A first-inning decision to intentionally load the bases had backfired, but the Yankees offense had rallied. CC Sabathia’s fastball command had been erratic, but he’d settled down. Dave Robertson had put the tying run at third base, but he’d struck out three in a row.
The Yankees had been in trouble all night, but it was only when they seemed to be in safe hands — arguably the safest hands in the history of the game — that Opening Day unraveled into a stunning one-run loss.
“(Mariano Rivera) is not going to be perfect the whole year,” Joe Girardi said. “But I believe he’s going to be really, really, really good. … We’re pretty used to seeing him do it. We’ve seen it over 600 times, so when it doesn’t happen, you’re a little shocked.”
The pitch Rivera wanted back was a 1-2 cutter to Desmond Jennings. It was a leadoff single, the least damaging hit of the inning, but it was a legitimate mistake. Rivera wanted the pitch down, he left it up, and everything soon spiraled. Both Rivera and Russell Martin seemed to think the Zobrist triple was a good pitch, Zobrist just did a good job with it. Loading the bases was an obvious decision, and the Sean Rodriguez might have been pivotal if not for Carlos Pena’s three-hit, five-RBI day.
“After we got that strikeout, I thought we had a chance,” Martin said. “It’s a tough spot. You try to get out of those situations, but it’s easier said than done.”
Even for the greatest of all time.
“It’s my fault,” Rivera said. “I felt good. I’m not going to make excuses for what happened. I just left the ball over the plate. It’s bad. You don’t want to start a season that way, but thank God it’s only one game.”
• What a strange night of managerial decisions. The Yankees twice intentionally loaded the bases, the Rays put on a suicide squeeze with two strikes, and at the end the Yankees had five infielders playing on the edge of the grass while two outfielders played extremely shallow.
• Girardi said intentionally loading the bases in the first inning was because of the matchup and because of the opposing starter. CC Sabathia had great numbers against Carlos Pena, and Girardi expected a low-scoring game against James Shields. “Sean Rodriguez has hit (Sabathia) hard,” Girardi explained. “And it’s not something I’ll do a lot in the first inning with CC, but as I said, Shields has been pretty tough on us. … I felt good about CC getting him out, but it didn’t work.”
• Sabathia on the decision to load the bases: “I knew I had some success off him, but like I said, it’s a lefty so I knew if I make the right pitches then we get out of it. … It was a lefty, so I felt like it was the right move.”
• Pena on his reaction to walking Rodriguez in the first inning: “I was like, ‘Woah, they are walking Sean to get to me.’ After you get past the first, initial shock, it’s time to get to business.”
• Although the grand slam came on a 3-2 pitch, Sabathia was behind 2-0 and 3-1 in the Pena at-bat. Fastball command was an early problem for the Yankees ace. The third-inning Longoria home run came on a 1-0 pitch. “Early in the game, he wasn’t really where he wanted to be,” Russell Martin said. “But as the game went along, it looked like he started to get that comfort level back.” Sabathia pitched his final 3.2 innings scoreless.
• I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I’d ever actually seen a true five-man infield. I’ve seen some shifts where an outfielder plays extremely shallow, almost in the infield, but in the ninth inning the Yankees had five true infielders, all playing on the edge of the infield grass. Eduardo Nunez was playing up the middle. “Man, it has been a while,” Teixeira said. “They never ask me to go to the middle. But that was the right call there.”
• Raul Ibanez had never hit an Opening Day home run until today. It was his 14th time on an Opening Day roster and his 11th start. In the final two weeks of spring training he hit .304 with three homers, and had a fourth home run opportunity robbed by an over-the-wall catch. “Spring training’s over now and everything that happened before today is really irrelevant,” Ibanez said.
• Shields had gone at least seven innings in 11 straight starts. Tonight he lasted five innings and gave up all six Yankees runs. “I don’t ever remember scoring that many runs off him,” Teixeira said. “He’s been really tough off us. We did get a lot of guys on base, but it’d be nice to get a couple more.” The Yankees were 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
• The Rays have now won five straight against the Yankees for the first time in franchise history.
• Pena was 0-for-11 with three strikeouts in his career against Rivera. He was 4-for-35 against Sabathia, including an 0-for-14 slump with 11 strikeouts.
• Alex Rodriguez has hit safely in all eight Opening Day games he has played with the Yankees, the longest streak for the franchise since Lou Gehrig hit safely in 12 straight Opening Day games from 1926 to 1937.
• I don’t think anyone expects Rivera to blow a save or for Sabathia and Shields to be knocked around on the same night, but there was something very familiar about the Yankees opener. “It was a good four-hour game,” Girardi said. “We’re back. Nothing’s changed.”
Associated Press photos