Yankee Stadium felt like capital of baseball again during home opener

There were still enough kids in the stands that when the ball flew off Alex Verdugo’s bat and into the gray, late-afternoon sky, there was an audible, anticipatory squeal that accompanied it on its path toward the outfield wall.

Later, they’ll listen to their parents and they’ll learn the cardinal rules of fly balls at baseball games: look at the outfielder. He’ll tell you how far it’s been hit. So if you looked out to right field, you saw George Springer ease back toward the warning track. You saw the ball die maybe 15 feet in front of the fence. You saw the ball settle into Springer’s glove.

And so the Yankees weren’t going go with the sports-movie script, weren’t going to tie the game and send the remnants of the Opening Day crowd of 47,812 into a frothy frenzy. They were going to lose, 3-0, to the Blue Jays, wasting a terrific start from Marcus Stroman. So far, the summary for the Yankees season eight games in looks like this:

They score, they win.

But they didn’t score, not in the ninth inning, not against Yusei Kikuchi, who dueled Stroman pitch for pitch across 5 ¹/₃ innings, not all day. They’ve lost two games so far this year and they’ve been shut out both of them. It’s too early to read too much into it. But it’s worth noting and filing it away.

Manager Aaron Boone said the crowd at Yankee Stadium was ready to erupt. Charles Wenzelberg

“The crowd was ready to go, ready to erupt,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “But we could never get the offense going to really blow the roof off.”

“Not the results we wanted,” Aaron Judge added. “We didn’t give them much to cheer about.”

Boone avoided the Christmas rush and invited some immediate second-guessing among that faction of Yankees fans who would want him fired even if he handed out free hot dogs and ice cream to all of them on their way into the yard. In the seventh, Verdugo drew a two-out walk off lefty Genesis Cabrera.

In what felt like a curious move, Toronto manager John Schneider summoned righty Trevor Richards, which seemed to invite Boone to pinch hit piping-hot Oswaldo Cabrera for Jon Berti, with the possibility of also replacing Jose Trevino with Austin Wells. But Boone stuck with Berti, who popped out, and stuck with Trevino, who struck out leading off the eighth. Boone said he never considered making the subs to his lefty swingers.

“No,” he said. “Not off Richards.”

The Yankees’ crowd was engaged long before first pitch Friday. James Messerschmidt for the NY Post

There’ll be plenty of days ahead to wring hands over manager’s decisions and balls that don’t quite reach the distance. In truth the main takeaway from Opening Day was that Yankee Stadium is once again a place that feels, and sounds, like the very center of the baseball universe again.

It helped that the Yankees were 6-1 when they took the field. But the crowd was engaged long before the first pitch. They gave Stroman a loud greeting as he made his way to the bullpen before the game, and Stroman ate it all up, responding in kind.

And even that paled in comparison to the greeting that Juan Soto received when the roll-call started thundering out of the bleachers in the top of the first, and Soto responded with a flourish, waving both arms, doffing his cap, taking a bow. He had a quiet day at the plate, taking an 0-for-4 collar and showing visible anger after fanning to end the eighth.

But he, like Stroman, savored every second of this home debut. In an era when it seems too many New York imports take slowly to the maddening rush of the city and its sporting citizens — or don’t take to them at all — they jumped in with both feet. It was good to see.

“I didn’t eat at all last night or this morning. I was very anxious to come to the park and was very grateful for the home crowd,” Stroman said. “The energy when I walked out 35 or 40 minutes before the game was really incredible. To feel the love from the crowd meant everything for me.”

Yankees fans watched a loss to the Blue Jays on Friday after their 6-1 start. Charles Wenzelberg

Said Soto: “Really cool, really nice, very exciting to see all those fans cheering, coming to watch the game. It was really nice. When they get going they can really help the team to get going.”

The crowd wasn’t enough this time, but there will be other times. There will be other games. Yankee Stadium feels like the capital of baseball again. Even on a day that ended with a loss, that feels like a win.


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