Makeshift lineup comes through for Kuroda
That was as makeshift a lineup as Yankees manager Joe Girardi has formulated all season in Wednesday night’s finale of the trip through Chicago and St. Louis. Regular catcher Brian McCann made his first major-league start at first base with backup catcher John Ryan Murphy batting fifth in the order.
With Mark Teixeira still bothered by an inflamed right wrist and Derek Jeter and Yangervis Solarte needing some time off, the Yankees’ alignment had a decidedly different look. Solarte has shown signs of weariness while in a 0-for-14 slump, so Girardi needed Kelly Johnson to play third base. Johnson had been playing first base during Teixeira’s absence. The other backup first baseman Girardi has used is Brendan Ryan, but he had to start at shortstop for Jeter, who played all but one inning of the previous eight games on the trip, three of which went into extras.
And with Alfonso Soriano on the bench, once again the Yankees’ lineup was not overloaded with power.
So what happened? All those singles the somewhat soft batting order put together against a tough pitcher, St. Louis starter Shelby Miller, constructed a 7-0 lead by the fourth inning and went on to a 7-4 victory that made it a 5-4 trip, not bad when you consider that the Yanks were 1-3 at one point.
Miller’s Achilles heel is the base on balls (30 in 56 2/3 innings entering the game), which was a factor as well. He walked only two batters, but both came in the third to fuel a rally. Singles by Brian Roberts and Jacoby Ellsbury following a walk to Brett Gardner created the first run. After Miller walked McCann to load the bases, Murphy singled to center for two more runs. The third run scored when Ichiro Suzuki beat the relay to first base to avoid a double play.
The Yankees struck for three more runs the next inning after two were out. Two runners came home on a single by Ellsbury, who had three hits, three RBI and two stolen bases in the game and seems to be back on track. McCann made it 7-0 with a single.
Hiroki Kuroda, who last year suffered from lack of offensive support from his teammates, welcomed the huge lead. The righthander was touched for nine hits in 5 2/3 innings but no walks and left with the Yankees ahead, 7-3.
Dellin Betances continued his effective relief by getting a key out in the sixth when the Cardinals threatened to tighten the score. St. Louis had a run in and runners on first and third with two out in the sixth when Betances was summoned to face Matt Holliday, who ended the threat with a flyout to left.
That was the extent of Betances’ work Wednesday night and did not include a strikeout, which has been a specialty of the rookie this season. Betances leads all major league relievers with 51 strikeouts among the 92 outs he has recorded. The hard-throwing righthander is holding batters to a .143 average in 105 at-bats. He has struck out multiple batters in 18 of his 20 appearances this season in which he has faced at least two batters, including 11 straight from April 11 to May 10.
Girardi brought in David Robertson for the final four outs. Things got a bit dicey when Robertson gave up an RBI single to Kolten Wong, his fourth hit, in the eighth and put the first two batters on base in the ninth. But D-Rob rebounded to strike out the side and preserve Kuroda’s first road victory since July 25 last year in 12 starts. He had been 0-7 away from Yankee Stadium since then.
The Yankees finished with 12 hits. Joining Ellsbury in the parade were Roberts, McCann, Ryan and Johnson with two apiece. All the hits were singles except for Roberts’ fourth-inning double. The Yanks were able to put enough singles together to end the trip on a positive note.