Every once in awhile in sports, a story falls into place so nicely that it seems you couldn’t have scripted it any better if you had the opportunity to do so ahead of time. Tonight was one of those nights.
The hype leading up the game was about the Yankees’ Hiroki Kuroda and the Rangers’ Yu Darvish facing off in just the 11th meeting in Major League Baseball history between two Japanese-born pitchers. Though neither was at their best, they both dueled admirably and left with the game tied at 3-3. Then, it was up the greatest Japanese-born player ever to finish it.
“Any game is very important, but you’ve facing their best and we have a good one going in Kuroda, you’re a little more excited about a win like this,” Ichiro said.
Ichiro stepped up to the plate with two outs in the ninth with the Yankees on the cusp of extra innings. Though he’s not known as a home run hitter, we know that he has home run power, and he showed it by blasting a walk-off homer into the right field seats for a 4-3 win over Texas in Tuesday’s series opener.
“I have no idea,” Ichiro said when asked what happened. “Obviously, we got (Brett Gardner) thrown out there (trying to steal second). It was a pitcher I didn’t know too well, so I just gave it everything that I had.”
• If you haven’t seen Ichiro take batting practice before, I can tell you that no Yankee is as impressive other than Robinson Cano. He has tremendous pull power, but he very rarely looks to pull the ball in game situations. In this particular spot with two outs, it made sense to take a big hack, and that’s exactly what he did. “It was just a great at-bat by Ichiro right there,” Jayson Nix said. “He kind of got behind in the count, but I don’t know; I wasn’t surprised. I kind of expected him to do something right there.”
• Chris Stewart was talking about how dangerous Ichiro can be when he gets his hands out in front, but Ichiro dismissed the notion that he has any hidden power potential. “Look at my arms,” Ichiro joked after the game. “I can’t say that I was trying to end the game there.”
• Both Kuroda and Darvish were effective at times, but each was also a victim of the long ball. Kuroda gave up two jacks while Darvish surrendered three, and Kuroda in particular seemed to really beat himself up about the first homer that he gave up to Leonys Martin in the third. “That first homer I gave up was a mistake,” he said of the front door slider. “It was a careless pitch, and I believe that it led to the second homer… It was pitch selection. At that point in the game, the only thing that I should do is make sure that I don’t give up the big one, which I couldn’t do. In that sense, I feel really bad about it.”
• Martin also homered off of Kuroda in the fifth to extend Texas’ lead to 3-1 at the time. Travis Hafner had provided a solo shot in the fourth for the first Yankee run, and then Gardner homered in the fifth and Nix tied the game with a shot down the left field line in the sixth. The Yankees finished with four homers in a game for the first time since May 20 at Baltimore. “I love it,” Joe Girardi said. “Sometimes it’s tough to score runs when you’re not hitting home runs, so we got enough tonight and it was great.”
• The players who homered for the Yankees weren’t the typical guys that that you’d expect to be mashing the ball out of the ballpark (well, except for Hafner), but each was incredibly clutch. Gardner has already tied his single season career-high with seven homers this season, which he should be able to fly past if he stays healthy. And Nix broke a drought of just one home run from a right-handed batter for the Yankees since May 22. Nix ended his own homerless streak of 202 at-bat. “Anyone can contribute – that’s the great thing about this game,” Girardi said. “When you have a bat in your hands, you have a chance to be part of the story. Maybe we don’t even get to that point if Nixie doesn’t make some of the plays that he made tonight.”
• As Girardi mentions, Nix also made some tremendous plays tonight at short. He was kind of the unsung hero of the game, and his game-tying homer was obviously huge. “We haven’t had a ton of home runs this year, but we’ve got guys in the lineup that can do it, and it was good to hit some long balls tonight,” Nix said. “I just wanted to be aggressive in the count right there, and he kind of left it up. It was a good pitch to hit.”
• Kuroda’s final line was: 6.2 IP, 3 R, 2 ER, 5 H, 1 BB, 6 K, 2 HR. He was his usual self for the most part, except for the two mistakes to Martin.
• Darvish’s final line was: 5.1 IP, 3 R, 3 ER, 7 H, 2 BB, 6 K, 3 HR. The damage could have been even worse for him if the Yankees were able to capitalize in the first with the bases loaded and one out, so this certainly wasn’t his sharpest outing. But one thing that did stand out is that he mixes all of his pitches pretty evenly and unpredictably. “He was really good tonight; he was really sharp,” Nix said. “He was throwing everything for strikes and mixing his pitches up a lot. We weren’t able to do a whole lot off of him.”
• I’ll have more on this story tomorrow, but I wanted to post a link to a story from Andrew Marchand of ESPN New York. In short, A-Rod now has Twitter, and Brian Cashman was not happy about something that he tweeted today.
• I’ll give the final word to Kuroda, who didn’t seem as excited as Ichiro about the Japanese connection, but did acknowledge that this was probably a very exciting morning in Japan: “I don’t really put much thought into it, but today having two Japanese pitchers starting in the game and Ichiro finishing the game, I’m sure over there a lot of people are really happy.”
Associated Press photos