Birthday boy Bruce keys Yanks' 1st win of '21

Another HR for Sánchez; Kluber's debut; 'pen locks it down

April 3rd, 2021

NEW YORK -- After finding his name in the lineup on Saturday morning, imagined telling his 18-year-old self that on his 34th birthday, he’d be the first baseman for the New York Yankees. No doubt, the reaction would have been one of disbelief.

Yet Bruce was indeed wearing the pinstripes to celebrate his big day on Saturday, an experience made sweeter by his first hit and RBIs in that uniform, helping the club to its first victory of the young season in a 5-3 win over the Blue Jays.

“I don't take any of this for granted. This is another special one for me,” Bruce said. “I've been able to essentially spend every birthday since I was 21 or 22 years old on a Major League field. To be on a team of this caliber and the storied franchise that it is, I'm enjoying it. It was a great birthday.”

Bruce connected for a two-run single off Tim Mayza in the sixth inning, a flare that found grass in left field; Bruce said that it “wasn’t the prettiest or hardest hit of all-time, but I’ll take every one I can get.”

Bruce also made a nifty defensive play in the sixth inning, stealing a hit from Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

“I'm here to help. I'm here to win a World Series,” Bruce said. “In my opinion, we definitely have the team to do that, and to contribute like that is great. I’m always looking forward to getting the first [hit] out of the way. Now we go.”

Release the Kraken

Gary Sánchez homered for the second time in as many games on Saturday, joining Elston Howard (1963) as the only Yankees catchers to homer in their first two games of a season.

In the fourth inning, Sánchez lifted a line drive over the left-field wall against Toronto starter Ross Stripling, who permitted three runs and seven hits over 3 1/3 innings. Sánchez’s 365-foot drive came off the bat at 102.5 mph, according to Statcast.

“It’s a confidence boost,” Sánchez said through an interpreter. “I’ve always trusted myself. I just want to go out there and give the best I have. I give 100 percent and try to help my team any way possible. Like I’ve said before, I’m looking for consistency.”

Only two Yankees have ever homered in each of the team’s first three games: Dave Winfield in 1983 and Mark Teixeira in 2011.

“I feel like he’s winning pitches up there, which is good to see,” manager Aaron Boone said of Sánchez. “Every at-bat, he’s been in the fight.”

Kluber's debut

Making his Yankees debut, Corey Kluber held Toronto to two runs (one earned) and five hits over four-plus innings. The two-time Cy Young Award winner navigated around three walks, a hit batsman and a wild pitch, striking out five in a 74-pitch effort.

“I was fun to get back out there and have a chance to compete with the boys,” Kluber said. “All in all, I made pitches when I needed to. There were a couple situations where I fell behind some guys and wasn't able to work my way back in the count. For the most part, when there was traffic out there, I was able to make pitches.”

Kluber’s 74 pitches were his most since April 26, 2019, when he tossed 98 pitches for the Indians against the Astros.

“He had a pretty easy first couple innings and then had to extend himself a little bit,” Boone said. “The movement on his pitches, the ability to move in and out, I thought was really good.”

Locking it down

The Yankees' bullpen combined for five innings of one-run, three-hit relief behind Kluber, highlighted by right-hander Jonathan Loaisiga, who tossed two perfect innings and has retired all nine batters faced this season.

“I'm excited about where he's at,” Boone said. “He threw the ball really well in spring, and he's obviously a very important guy down there, especially as we have some guys down.”

Left-hander Lucas Luetge permitted a run in the seventh inning, marking his first Major League appearance since April 25, 2015, with the Mariners. He allowed one hit and threw two wild pitches.

With closer Aroldis Chapman serving the last day of a two-game suspension, Chad Green relieved Darren O’Day in the eighth, sealing the final four outs for his fifth career save.

“It’s nice that fans are in the stands, so you get a little cheer and stuff like that,” Green said. “The adrenaline is definitely starting to come back. It was definitely nice to get that extra boost.”