Jeter helps guide Yanks in final home opener
Double leads off two-run fifth inning; Kuroda works into seventh
NEW YORK -- Derek Jeter took a few loping steps out of the batter's box, seeming to allow himself a little extra time to take in his final home opener at Yankee Stadium. Why not? The sweet crack of barrel meeting ball had provided the captain with that luxury.
Jeter wasn't counting on the gusting Bronx winds having a little fun with him. Instead of reaching the palms of an eager fan, the ball pounded into the left-field wall, and Jeter had to turn it on. He just barely wrapped his left hand around second base before a tag was slapped down.
That brought howls from the Yankees' dugout, and Jeter heard about it after touching home plate on a Jacoby Ellsbury single. It might not have been a Jeter highlight-reel moment, but it was part of the winning cause as the Yankees posted a 4-2 victory over the Orioles on Monday.
"When I hit it, I thought it was a home run, then I thought it was going to go foul," Jeter said. "Next thing you know, it ricocheted right to the left fielder, so I had to pick up the pace a little bit. There were some guys laughing -- until a couple of them hit some balls and the wind got them, too."
Runs were at a premium on a cold, chilly afternoon, and the Yankees squeezed 6 1/3 solid innings of two-run ball from starter Hiroki Kuroda, who scattered eight hits and struck out four without issuing a walk to pick up his first victory of the year.
Receiving the loudest cheers during pregame introductions, Jeter joined former teammates Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera for a first-pitch ceremony that reunited the "Core Four" from New York's most recent championship clubs.
Manager Joe Girardi said that the pomp and circumstance created a celebratory atmosphere, but after nearly 20 seasons of watching Jeter lead by example on the basepaths, Girardi and the Yankees weren't about to miss a chance to rib Jeter about that premature trot.
"Oh, believe me, there was more than one person that got on him," Girardi said. "I even asked him, 'You think Jorge [Posada] is on you up in the suite?' He said, 'Oh yeah.'"
Jeter pushed across the Yanks' first run with a third-inning double-play ball and finished 1-for-4 in his return to the Stadium. New York produced four runs against Orioles starter Ubaldo Jimenez, who lasted 4 2/3 innings.
Yangervis Solarte's ascension from non-roster invitee to cult hero continued, as the hot-hitting rookie kept up his hot start with a fourth-inning RBI single that smacked off the glove of diving right fielder Nick Markakis.
Jeter touched the plate with New York's third run on Ellsbury's fifth-inning single, and the Yanks tacked on another run in the seventh when reliever Zach Britton issued a bases-loaded walk to Kelly Johnson.
"There are some pretty good hitters there, so it's not like you just throw your glove out there," O's manager Buck Showalter said. "That's one of the things that good teams like the Yankees are able to do, present challenges all the way through the order."
They provided enough support for Kuroda, who was economical with his 92 pitches. Matt Wieters had a run-scoring single in the fourth inning, and Nelson Cruz drove home a seventh-inning run with a hit off Kuroda.
"I was trying to be patient and make sure that I keep the ball down and not to walk anybody," Kuroda said through an interpreter.
"He's consistent," Girardi said. "He's been consistent ever since he's been here, whether it has been regular season or postseason. It's kind of what you expect."
As much as the Yankees wanted to center their celebration for the afternoon around Jeter, they were forced to adjust the plan by an injury to closer David Robertson, who was diagnosed with a Grade 1 strain of his left groin and will be placed on the 15-day disabled list.
Robertson would not have been available to pitch on Monday anyway after appearing in three of four games, but the Yanks' bullpen will be asked to jump into new roles and get the job done in Robertson's absence.
That domino effect started with Kuroda tiring in the seventh. Matt Thornton and David Phelps each recorded an out in that frame, bailing Kuroda out from a two-on, one-out jam, and Adam Warren snapped a slider past slugger Chris Davis to end the eighth inning.
"I was just trusting Brian [McCann]," Warren said. "He's a great catcher, so I was just trusting him on that sequence."
In the ninth, Girardi called upon Shawn Kelley for his first career save opportunity. Kelley said that he felt nervous and excited as he jogged out of the bullpen, but it didn't show in his performance, as he nailed down the victory with a perfect inning.
"It felt good -- that was my first one ever," Kelley said. "It was pretty cool to get that. I don't know if it's going to get easier, but it's a good feeling to get that one under the belt, and we'll go from there."
Just like Jeter's fifth-inning fly ball, maybe not everything exactly adhered to the script, but the Yankees found a way to achieve their desired result.
"It was a great day," Jeter said. "The fans were energetic, like they usually are, which makes it fun for us as players. I really missed it last year. Sometimes you don't realize it until you get back out on the field. Home openers are special here at Yankee Stadium."