Anthony McCarron, SNY.tv | Twitter |
If you're looking for Opening Day omens, how's this: At the same time Luke Voit smashed a ball into Monument Park to show that, perhaps, his big splash last year was no fluke, Mariano Rivera was sitting with reporters, recapping his ceremonial first pitch and saying how it was about time for the Yankees to win another championship.
Maybe that was nothing more than a cute juxtaposition, well-timed for Opening Day. But the way the Yanks handled the rest of Thursday afternoon, an easy 7-2 victory over the woeful Orioles, certainly trumpets the idea that they might be destined for big things this season.
They had smart, patient at-bats, keyed by Voit, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. They deployed their blazing bullpen in ideal fashion, with Adam Ottavino setting social media abuzz with filthy sliders in a four-out gem and Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman doing just enough. And starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka "gave us everything we needed at the start," Aaron Boone said, even though Tanaka's day lasted just 5.2 innings and 83 pitches.
The Yanks even got a late home run from mystery man Greg Bird after Bird heard boos from the sellout crowd of 46,928 for three strikeouts in his first three at-bats.
"All in all, a pretty good first day," Boone added.
That might be an understatement. The Orioles aren't anyone's idea of a contender, but the Yankees were only 12-7 against a bad Baltimore team last year, so banking wins against the O's now is imperative.
The Yankees may have laid out a blueprint on how to do it, too. The 2-3-4 hitters in their lineup - Judge, Stanton and Voit - combined to reach base safely in 11 of 14 plate appearances. Voit and Judge were the first Yankees to reach base four times on Opening Day since Alex Rodriguez in 2012 and the first pair of teammates to do it since 2006.
Voit swung the bat exactly twice all day and one of those was the swing of the game, a three-run homer in the first inning off Orioles' starter Andrew Cashner. The group combined to go 4-for-7 with five runs. They walked six times and Voit was also hit by a pitch.
"Man, what a day," Boone said of Voit. "Just great at-bats. That's what we talk about with him all the time, how well he controls the strike zone and the ability to hit the ball the other way with authority. Today, center field."
Boone went on to marvel at how Voit didn't get greedy, thought he kept coming to the plate with runners on. "He never left his zone, never got out of himself and just continued to have really good at-bats," Boone said. "Great start for him."
Imagine if Voit really is something close to the guy who was a second-half sensation last year? That would be huge for the Yanks, especially with the extra-large headaches Judge and Stanton worrying pitchers first.
Plus, Voit is entertaining, with his homer hop and the big gold chain bouncing crazily as he rounds the bases. He talked Thursday about how he sometimes tries to keep up with the "futuristic superheroes" on the Yankees' roster - see if you can guess who he meant - and how he finds inspiration in the fans' chant of "Luuuuuuuuuuke" in his honor.
"When you get that chant, it fires me up every time," Voit said. "I feel like I shouldn't even have a walk-out (song) because I can't even hear it. I'll take those 'Luke' chants as my walk out all the time. It's crazy how they (fans) took me in. I hope they don't boo me away too quick, because I know it's New York. But I bring the energy and have fun with the guys and I think a lot of the fans feed off it."
Bird's day was going nothing like Voit's in the early innings. He struck out three times, not ideal for a former top prospect trying to prove he can still deliver on that promise. Injury and poor play have slowed his career, but he at least showed a flash of what lies within his sweet lefty swing in the eighth inning.
Down, 0-2, against lefty Paul Fry in the eighth, he smacked his first homer of the season. Boone was effusive with praise afterward, talking up Bird for not panicking and abandoning his approach in an effort to erase the noise or add something to the pinstriped mix.
"Talk about salvaging," Boone said. "I liked how he dealt with everything on Opening Day. I've been there, where you want to do something so bad, it's hard to stay disciplined. But he did and he was rewarded for his approach."
Sure, it's just one day. But the Yankees, awash in talent, make it easy to see October coming already. It's been 10 years since they've won it all and there are high hopes in the Bronx. The old lions, like Rivera, are already talking about how they can't believe it's been that long, how this might be the year.
If Voit and Bird keep contributing and the Bomber blueprint - power, patience, 'pen - keeps clicking maybe it really is, as Rivera put it, "time to get No. 28."