This series started with a practical joke, and it finished with a handshake. In his final trip to Kansas City — the site of last year’s devastating knee injury — Mariano Rivera laughed at the No Mo Zone, then he closed out the final two wins of a three-game Yankees sweep. Tonight he was honored by the Royals during a pregame ceremony, and the Kansas City crowd cheered as he came in to pitch the ninth.
“It was wonderful,” Rivera said. “The reason I say that is because they saw me last year going down here, and this year they see me pitching. I think they appreciate that. It was great. I said it before, they made me feel like I was at home. It was great.”
It’s May 12 and Rivera has 15 saves. He hasn’t blown one yet this season. He will retire having converted 29 consecutive save opportunities against the Royals, a streak that goes back to 1999. Think about that. It’s 2013, and Rivera hasn’t blown a save against the Royals this century.
“He just continues to do it,” Joe Girardi said. “Continues to locate. Gets a double play in the ninth inning that he needs. It’s amazing what this guy has done in his career. If anyone wants to argue he’s not the greatest closer of all time, I don’t know who it is.”
During the current five game winning streak, Rivera has four saves. It’s impressive, but it’s also kind of a problem because it means he’s pitched four of five days. So has setup man Dave Robertson. It’s entirely possible neither one will be available for tomorrow’s doubleheader.
But, for tonight, Rivera was available. He was healthy, and he was brilliant. Again.
“Everything is doing what it’s supposed to do,” Rivera said. “I’m getting the location, throwing the ball where I want to throw it. I’m getting the results. … We come here to compete. We don’t come here to do anything else but compete. The fans know that. You appreciate that, too. Yesterday they made me feel like I was from here. It was wonderful. I appreciate it. Thank God for that.”
The Yankees have announced that David Phelps will start the first game and Vidal Nuno will start the second. I was fully expecting Adam Warren to be the Game 2 starter, and for Nuno to be replaced by Brett Marshall between games if Nuno were used in the opener, but I guess not. Nuno has pitched only once since coming up from Triple-A, and it was way back on April 29, but that one appearance spanned three scoreless innings.
The Yankees will add a 26th man tomorrow. They’re allowed to add one extra player for the doubleheader, but it has to be one player for both games. Someone is specifically called up, designated as the 26th man, and stays on the roster for the day. Looks like it will be either RHP Brett Marshall or 2B Corban Joseph, with the other likely hanging around in case the Yankees need to make a player move in the 20 minutes between games. There has been no official announcement about who will be activated.
The Yankees will be facing right-handed pitchers in both games: Justin Masterson in the first, Trevor Bauer in the second.
• Another fantastic start by Hiroki Kuroda, who’s now 5-2 with a 2.31 ERA. He gave up a leadoff double in the first, which led to a run, but the Royals didn’t score again — or have another extra-base hit — until the eighth. “He was throwing his two-seamer really well in the zone, getting a lot of ground ball outs,” Chris Stewart said. “Throwing his offspeed when he needed to. He was getting a lot of early contact outs, and that’s what he needs to do to get deep into the ballgame for us, and I thought he did real well.”
• Interestingly, both Stewart and Kuroda said Kuroda wasn’t at his best today. Stewart said he wasn’t “spot on” and Kuroda said he didn’t feel like he was “particularly good,” but obviously he made it work.
• It looked like Kuroda was certain to pitch through the eighth inning, but he allowed two doubles in the eighth, including a two-out double by Alex Gordon that chased Kuroda from the game. In an unusual show of emotion, as Kuroda was leaving the game, he actually got in a bit of an argument with home plate umpire Laz Diaz. Stewart said it was about the 2-0 pitch to Gordon, which Kuroda and Stewart thought was a strike. Falling behind 3-0 changed the at-bat. “It was the heat of the moment, during the game,” Kuroda said. “So I was kind of fired up, which is something I don’t like to do.”
• Stewart was 2-for-3 today, his fourth multi-hit game of the season.
• Most of the offense, obviously, came from Robinson Cano and Vernon Wells, who hit back to back homers in the third. It was Cano’s 10th and Wells’ ninth of the season. Both Cano and Wells had two RBI, and they combined for five hits. Those two were each in a bit of a slump not so long ago, now they’re both on a bit of a roll.
• This is the second time this season that Wells has homered in back-to-back games. The Yankees have won the last six games in which Wells has gone deep.
• This was Cano’s 16th multi-hit game of the season. That’s reasonably close to half of them. “Every at-bat I feel good,” Cano said. “Sometimes I would say that I have to be a little bit more patient, too. I just go there and swing at the first pitch. That’s something that I’m going to have to start (working on) from now on, trying not to go out there and swing at the first pitch because it’s not working right now.”
• Final word goes to Wells: “I learned last year that you never say it’s early, good or bad. I think you like being in this situation, but at the same time, this game has a funny way of slapping you across the face at any point in time. We’ll go out and have the same mentality, to continue to get great starting pitching and score enough runs to support those guys.”
Associated Press photos