Tonight’s fun story was all about Travis Hafner, whose first-inning home run prompted a local Cleveland reporter to ask whether it was his plan to return to Progressive Field and immediately suck the air out of the place.
“It’s not a bad plan,” Hafner said.
Tonight’s bigger story was Robinson Cano, who had been a mess at the plate but went 3-for-4 tonight, including two home runs, a double and a first-inning walk that helped set the stage for the Hafner homer. It’s been easy to overlook, but Hafner, Vernon Wells and Kevin Youkilis are actually off to good starts this season. If Cano can join them, the Yankees might actually have a productive core to help bridge the gap until guys get healthy.
“Sometimes you see guys have great spring trainings and the season starts and nothing happens,” Joe Girardi said. “You figure their track record as veterans is going to take over, and I think that’s what is happening.”
Obviously Cano is not a .130 hitter who can’t drive in runs, but that’s what he looked like in the first week of the season. The Yankees need him to be better than that, especially right now.
“I know it was just (six) games,” Cano said. “The last thing you want is to put pressure on yourself. This game today, I was able to get some pitches in the strike zone and be able to not miss them. … I was (last week) chasing pitches out of the strike zone. Everything was together today, and I was able to swing at strikes.”
Girardi said he plans to keep Cano in the No. 2 hole for the time being — “It’s what we feel we need to do,” Girardi said. “We needed him to hit there to get these guys as many at-bats as they can get.” — which means we’re likely to see more of this lineup until Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson or Mark Teixeira comes off the disabled list. It’s unusual, and it has plenty of critics, but it’s been productive the past two nights.
“I’m going to be honest with you guys, I never hit second, (but) I don’t care,” Cano said. “With me, I just go out there, and I know we don’t have the guys back, and I would say it’s going to be different when you get Teixeira, you get Granderson and you get Jeter. … There’s nothing different. Just have to keep the same (approach), just keep working and just go up there and make a good swing and try to make good contact.”
• Hiroki Kuroda said he could still feel some discomfort in his finger, but it was never really bothering him. He said he never thought about it, even during that brutal first inning. “Thanks to the offense, who gave me run support, I was able to regroup myself,” he said.
• Seriously, I didn’t think Kuroda would make it beyond the second inning and wasn’t sure he would even get there. Girardi had Shawn Kelley getting loose in the first inning but said he never thought the finger was the issue. “He was getting ground balls and they just were finding holes,” Girardi said. “And bags.” (that’s a reference to the single that bounced off the second-base bag)
• Of course, Kuroda tried to grab another comebacker with his bare hand, but he missed it this time. Girardi said he feels no need to talk to Kuroda about it. “You can’t tell people not to be instinctual,” Girardi said. “You can say it, but you’ll just waste your breath.”
• What did Girardi say to Joba Chamberlain during that ninth-inning mound visit? “Nothing,” Girardi said. “It was a long nothing.” Well alright then.
• By the way, the dugout phone wasn’t working, so the Yankees couldn’t call down to the bullpen. They used Adam Warren and Ivan Nova as messengers, making the “young guys” — as Girardi called them — run back and forth to relay messages. They’re hoping to have the situation fixed tomorrow.
• Hafner got a huge ovation when he was introduced during the pregame ceremony. He tipped his cap twice, and the Cleveland fans seemed to love having him back. Then he homered in the first inning, and the place booed him the rest of the day. “They’re passionate fans,” Hafner said. “I knew that, me playing for the Yankees, that this wouldn’t go on too long.”
• Odd site, one of the first Indians fans I saw was wearing a Hafner jersey. For whatever it’s worth, he was with a guy wearing a Grady Sizemore jersey. “It’s a little strange seeing people with Hafner Indians jerseys,” Hafner said. “It’s great to see, but kind of strange coming into this clubhouse and this dugout, things like that. So it was a little weird, but overall it was just great to be back and be here.”
• Hafner’s home run was his 100th at Progressive Field, third-most all time behind Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez. According to Elias, Hafner joined Thome as only the second player to ever homer against the Indians after hitting at least 100 home runs for them. He and Cano are the sixth and seventh Yankees to have ever homered against Cleveland in an Indians home opener (Pat Kelly, Matt Nokes and Danny Tartabull did it in 1993; Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams in 1996).
• This was Cano’s 11th career multi-homer game. He’s now hit safely in his past 10 games at Progressive Field, a streak that dates back to 2010.
• Beginning with the second out of the first inning, Kuroda retired 15 of the last 19 batters he faced. He now has a win in every American League ballpark except Comerica Park, Fenway Park, Kauffman Stadium and Rangers Ballpark. Not bad for a guy who spent most of his career in the National League.
• Final word goes to Hafner: “My whole approach right now is to keep things as simple as possible. I wasn’t really brought in to hit in the middle of the order, I was kind of expecting to hit down further. But it’s a great opportunity for me, so I’m just trying to contribute the best I can to the team.”
Associated Press photos