Before he entered the bullpen to begin his pre-game tosses, Marcus Stroman did some stretches and light jogging in left field here at Yankee Stadium, trying to soak up as much of the atmosphere as he could.
Every so often the 23-year-old would go over to the stands and greet a fan. Stroman hails from nearby Long Island, and he had more than 100 family members, friends and acquaintances in attendance for his New York debut.
Later, Stroman would be greeting fellow starting rookie pitcher Masahiro Tanaka and the Yankees, and the only thing he could be certain of is that the meeting would not be as cordial.
With patient, drawn-out at-bats, the Yankees simply wore Stroman down and would go on to record a 3-1 victory over the Blue Jays in the first of a three-game series.
Toronto’s lead atop the American League East is now down to 3 1/2 games over New York as Yankee Stadium continues to be Death Valley for the Blue Jays. The Jays failed to win any of their 10 games in New York last year.
As for Tanaka, he performed as advertised and overwhelmed the Blue Jays, allowing just five Toronto hits and one run while striking out 10 over six innings to improve to 11-1 on the year. Yankees pitchers struck out a season-high 15 batters on the night.
Things were bustling for the Blue Jays as they pulled into Yankee Stadium for the series against their arch-rivals in the American League East. The hurting Blue Jays were forced to make a couple of roster moves, including the promotion of Munenori Kawasaki, the ever-popular second baseman from Toronto’s Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo.
To make room on the roster, the Blue Jays surprised many when they tagged reliever Steve Delabar, just a year removed from his All-Star Game appearance, to head the other way.
The moves were necessary because Adam Lind and Brett Cecil are not healthy enough to return to the lineup, although they are both close, according to the club.
The Blue Jays want to avoid having to place either Lind or Cecil on the 15-day disabled list, and Delabar, who has had control issues this season, has options to be sent to the minors.
“I know what I’m capable of doing and how I can help this team,” Delabar said. “So I know that I will be back and I’ll be here to help.”
The Blue Jays arrived in New York from Baltimore where they split a four-game series with the Orioles, and they were joined in town by general manager Alex Anthopoulos, who said trade talks within the Major Leagues are starting to heat up.
“But it’s preliminary,” Anthopoulos said, “more of everyone’s calling to see what everyone’s needs are.” Asked what his needs are, Anthopoulos turned coy. “Considering that we’re playing well, you could argue that things are going well and we don’t need to change everybody on the roster,” he said. “Maybe ‘needs’ is the wrong choice of words.
“If we can upgrade at certain spots, we’ll end up doing that, because I don’t want to disparage or take anything away from the guys who are currently doing the job in their respective positions.”
If Stroman was in any way cowed at being on the big stage in New York and duelling Tanaka, the high-priced Japanese import who is off to such a fabulous start, the rookie hid it well.
And it helped that teammate Jose Reyes eased some of the tension, belting the first pitch of the game from Tanaka, a line drive over the short porch in right field, for a quick 1-0 Toronto lead.
Stroman got into the game quickly, working a 12-pitch effort against New York lead-off hitter Brett Gardner, who finally grounded out sharply to Kawasaki.
It’s what the Yankees excel at, making pitchers work, and so went Stroman – already at 71 throws through three innings in stifling Yankee Stadium, where the game-time temperature was 29 C.
Carlos Beltran worked an 11-pitch walk in the bottom of the fourth. And three batters later, after Kelly Johnson launched his second hit of the game, Stroman was at 98 pitches and manager John Gibbons came and got him.
All told, Stroman worked 3 2/3 innings and gave up two runs off four New York hits – all things considered not a rotten Big Apple debut.
It was in the third where the Yankees first flexed their muscle, with Gardner lashing a two-run homer off the right-field foul pole that gave the Yankees’ a 2-1 lead.
Gardner has been uncanny with the bat against Toronto over the years, carrying a .337 average into the game against the Blue Jays. He has now hit seven homers and totalled 31 runs batted in the process.