Yanks try to run away from Astros but can’t

With a lefthander, Eric Bedard, starting for the Astros Wednesday night, Yankees manager Joe Girardi had to decide which left-handed hitting outfielder to give the night off. He chose Brett Gardner for two reasons: (1) Gardner could use the blow and (2) Ichiro Suzuki is hot.

Ichiro has really stepped it up this homestand. He entered the game on an 8-for-19 (.421) stretch that shot his batting average up to .268, which was 68 points higher than it was a week ago. With hits in each of his first two at-bats, Suzuki’s average just kept climbing nearer to the .300 level with which he was so familiar in his years with the Mariners.

Suzuki led off the game with a triple off the auxiliary scoreboard in right-center field. He scored moments later on a single to left by Jayson Nix. Bedard, who did not walk a batter in his prior start at Boston despite throwing 91 pitches in three innings, walked the bases loaded with none out in the second.

The first walk was to Travis Hafner, whom Girardi left in the batting order as the designated hitter while using righty-swinging Ben Francisco in right field. The Astros used an exaggerated shift against Hafner, who I think would be smart to consider bunting in those situations. After all, he was leading off the inning, so getting on base is the priority. The Astros were giving him the entire left side of the infield.

The Yankees got only one run out of the rally, on a sacrifice fly by Chris Stewart, who is doing a terrific job in making up for the loss to injury (fractured right hand) of Francisco Cervelli. The Yanks reloaded the bases with two out on an infield single by Suzuki when Bedard and first baseman Carlos Pena miscommunicated on a play at the bag while Ichiro sped to another hit. It proved inconsequential as Nix popped out.

The game was beginning to look like one of those runaways when Robinson Cano and Francisco homered in the fourth inning for a 4-0 Yankees lead. Cano’s homer was career No. 185 for 16th place on the Yankees’ all-time list. He also moved ahead of Elston Howard for 20th place on the Yankees’ career RBI list with 733.

Francisco’s homer was his first with the Yankees, and it must have felt wonderful. He entered the game batting .103 and may just be the odd man out whenever Curtis Granderson comes off the disabled list, which is likely sometime this month.

Making his first start of the season, David Phelps was certainly appreciative of the early run support. The righthander cruised through three innings in pitching to the minimum number of batters and allowing one hit before the wheels started to fall off in the fourth. Phelps was stung for four hits and didn’t help himself by hitting two batters, one of which forced in a run, as the Astros tied the score.

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