Ichiro Suzuki was hitless in his first two at-bats tonight — just another day for a guy who’s off to a slow start that has already raised questions about the Yankees decision to give him a two-year contract. But then he singled in the eighth and alertly went first to third on a slow roller into left field, setting up the tying run. Then he came up with two outs and the bases loaded in the ninth, and he jumped on a 99-mph first-pitch fastball for the two-run single that won the game.
“You think about what Ich did in the eighth and what he did in the ninth,” Joe Girardi said. “His speed helped us, and then (being) a great hitter for a long time helped us in the ninth. … Hopefully it really gets him going because, we’ve seen him, and he can get extremely hot.”
A lot of this game rested on Phil Hughes being able to legitimately duel with David Price, but in the end, it was Ichiro — the guy with a .220 average — who had the biggest hit and the biggest base-running decision. Girardi dismissed the fact that there have been doubts about Ichiro based on his age and early production, but those sort of questions are unavoidable in a situation like this, and Ichiro himself seemed to acknowledge that they’ve been well deserved.
“I haven’t been able to do much,” he said. “But hopefully things like this will get me past it and be able to have a good year.”
Ichiro on the base-running decision in the eighth: “It’s hard to explain. All the experience that I’ve had, I can’t really say this was the reason (for going for third). You just kind of get a feel that I could make it there. … It was a steal, so I was just running. I didn’t see him hit the ball, but I heard it. Luckily when I looked up, I saw the ball in front of me. Maybe that was the point that I thought I would go to third.”
Ichiro on the ninth-inning at-bat: “I just wanted to be ready mentally, emotionally be ready for that. I swung at the first pitch and was ready to go out there.”
• Seems like Hughes must have made significant changes after that 32-pitch first inning, but he said that wasn’t really the case at all. “To be honest, I didn’t really make too many adjustments,” he said. “There was a walk and a double to Jennings and Roberts, and (those were) two at-bats where I felt like on earlier pitches I had them struck out and didn’t get the call. So I had to grind out that inning and dig deep. I was able to strike out Longoria and Joyce to end it. It was tough to throw that many pitches in the first but the inning could’ve been a lot worse. To get out of that with just one run and give us some length was good.”
• Hughes really settled in after that double. Of the next 20 batters, only three reached base and none went past first. That stretch ended with a leadoff walk in the seventh, and Hughes ultimately gave up the go-ahead run on a Jose Moline single on a misplaced fastball. “I got him my first two at bats with sliders,” Hughes said. “I felt like I needed to quicken him up and locate a good fastball down and away to be able to go back to that slider. Just out over the plate. … I thought the game was over in the seventh after making that bad pitch.”
• Girardi was quick to point out that Hughes was especially good with his offspeed stuff tonight. Hughes is usually a fastball guy, but his slider and curveball were really key. “These guys are aggressive,” Hughes said. “Anytime you get a team that likes to sit fastball early in the count you have to adjust your game plan and be smart out there. Thankfully I was locating my offspeed pitches and that was a big key.”
• Hughes did not allow a home run. Nor did the Yankees hit one, snapping their streak of nine straight road games with a homer.
• The Yankees didn’t have an extra-base hit, but they were good on the bases and managed to turn nine singles into four runs. “We stole a couple of bases tonight and I thought they were pretty aggressive (going) first to third,” Girardi said. “When you’re facing a guy like David Price, you’re not going to get a lot of opportunities so you’ve got to take advantage of them.”
• According to the Rays notes, Vernon Wells’ fourth-inning RBI single was his second opposite0field hit of the season. In 77 games last season, Wells had two opposite-field hits all year.
• Mariano Rivera is now 6-for-6 in save opportunities, passing his save total for last season. This was only the fifth time in his past 103 save opportunities that he allowed a home run.
• Hughes threw 32 pitches in the first inning, his most in a first inning since throwing 33 against the White Sox on September 17, 2008. Hughes threw just four pitches in the fourth inning. All of them were fastballs.
• Kevin Youkilis said he’s hoping to play tomorrow. The tightness in his back is in the same place it’s been previously in his career, but he said he felt better today and he wants to give Girardi the chance to play him tomorrow. “Hopefully I feel great and put it in their hands,” he said.
• In their past 14 games, the Yankees are 10-4 and their starters have a 3.10 ERA. That’s the best in the American League over that stretch.
• Final word to Hughes: “I’m making progress. I feel like I can be better, but they’re certainly steps in the right direction. Anytime you win a ballgame, you’re happy. I like the way the guys battled back tonight and I just feel like I can be better going forward.”
Associated Press photos