Mariners star helps club win pair, catches up with ex-teammates, manager
NEW YORK -- Jacoby Ellsbury led off the bottom of the first inning Thursday with his first home run for the Yankees. Just over a week earlier, he made his first visit to Fenway Park as a visiting player after winning the World Series with the Red Sox last year.
Ichiro Suzuki had a pinch-hit single in the bottom of the ninth, keeping the Yankees' hopes alive. For 12 seasons, he batted .322 for the Mariners, becoming as iconic in the Pacific Northwest as the Space Needle and the Pike Street Market. Ichiro pulled on the pinstripes for the first time on July 23, 2012, the day the Yanks opened a series at Safeco Field.
Ellsbury signed as a free agent. Ichiro moved as the result of a trade. Star players change teams and, eventually, they almost always go back to play in the city where they established themselves.
Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano completed that baptism, that initiation, that rite of passage Thursday night at Yankee Stadium. For nine years, he played for the Bombers. Cano won a World Series in the Bronx in 2009. By the time he signed a 10-year, $240 million free-agent contract with Seattle last offseason, he was generally regarded as the best second baseman in baseball.
Cano's return this week was strangely muted, though. Maybe it was the frigid conditions Tuesday night that limited the crowd. Maybe it's that we've all become used to seeing players associated with one team showing up in the opposite dugout.
Through it all, though, Cano enjoyed himself. It didn't hurt that the Mariners won both games of the abbreviated series, including a 4-2 victory Thursday; Wednesday's game was washed out. He appeared on "The Tonight Show" with Jimmy Fallon and did a hilarious bit in which fans on the streets of New York were encouraged to boo his likeness and then were surprised when he stepped out front to confront them. But Cano said that wasn't his favorite memory.
"If it was anything, it was to be able to see the fans," he said. "I don't care if they booed or not. I was just happy to be in front of them. And see my ex-teammates. The manager [Joe Girardi] I played for for six years. To be back at this stadium and the field I played on when I was growing up, thinking about all the things I learned."
"He handled it just like I thought he would," Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said. "He's a professional. He's been in the spotlight. He's dealt with the big media. He just went about his business and handled everything in a very professional manner. I thought he was very gracious."
Cano had another sneakily effective night Thursday. He had only one hit in four at bats ... but it was a first-inning RBI double. Cano grounded out his last three times ... but it resulted in the go-ahead run in the third with runners on first and third and one out.
Cano extended his hitting streak to nine games and upped his RBI total to 13; four have given the Mariners a lead.
In the series opener Tuesday, Cano didn't get the ball out of the infield in five plate appearances while striking out twice. He still contributed with an infield single, another productive RBI groundout, a stolen base and a run scored.
"Both days felt good," he said. "I mean, we ended up with the wins. That's what matters, right?"
Cano was asked if it felt strange to look to his right and not see Derek Jeter playing shortstop beside him.
"Of course," Cano said. "I played with him the last nine years and I know what kind of player he is."
In the sixth inning, though, Cano was surprised to look to his right and not see Mariners shortstop Brad Miller covering second. With Seattle up by three, Alfonso Soriano singled with one out. Mark Teixeira grounded to second. Instead of throwing to first to end the inning, Cano tried to shovel the ball to second for the force play, but Miller was off the base. Both runners were safe, and that led to an unearned run when Brian McCann followed with a single.
Cano was charged with the error, but McClendon said it was Miller's responsibility to cover.
"Brad should have been there," the manager said. "You don't take for granted he's going to go to first with it. His job is to get to second base, and he just didn't get there."
Cano was booed when he stepped to the plate again Thursday night, but it seemed more dutiful than heartfelt. Again, he shrugged it off.
"You have to understand the fans," Cano said. "Like I said the other day, that's something I can't control. I can control myself but not the fans. But I had fun and it wasn't a distraction.
"I wasn't expecting anything from the crowd. Just to go out and have a better game and try to win. I didn't notice [the boos or the cheers]. It's nothing that I'm going to go out there and look for. I just go out and focus on my batting. I want to get a hit every time I go to the plate."
There will be one more return to the Bronx this season, on June 2, to make up Wednesday night's postponement. By then, it seems likely that Cano will no longer be the center of attention, just another former Yankee in a different team's road uniform.