By Howard Goldin
BRONX, NEW YORK JULY 8- A sweltering heat wave continued in the New York area on Sunday. The temperature in the Bronx was 92 at the time the first pitch of the game at Yankee Stadium was thrown, but an exciting baseball game was again completed.
The crowd of 40,218 in the ballpark included 4,000 guests from Newtown, Connecticut. Prior to the 2013 season opener, the New York Yankees promised to recognize the bereaved residents of the town as part of the healing process of the tragic massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of the ceremony, “We need to reach out and continue to reach out to these families.”
The Newtown Youth Voices performed the National Anthem and the Sandy Hook Fire Department and the Newtown Police Department comprised the color guard. The pre-game ceremony also included a remembrance of the victims by the display of their names on the centerfield scoreboard.
The crowd was treated to a pitching clinic as baserunners were very few in number and runs were even more scarce. The Yanks scored their only run of the contest in the second frame off Orioles’ starter Jason Hammel. Zoilo Almonte drew a walk to lead-off the inning. He moved to third on a single by Lyle Overbay. The tally was registered after a sacrifice fly by yesterday’s hero, Eduardo Nuñez.
Hammel was removed after the fifth, but solely because of his pitch count (102). The four Baltimore relievers did not yield either a hit or a run. Two nights earlier, Oriole closer Jim Johnson blew the save opportunity and received the loss in the ninth inning as the Orioles were defeated. Johnson retired all three batters in the ninth on Sunday to record his 30th save of the year and his 81st since the start of the 2012 season.
Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda blanked the Birds for seven innings in his first outing in July. He scattered three hits, two by Nick Markakis, and walked only one batter. Girardi remarked on the effectiveness of his pitches, “His sinker was good and his split was exceptionally good.”
In Kuroda’s last start, on June 30 against Baltimore, he gave up three homers. He stated he was making a concerted effort to avoid that mishap again, “There are a lot of their home run hitters in their lineup, so I was just trying to make sure I didn’t give up one.”
Although he only threw 88 pitches, the lowest total in a game this year during which he pitched more than two innings, he was removed after seven. The modest Kuroda, after the contest, did not criticize the decision, “It was a good situation to have [David] Robertson in the eighth and Mariano [Rivera] in the ninth.”
Robertson set down the three men he faced in order in the eighth. “Enter Sandman” played and the crowd cheered Rivera’s entrance, expecting a rapid and happy ending of the game.
The first batter, Markakis, after pulling a ball deep into the stands but foul, singled. Starting American League All-Star Adam Jones followed with home run deep to left-center on an 0-1 pitch off the 13 time A.L. All-Star to give the Birds a 2-1 advantage.
Girardi spoke about the inning, “it just looked like he made a mistake to Jones. Markakis got an 0-2 hit. It’s only the 2nd [blown save] in 31 chances.”
Catcher Chris Stewart remarked, “They were getting good swings. It‘s tough but it happens.” To put the story in perspective, the Yankees have compiled a record of 668-44 in games during which Rivera had save opportunity.
In fourth place in the American League East after Sunday’s game, the Yanks now play host to the Kansas City Royals for four games. Phil Hughes (4-7) and Jeremy Guthrie (7-6) will start the opener on Monday night.