Chris Stewart leads Yankees to Game 1 win over Blue Jays
Chris Stewart’s primary job description is to guide pitchers through their outing by calling pitches and framing his glove in the strike zone.
But occasionally Stewart gets a chance to display his power bat.
Stewart hit a go-ahead three-run home run in the bottom of the sixth inning and the Yankees picked up an important victory by knocking off the Blue Jays, 8-4, in the opener of Tuesday’s day-night doubleheader.
“It’s not an every day thing,” Stewart said. “I don’t know, hell might freeze over now but it’s definitely nice to contribute at the plate. I try to do the job behind the plate first, take care of the pitchers first, but it was big I was able to drive those runs in.”
Stewart had hit the ball in the air in his previous two at-bats. He led off the third with a fly out to center field and made the final out of the fourth with a fly ball to right field.
In the sixth, the Yankees had first and second after Alex Rodriguez singled and Jayson Nix drew a two-out walk from reliever Neil Wagner. Wagner then failed to locate a 2-1 fastball and Stewart crushed it into the left field seats.
“I’m trying to look fastball at all times and kind of adjust after that,” Stewart said. “If they make a good breaking ball pitch, tip your hat to them, but I’m not going to go up there looking for anything special. I’ve got guys who can drive the runs in. Fortunately he gave me a good pitch to hit and I hit it.”
“It’s a huge at-bat,” manager Joe Girardi said. “That changed the game.”
It was Stewart’s fourth home run this year but first in 174 at-bats since May 15 against Seattle.
“It’s huge,” Stewart said. “I’m not a home-run hitter obviously. I’m just happy that those runs were able to be driven in. I’m not necessarily trying to hit a homer there but I got a pitch and put a good swing on it.”
Stewart’s rare power display lifted the Yankees to their seventh win nine games, though that stretch has done little to make a dent in the wild card standings.
It also came on somewhat of a milestone afternoon for the Yankees.
Robinson Cano did the rest of the heavy lifting for the lineup by going 4-for-4 with four RBIs. Three of those RBI came on a drive to straightaway center field that made him the 16th Yankee to reach 200 career home runs.
Ichiro Suzuki scored on those hits and is now within one hit of reaching 4,000 combined in Japan and in the major leagues. He had a double in the third and opened the seventh with a single.
Ichiro had a chance in the eighth for the milestone but made the final out of the inning with a groundout to first.
Besides using his bat for his eighth-career home run in 233 games, Stewart also guided Ivan Nova through 6 1/3 innings and Shawn Kelley through a long at-bat with the bases loaded in the seventh.
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.