Jacoby Ellsbury’s first encounter with the Red Sox was an interesting enough storyline Thursday. But perhaps the more intriguing plot twist came out of a mysterious substance on Michael Pineda’s right hand.
Boston’s broadcast on NESN speculated it might have been pine tar but afterward the Red Sox said they hadn’t heard about it, Pineda said it was dirt to prevent sweating and manager Joe Girardi said he did not know anything either.
Substances aside, Pineda allowed a run and four hits while pitching into the seventh inning in a 4-1 victory for his first win in nearly three years.
It was a win Pineda waited for after spending the previous two seasons recovering from shoulder injuries. He also showcased the arsenal he displayed in his rookie season as Seattle’s No. 2 starter behind Felix Hernandez.
“I’m so happy, this is my first time pitching in Yankee Stadium, so I’m very excited,” Pineda said.
The combination of sliders, changeups and fastballs that occasionally peaked at 95 mph were enough to keep Boston off-balance, a fact evident by the seven swinging strikeouts and 15 swings and misses.
It was the same exact thing Derek Jeter saw last year while rehabbing at the minor league facility in Tampa and in the one time the Yankees faced him.
“He’s a legit power pitcher, a strikeout pitcher,” Jeter said. “When he throws like this he’s going to be tough.”
It was also a carbon copy of what the Yankees saw during spring training when Pineda won the fifth starter job.
“We’re really encouraged, and I said it in spring training, what I saw in spring training was a different guy — a guy that the ball is coming out well,” Girardi said. “We saw that tonight. He had command of the strike zone, threw a lot of first pitch strikes, got ahead of hitters and did a really good job.”
Pineda retired the first seven hitters and a had a no-hit bid until Xander Bogaerts led off the fifth with a line-drive single to left field. Working with a two-run lead at that point, Pineda ended the inning with strikeouts of Jackie Bradley Jr. and Jonathan Herrera.
The one-hitter lasted until two outs in the sixth when a cut fastball did not cut and turned into a double by David Ortiz off the top of the wall in right-center field.
Pineda’s response to that little bit of adversity was a 1-0 91-mph fastball to 2013 Yankee-killer Mike Napoli, resulting in a harmless fly ball to Ellsbury in center field.
When he wasn’t getting outs via contact, Pineda spent his night getting swings and misses. Similar to Masahiro Tanaka’s 10-strikeout game the night before, Pineda wound up fooling the Red Sox with sliders and fastballs for seven strikeouts all on swings and misses.
Pineda was at 84 pitches as he started the seventh and at that point the Yankee bullpen began heating up. Almost on cue, Pineda lost his shutout bid when Daniel Nava hit a 1-0 cutter into the second deck in right field.
The makeshift bullpen got the final nine outs with David Robertson injured and Shawn Kelley unavailable.
Cesar Cabral recorded the first two outs in the seventh by striking out A.J. Pierzynski and Bradley. David Phelps recorded the next seven outs, ending the eighth with a full-count strikeout of Ortiz with his knuckle curveball.
Besides being a strong initial impression for Pineda in his home debut, there was another first for a new Yankee. Rookie second baseman Dean Anna hit his first career home run, a towering drive into the second deck in right field in the sixth, and said he had over 100 texts and emails on his phone in response to a home run he dreamt of hitting in Wrigley Field.
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.