Soriano Wins it For Yankees on Hideki Matsui Day • Latino Sports


Soriano Wins it For Yankees on Hideki Matsui Day


Yankee Stadium, the Bronx-  Perfection in baseball is tough to achieve, but on a special day commemorating the achievements and retirement of New Yankee great Hideki Matsui, the Yankees willed their way to dramatic 6-5 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on the strength of an Alfonso Soriano walk-off single.

With the game tied at 5-5, and Rays’ reliever Jake McGee on the mound, Soriano made it feel like 2003 all over again, slicing an RBI-single into center-field scoring Yankees’ lead-off hitter Brett Gardner from second base for a much needed victory over the first place Rays.

Gardner started the ninth with a walk, and then took second base on a wild pitch by McGee, this after McGee asked for a new belt from the dugout with Derek Jeter up to bat. McGee ended up intentionally walking Jeter after the wild pitch, but Soriano, who finished 3-for-5 with one home run and two runs scored, took the first pitch he saw from McGee [a 96 mph four-seam fastball], and looped it to center for the game-winning hit.

The Yankees may not play anywhere near Hollywood, but their Broadway performance almost seemed scripted.

It began after Jeter, playing in just his second game this season, and his first at shortstop, swung for the fences, blasting a Matt Morre offering into right center-field for his first home run of the season. The effect of the homer was deafening, as Yankee Stadium produced its loudest roar of the current home-stand, causing the ‘Captain’ to go out for a curtain call, after a 1-0 Yankees lead.

“Yeah, he’s a movie,” said Yankkes’ skipper Joe Girardi of Jeter. “You think about his 3,000th hit, what he did today, we hadn’t hit a home run since the All-Star break. His presence just makes things different.”

Taking the hill for Tampa, Moore, the sophomore, entered the game with 14 wins, the second most in the American League. Moore’s recent success did not carry over into Sunday afternoon’s game however, as the Yankees scored two more runs in the bottom of the first inning for a 3-0 advantage.

Consecutive singles by Robinson Cano and Alfonso Soriano resulted in a Vernon Wells sacrifice-fly RBI to make it 2-0, and an RBI-single by Ichiro that put the Yankees ahead early 3-0.

“There were some awkward moments,” said Rays’ manager Joe Maddon on being asked if Moore [14-4] was a victim of bad luck or bad pitches, adding, “A ball off of his [Moore’s] glove, a ball off Yunel’s [Escobar] foot, a ball off Kelly’s glove, there were all kinds of ‘off-ofs’ today, and it was just unfortunate. Those are the things we usually make or do, and we did not, and it led to a couple of their runs.”

Tampa Bay did not get to the top of the American League East by accepting their falls, and rookie phenom outfielder Wil Myers single-handedly brought them back in the game, swatting two home runs off Yankees’ starter Phil Hughes that tied the game at 5-5.

“Felt really good in the first inning, couldn’t get out on a roll,” said Hughes of his struggles.

Myers first homer, and his rookie leading sixth of the season in the top of third inning, went deep into the left-field bleachers for a three-run shot that momentarily gave the Rays a 4-3 lead.

Soriano responded to the ensuing home run derby being played out, hitting his first home run as a Yankee this season, and his 18th of the year, a two-run shot into right-field to put the Yanks back on top 5-4 in the bottom of the third inning.

In the top of the fifth inning, and with Tampa Bay trailing 5-4, Myers hit an elliptical solo-shot into right-field for his seventh dinger of the season, and his second long-ball of the game. After walking Kelly Johnson following the Myers slam, Hughes day was finished, as reliever Preston Claiborne would go on to pitch two scoreless innings.

After the fifth inning, each team tossed out relievers who kept the game knotted up. In the bottom of the seventh inning, the Yankees had a chance to take the lead with runners on first and second, but pinch-hitter Lyle Overbay, in for Wells, struck out looking to end the inning.

Collecting his fourth hit of the game in the bottom of the eighth inning, Ichiro, who finished 4-for-4, all singles, now has 50 career four-hit games.

Despite Moore’s struggles, Ichiro had only praise for the second-year Tampa starter of whom he got the best of, saying of Moore, “Obviously he’s a good pitcher, and I had heard he was throwing more change-ups… Cannot be relaxed up there because he is such a great pitcher.”

The eventful afternoon began in the Yankees press conference room, as Matsui, dressed in a dark suit with a pinstripes tie, signed three, one-day contracts with the Yankees [one for Matsui, one for the Yankees and one for the Yankees museum].

When Matsui officially announced that he was retiring last season he, “never imagined this day would happen.”

Prior to the game, Matsui was driven out on a white golf cart, waving his arms to the fans, many of which wore Matsui jerseys, or in one case, a custom made “Go, go Matsui,” tee-shirt. When told about the many in the crowd dressed in his likeness or with his No.55 jersey, Matsui responded by saying that he was, “impressed that they never threw it away.”

A montage video of Matsui then played on the video-board behind center-field , ending with his MVP performance in the 2009 World Series. The big day, which included Matsui bobble-heads as a promotional giveaway [that go as high as $75.00 on eBay] culminated in Matsui signing his retirement papers.

A longtime teammate, Jeter presented Matsui with a framed 2009 Yankees jersey that on one sleeve had the 2009 inaugural Yankee Stadium patch, and the other with the 2009 World Series champions patch.

“Just a game we have to win,” said Yankees’ first baseman Brent Lillibridge. “It was really cool to see Matsui getting a day [for] about what he did. They [the Yankees organization] really take care of their players here.”

With the third sellout crowd at the stadium, Matsui in attendance, a homer by Jeter to begin the game and a game-winning hit by Soriano, a time machine could have mistakenly been accused of the strange but enjoyable outcome in the Yankees win over Tampa Bay.

Soriano summed up the day saying,”When I see Mariano [Rivera] pitching, Derek [Jeter] hitting, feels like old times in the present.”


About Oren Vourman