Puig, Suzuki fill breach left by injured stars in Dodgers-Yankees doubleheader
At first glance, the inaugural regular season meeting in the Bronx between the Dodgers and Yankees lacked the starpower that typified their record-setting 11 World Series matchups from 1941 to 1981.
No modern-day equivalents of Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle or Reggie Jackson in the pinstripes, or Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider or Sandy Koufax in Dodger blue. Injuries have decimated the current editions of both rosters, depriving the long-awaited series of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford, among others.
Even so, the day-night doubleheader — necessitated by Tuesday’s rainout — displayed the considerable talents of two international stars at opposite ends of their careers, with the Yankees taking the opener 6-4 thanks to the heroics of Ichiro Suzuki, and the Dodgers winning a 6-0 nightcap that turned into yet another episode of The Yasiel Puig Show.
Though they began the day with nearly inverse won-loss records (29-39 for the Dodgers, 38-31 for the Yankees), the two teams have been united this season by astronomical payrolls and crowded disabled lists. With their new owners, Guggenheim Baseball Management, spending like Steinbrenners, the Dodgers became just the second team to breach the $200 million threshold, and would have unseated the Yankees for the game’s highest payroll for the first time since 1998 if not for the Yankees’ late-spring acquisition of Vernon Wells, itself a response to injury.
Indeed, both teams have been so decimated that they came into the day with a combined $187.5 million on the disabled list — more than the payrolls of any of the majors’ other 28 teams — according to this New York Times feature, with eight players totaling $97.7 million for the Yankees and nine players totaling $89.8 million for the Dodgers. In addition to the aforementioned, absent from the Yankees were lineup regulars Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixiera, and part-timers Francisco Cervelli, Eduardo Nunez and Kevin Youkilis. Also missing from the Dodgers were four of the eight starting pitchers with which the team began the season, though one of those, Chris Capuano, would come off the DL in time to throw six shutout innings in the second game.
Between the injuries and the typically diluted arrangements produced by doubleheaders, the lineups resembled those of split-squad exhibition teams, particularly in the opener. Despite their makeshift unit, the Yankees looked relatively sharp behind starter Hiroki Kuroda and three relievers, with Robinson Cano making an outstanding play on a sixth-inning Puig line drive that nearly blew the second baseman into centerfield, and Suzuki robbing Adrian Gonzalez of an extra-base hit with a leaping catch in the eighth. Kuroda worked 6 2/3 innings against his former team, scattering eight hits and netting only two strikeouts but allowing just two runs, those as he tired in the seventh.
On the flipside, the Dodgers made four errors, two apiece by part-time second baseman Skip Schumaker and two more by reliever Ronald Belisario. Schumaker’s errors, both on grounders by Cano, didn’t figure in the scoring and merely drove up starter Hyun-Jin Ryu’s pitch count. Belisario’s errors both came on the same play, as he dropped Wells’ popup, then picked up the ball and threw wildly into centerfield. Here’s the GIF, courtesy of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness blog proprietor Mike Petriello:
Belisario’s play couldn’t have come at a worse time; following back-to-back singles by Jayson Nix and Cano, the Yankees had two on and one out in the seventh inning. Belisario’s butchery allowed Nix to score, Cano to take third, and Wells to take second. He departed in favor of Paco Rodriguez after hitting Thomas Neal (who? Exactly) with a pitch, and Suzuki plated Cano and Wells with a single that ran the score to 6-2.
Indeed, on a day featuring a marquee pitching matchup between stars from South Korea and Japan, it was the latter country’s most famous import who wound up the game’s key player. The 39-year-old Suzuki, who began the day hitting just .265/.308/.338, singled in the second inning and scored on Lyle Overbay’s two-run double, the first runs of the game. He hit a solo homer off Ryu in the sixth, drove in two runs in the seventh, and made his outstanding catch in the eighth, though its impact was somewhat mooted when Hanley Ramirez followed with a two-run homer that trimmed the score to 6-4. Mariano Rivera worked a scoreless ninth for the save, freezing Puig on a knee-high cutter for his 25th save.
In the nightcap, the Dodgers jumped all over Hughes when he couldn’t locate his fastball early, collecting four straight singles and two quick runs before making an out. The Yankees’ erratic starter escaped further damage when David Adams started an around-the-horn double play on Tim Federowicz’s grounder. The Dodgers added another run in the third on doubles by Gonzalez and Andre Ethier, then increased their lead with two more in the fifth. Hughes hit Puig in the hip with a pitch, and the Dodger phenom responded by stealing second, and scoring on Ramirez’s single into the rightfield corner. Ramirez took third on Ethier’s single, and scored on a Jerry Hairston Jr. sacrifice fly.
Hughes, who surrendered 10 hits on the night and raised his ERA to 5.09, yielded to Adam Warren in the sixth, and Puig greeted him rudely, with a homer to Yankee Stadium’s short right porch:
Indeed, in both games the ball seemed to leave contrails every time it rocketed off the 22-year-old Cuban defector’s bat. He went 2-for-5 in the opener, thrown out in the first inning trying to stretch a single into a double but successfully completing the feat in the eighth after a hard single up the middle. He bunted for a base hit in the first inning of the nightcap, and in all went 4-for-9 with eight total bases for the day, keeping his slash line in the stratosphere: .474/.500/.789.
While Puig was turning heads, Capuano quieted the Yankees’ bats. Of the three hits he allowed, two were infield singles by Overbay and Nix, while the third was a sharp single that Cano — perhaps trying to do his best Puig imitation — tried to stretch into a double and was thrown out. In combination with relief work by Chris Withrow and Brandon League, the Dodgers set the Yankee side down in order six times, compared to just twice in the opener.
Somewhat lost in this retelling but not in the pregame buildup was the return of Dodger manager Don Mattingly to the Bronx, though these were his first games in the new ballpark, which opened in 2009. Mattingly starred for the Yankees during his 14-year career from 1982 through 1995, then spent four years (2004-2007) as a coach before departing with fired manager Joe Torre as he moved over to the Dodgers. Before both of Wednesday’s games, Mattingly received a shoutout from the Yankee Stadium Bleacher Creatures as part of their first-inning roll call. They chanted “Donnie Baseball!” again and again until he acknowledged with a tip of his cap.