Time seemed to stand still Wednesday afternoon every time Yasiel Puig stepped into the batter’s box as the Yankees tried to figure out a way to retire the Cuban rookie who has taken the baseball world by storm since becoming a major leaguer on June 3.
The Yankees struggled to get Puig out, but they were good enough against the other Dodgers to earn a 6-4 victory during the first game of Wednesday’s day-night doubleheader.
Puig went 2-for-5 in his first appearance in New York.
He began his day by hitting a few home runs during batting practice while hitting everything else hard during his rounds in the batting cage. He ended it against Mariano Rivera, who struck him out looking after two consecutive swings and misses.
In his first at-bat against Hiroki Kuroda, Puig got ahead 3-0 as the Yankee carefully mixed in sinkers and sliders. After Kuroda got to a full count, Puig lined a fastball into shallow center field for his 24th hit in 49 at-bats but he also was thrown out by Brett Gardner trying to stretch it into a double.
In the early innings, Rivera is usually in the clubhouse before heading to the bullpen in the middle innings. The game is televised on the screens overlooking the middle of the clubhouse and Rivera was watching Puig’s early at-bats.
“I saw them. I mean, [they were] real aggressive. [He’s] a young boy,” Rivera said. “That’s the way you play and you continue to play the way you learn. I don’t see nothing wrong with that.
“You just have to be smart, that’s all it is. A little bit too aggressive, I think, at first. But it took a perfect throw to get him out. If the throw is a little bit to the left or the right, he’s safe. So I mean I like to see young boys like that. I love to see the aggressiveness of young boys who come to play hard, that’s the way you play the game of baseball.”
Puig’s second at-bat, and 50th of his brief career, came with a man on first and two outs in the third. He swung hard but missed a first-pitch slider and, after falling behind 1-2, lined Kuroda’s slider to Gardner.
Puig’s third at-bat came in the sixth after the Yankees left the bases loaded in the fifth and it ended in spectacular fashion for the Yankees. On a 2-1 sinker, Puig smashed a ball that seemed headed for a single but Robinson Cano ranged to his left, fielded the ball on one very hard hop and threw Puig out at first.
“I thought he’s a great hitter and [he has] no holes in the [strike] zone,” Kuroda said through an interpreter. “He was a tough out.”
“You see that’s he an aggressive young player,” Girardi said. “He has tools, a lot of tools. He has speed; he has power. He has a good arm and you recognize the tools right away. We saw it in the first inning what he was able to do. This is a game of adjustments as people see you go around the league the first time, but there’s an awful lot to like about this kid.”
Kuroda held the Dodgers to one hit in their first 10 at-bats with men on base as he allowed two runs and eight hits in 6 2/3 innings. Perhaps his biggest example of capitalizing on poor Los Angeles fundamentals came in the fourth with none out and runners on second and third when Andre Ethier lined out and Kuroda threw out Adrian Gonzalez, who had strayed too far from third base.
However, for all the key pitches Kuroda made while getting out of trouble, the biggest one was made by Shawn Kelley. Kelley came on after the Dodgers made it a one-run game on a sacrifice fly by A.J. Ellis and a pinch-hit single by Jerry Hairston Jr.
With Puig looming on deck, Kelley reached a full count but ended the at-bat against Nick Punto by getting him to swing and miss on a 92 mph fastball that strayed outside.
Puig led off the eighth against Preston Claiborne with a double and took third on a fly ball that required a nice catch from Ichiro at the warning track. Puig didn’t stay at third long as Hanley Ramirez hit the next pitch just over the left field wall.
The Yankees offense didn’t quite electrify things like Puig, but did enough by scoring twice on Lyle Overbay’s two-run double over center fielder Andre Ethier’s head. They added a third run on Ichiro’s solo home run in the sixth and padded the lead with three runs in the seventh, capitalizing on two errors by Ronald Belisario on the same play and getting a two-run single from Ichiro.
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.