Fans appreciate rookie’s big night
Before Friday night’s game, Yankees manager Joe Girardi did not care to make a commitment beyond this game as to how often Zoilo Almonte would play. The rookie outfielder was making his first major-league start is as far as Girardi would go. The skipper did point out, however, that sometimes a player does so well he keeps himself in the lineup.
That could be the case with Almonte. Who knows? He won over the Yankee Stadium crowd in the Yankees’ 6-2 victory over loss to the Blue Jays; that’s for sure. When is the last time you saw a rookie urged out of the dugout for a curtain call?
That is what happened with Almonte in the sixth inning after he crushed a 0-1 fastball from Tampa Bay righthander Roberto Hernandez into the Yankees bullpen for his first big-league home run. It was the fourth straight hit for Almonte, who got his first major-league knock as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning Thursday night and had singles his first two times up Friday night. Since 1916, the only other Yankees player to get at least three hits and a home run in a single game within his first three major league games was Oscar Azocar Sept. 18, 1990 against the Royals in his second career game.
“You don’t expect a kid to get three hits in his first game,” Girardi said. “That can give a kid a lot of confidence.”
“I felt a little nervous,” Almonte said through translator Kenny Leandry. “I always thought this day would come, God willing, and when that day would come, I would be grateful.”
Asked if this was the best day of his life, Almonte said, “Today and when my son was born.”
The crowd also liked the throw he made from left field in the fourth inning that discouraged Luke Scott from attempting to score from third base after the Rays had loaded the bases with one out that helped David Phelps work out of the jam.
“That was an important inning,” Girardi said. “When they didn’t score after loading the bases; that turned the whole game around.”
Perhaps during a week at the Stadium in which the Dodgers showed off Yasiel Puig and the Rays displayed Wil Myers, Yankees fans wanted to get excited about an up-and-coming young player in pinstripes. Almonte, who turned 24 earlier this month, is a switch hitter from the Dominican Republic who has been on the Yankees’ radar for some time. Girardi felt the youngster pressed a bit in spring training but rebounded with strong numbers at Triple A Scranton (.297, six homers, 36 RBI).
Someone in the crowd even chanted “MVP” when Almonte came to bat in the eighth inning. He struck out. Hey, noboby’s perfect.