more intriguing is if Freddy Garcia and Kevin Gregg both make relief appearances as well. I can’t wait.