Yankees Postgame Notebook: "It's like old times, only in the present"
It was Hideki Matsui's day, as Derek Jeter reminded everyone right off the bat in his post-game press briefing, but Jeter's home run sparked the scoring surge, Ichiro Suzuki had his most fruitful day as a Yankee, and after Mariano Rivera pitched a perfect ninth, Alfonso Soriano's single plated the clincher in a 6-5 walk-off victory over the Rays.
The last time all five men were in the same building for a regular-season game was at minimum 2003, when Ichiro was just three seasons into a future Hall of Fame career and Soriano was a budding superstar on the verge of being traded to Texas - but when they all converged Sunday, it felt like nothing had changed, according to the new old Yankee.
"It feels like good old times, only in the present," Soriano said moments after his fourth hit of the day gave the Yankees a win. "When I see Mariano pitching, Jeter hitting, and me back…we played together for three years, and now it's great to be back with them because they're future Hall of Famers. I feel blessed and lucky to be back."
The day started with Matsui, who came back to sign a one-day contract so he could officially retire with the Yankees, and it kick-started when Jeter smacked the first pitch he saw into the right field seats to give his team a 1-0 lead.
"I wasn't planning on the first pitch so much as I wanted to swing at a strike; I just wanted to get a pitch to hit, and fortunately it was a fastball up," Jeter said of his home run. "I gave us a run, and I thought the guys swung the bats well; there were a lot of key contributions, and offensively I thought we did a lot of great things…it was fun, and a big win for us."
Jeter may downplay the scenario, but teammates and Girardi alike believed that just his presence in the lineup made a big difference in the feel of the day.
"His presence just makes it different, and it's hard to put your finger on exactly why, but he's a winner, and he makes the lineup a little harder to navigate, too," the skipper said. "There were times where we had five or six lefties in a row because that's who was swinging the bat the best, but having him changes the lineup, and he understands the expectations as well as anyone around here."
"He's the cornerstone of this team, and just having him in the lineup playing shortstop…emotionally and mentally, that's a big boost for us," Ichiro Suzuki added through his translator.
Ichiro himself also had a big day, going 4-for-4 to conclude just his second four-hit game as a Yankee, and even though he pulled within 16 hits of 4,000 all-time, the Yankees' current Japanese superstar deferred the spotlight of the day to his countryman and his Captain.
"Obviously, it was a special day for Matsui and Jeter and Soriano, so all the accolades should go to them today," he said. "It was a very important game for us as a team. With Jeter coming back and Soriano finishing the game like that, it felt like a new team that was born today, and hopefully this is the first win of many more to come."
Soriano joined the four-hit parade as well, with his first home run as a Yankee starting the day and his final single punctuating the walk-off win with a bang.
"He had a big day for us, the game winner, the two run homer…a great day," Girardi said. "We've talked about trying to get some right handed bats because we've had to run out five or six left handed batters against lefties. Well, you get two that have had some success against lefties, and it changes your lineup."
"The crowd at Yankee Stadium is the best, and I have a lot of great memories from 10 years ago, so it's very exciting to be back," Soriano said shortly after getting a Gatorade shower. "It's only my third game with the team so I'll figure out where I fit, but the most important thing is we got the win."
And, on a day where their contributions were just as huge in the long run, both Jeter and Ichiro heaped a little praise on Soriano's efforts.
"I was happy for Sori," Jeter said. "I've never left here and come back - that might be easier for Andy (Pettitte) to talk about - but there's a lot of great memories here with Sori, and I know he wanted to come back and do well."
"Having him hit cleanup here, for him to get off to a fast start is obviously very good," Ichiro added. "Obviously, for our team, this win and this performance for him will carry into next week…it was a big day for all of us."
All in all, said the skipper, a win is a win, but this one was a little sweeter.
"It's important because of who we're playing," Girardi said. "In the second half we've played a lot of tough teams and been in a lot of close games where we've come up short. To be able to win one like that is important, especially going into a road trip. Their pitching staff is not easy to get to, so what we did today was important."
Other news and notes from the finale of a short homestand:
-Perhaps lost in the excitement was the rough day of Phil Hughes, who gave up five runs and departed in the fifth with a runner aboard. Girardi said Hughes was up and he didn't think his slider was as sharp as it had been, and the righty himself felt that was a good synopsis of what went haywire for him.
"I felt pretty good in the first inning, but from there it seemed like I started leaving some balls up in the zone. It was a little frustrating to get off to a good start and not be able to carry that over and string together good innings. I'd rather it be this way (with a win) than the other way around, but it's kind of disappointing that I wasn't able to hold the lead twice, which is something starters take pride in."
-Vernon Wells, who said he wore No. 12 as a kid but chose it in New York because it was the closest available to his usual No. 10, said he didn't get - and didn't need - any more than a thank you for