The Yankees began a 3-game series with the Kansas City Royals last night at Yankee Stadium II. It's been a long time since a series with the Royals really mattered, although from 1976 to 1985 that matchup was fraught with implications, complications, imprecations, depreadations, devastations and, at least until 1980, for the Yankees mostly acclamations -- but, starting in 1980, mostly frustrations.
The series marks the return of one Melky Astacio Cabrera to The Bronx. The Melkman was part of the Yankees' frustrating seasons of 2005 to '08, but a big part of their return to glory in 2009. Several walkoff hits and becoming the first Yankee to hit for the cycle since before the Joe Torre era began (Tony Fernandez in 1995) justified the faith of all those fans who had the "Got Melk?" T-shirts, and the Yankees won the World Series.
And yet, he was let go in the off-season, sent, along with 2 guys who haven't yet amounted to anything, to the Atlanta Braves for 2 pitchers. One, the returning Javier Vazquez, was a disaster. The verdict: Guilty of gross mound-based incompetence. With the other, lefty reliever Boone Logan, the jury is still out. The Braves released Melky after one season, and he signed with the Royals last December.
He's currently batting .282 with 4 home runs and 22 RBIs for the Royals, which would (for the moment) make him an upgrade at left field over Brett Gardner, but not at his usual position, center field, over Curtis Granderson, who is having a great season.
As with Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon, the ringless Jason Giambi, and even the Pennantless Bobby Abreu when they made their first returns to Yankee Stadium after they were let go, Melky got a nice hand from the Yankee Fans. Good.
After all, it's not like he was Carl Pavano. Or Randy Johnson. Or even Gary Sheffield.
Melky was 1-for-4 with a homer last night, for the Royals' only run. Other than that, Freddy Garcia (2-2) pitched very well for 6 innings, outdueling Kyle Davies (1-5). David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera (13th save) each pitched a scoreless inning.
Derek Jeter singled home a run in the 3rd, and then Alex Rodriguez, mired in a slump that was even worse than the one Jeter was in until a week ago, drove in 2 runs with a 5th-inning single. Both of those hits came with 2 outs. So a Captain's Contribution, and an A-Men from A-Rod.
Yankees 3, Royals 1. Counting last night's game,the Royals are 15-8 at home, but only 3-9 on the road. Overall, they're just over .500 at 18-17. Compared to what they've usually done since 1993, the last time they were even remotely in a Pennant race, that's progress. They're 5 1/2 games behind the American League Central Division-leading Cleveland Indians.
The Yankees remain in 1st place in the AL Eastern Division, a game ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays (2 in the loss column), 4 1/2 (6) ahead of the Boston Red Sox, 5 1/2 (7) ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays, and 5 1/2 (6) ahead of the Baltimore Orioles. (I have the teams listed in descending order of winning percentage; the differences in the number of games each team has played explains the discrepancies.)
Game 2 of the series is tonight. A.J. Burnett takes the hill for the Yankees, and the Royals' starter will be Vin Mazzaro. He's from nearby Rutherford, New Jersey, and the Yankees often have trouble with pitchers who are local guys. That's not the only bad sign: Due to an injury to another starter, Mazzaro has just been called up from Triple-A. The proverbial, troublesome "pitcher we've never seen before"?
Not quite: He last pitched against the Yankees for the Oakland Athletics on August 31, 2010, and got rocked, not making it through the 4th inning. In 2009, the Yankees smacked him around on July 23 and August 19. That 8/19/09 appearance is the only time he's completed a 5th inning against the Yankees: Overall, in 3 appearances, all starts, his teams have lost all of them to the Yankees, and he's 0-2 with a 9.69 ERA (14 earned runs in 13 innings).
I think the Yankees can hit this guy, so it all depends on whether Good A.J. or Bad A.J. shows up.
One pitcher who will not be showing up is reliever Rafael Soriano, who's experiencing some tightness in his shoulder. But Phil Hughes is scheduled to throw off a mound again in a few days. Very good sign.
Jeter 2962 38
Rivera 572 29
A-Rod 618 145
Magic Number 127 (to eliminate Rays, 124 for O's, 123 for Scum, 122 for Jays)