Winning challenge contributes to winning rally

Technology came to the Yankees’ rescue in the third inning Friday night. Manager Joe Girardi’s first challenge of an umpire’s call worked in his favor and helped the Yankees regain the lead for Masahiro Tanaka, whose debut in the major leagues has been testy.

The play in question was a bang-bang call at first base in which Ichiro Suzuki was called out initially by first base umpire Dana DeMuth. Replays clearly showed that Ichiro beat the play. In the past, it would have been a case of too bad for the Yanks because the umpire had the last say.

But with new rules regarding replays, Girardi had the option to challenge the call and did so. After checking with a crew in New York reviewing the play, DeMuth’s initial call was reversed and Ichiro had a single. Even better for the Yankees, the hit kept the inning alive instead of Suzuki having made the third out.

Yangervis Solarte, who is becoming pretty familiar quickly to Yankees fans, then smoked a double to right-center to score two runs and put the Yanks back ahead, 4-3. Girardi made another challenge in the eighth inning, also at first base in which Jacoby Ellsbury was called, but the original call stood this time.

As an aside, for years I used to get teased in press boxes for scoring in pencil, which I still do while most of my comrades use pens. Well, with these challenges it might be a good idea for those who score games to follow my example. There are plenty of pencils to go around.

The Yankees gave Tanaka a bit of a comfort zone by scoring two runs in the top of the first inning off Toronto starter Dustin McGowan as five of their first six batters reached base with hits. It might have been a more productive inning, but the Yanks left the bases loaded when Suzuki struck out and Solarte popped out.

Tanaka got a rude welcome to the bigs when Melky Cabrera hit a home run off a 1-1 hanging splitter leading off the bottom of the first. The newcomer from Japan got the next three hitters, two on strikeouts, but was cuffed for two runs in the second. An errant throw by Mark Teixeira trying for a force at second base contributed to the rally climaxed by a two-run single by Jonathan Diaz, playing shortstop for injured Jose Reyes.

Teixeira came out the game in the second inning due to a strained right hamstring. That illuminated a situation that the Yankees had coming out of spring training in that they do not have a pure first baseman as a backup. Kelly Johnson, who started at third base, moved to the other corner with Solarte going to third and Brian Roberts inserted at second.

Johnson, who was playing only his fourth game at first base in the majors, may turn out to be decent insurance at that position after all. He made a diving, run-saving play to get the Yankees and Tanaka out of the third inning unscathed.

Tanaka settled in nicely after that. He pitched to the minimum number of batters in each of the next four innings. The only baserunner over that stretch — Edwin Encarnacion, who reached on an infield single in the sixth — was erased on a double play.

After a shaking beginning perhaps caused in some part by nerves, which would be understandable, Tanaka turned in a strong outing for his first major-league victory. He was backed by a 16-hit attack, including three hits apiece by Ellsbury and Ichiro.

The Yankees got to .500 (2-2) but are still looking for their first home run of the season. Their five extra-base hits were two doubles each by Ellsbury and Solarte and a triple by Johnson. The Yankees had runners in scoring position in all but one inning and were 9-for-24 (.375) in those situations.

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