NEW YORK — This was a different kind of home opener at Yankee Stadium, played without fans to share in the annual celebration of renewal and hope.
The Bronx crowd’s energy is “something that will be missed,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said before Friday night’s game against the Boston Red Sox.
Yet, “once we get rolling, I think our guys will be excited to put on the pinstripes and know what we’re playing for.”
A pregame ceremony celebrated New York’s frontline medical responders during the COVID-19 crisis before a first pitch by newly retired Yankee CC Sabathia.
Before long, Aaron Judge added the sound of solid contact — belting a home run in his third straight game and lifting the Yankees toward a 5-1 victory.
Jordan Montgomery had a promising 2020 debut, pitching into the sixth inning and yielding just a third-inning solo homer by Michael Chavis.
In the fourth, Montgomery got Chavis to ground into an inning-ending double play to escape a bases-loaded jam.
That was one of three double plays the Yankees (5-1) turned behind the lefty, including Judge picking off Kevin Pillar at first base on a fly out to end the third.
Against right-handed starter Ryan Weber, Judge followed DJ LeMahieu’s third-inning leadoff single with a homer to right-center for a 2-1 lead.
LeMahieu had three hits, Gio Urshela belted his first homer of the year, and Brett Gardner snapped an 0-for-12 to start the year with a two-run homer in the eighth.
Chad Green, Adam Ottavino and Jonathan Holder notched the final 10 outs, on a night when reliever Tommy Kahnle landed on the injured list due to a right elbow injury.
The pregame introduction of frontline medical personnel at positions around the field was accompanied by a unique and familiar sound in New York.
Outside of their dugouts, members of the Red Sox and Yankees banged on aluminum trashcan lids, symbolic of the banging of pots and pans around the city to salute medical workers each evening.
“Reminds me of coming home, leaving the hospital at 7 p.m. and hearing the city, feeling like you have everybody supporting you,” said Dr. Paul Lee, the head internist for the Yankees. “That meant a lot.”
Earlier on Friday, the Milwaukee Brewers-St. Louis Cardinals game became the latest COVID-19 related MLB postponement after two Cardinals tested positive.
“All it takes is one player being careless, bringing it into the clubhouse, and before you know it and the whole team is going to get it,” said Dr. Lee, emphasizing the importance of mask wearing and social distancing, for all citizens as well as the players, helping to “make sure there’s no weak link that jeopardizes the whole season.”
The Yankees still aren’t certain if their scheduled games against the Phillies will be played next week, due to Philadelphia’s recent exposure to the Miami Marlins, who incurred a major COVID-19 outbreak.
Though there’s “some optimism” of playing those four games with the Phillies, Boone said it’s “still too early to know one way or the other.”
Honoring a special request, Yankees broadcaster Suzyn Waldman sang the national anthem — from the radio booth — and was saluted on the field by Gerrit Cole and Judge.
During Cole’s tenure with the Houston Astros, Waldman mentioned to the right-hander that he’d be a great fit on the Yankees once he became a free agent.
Cole, who grew up a Yankees fan in Southern California, responded by saying she should sing the anthem for his first home opener if that ever occurred.
Of course, Cole didn’t pitch Friday, but he caught Sabathia’s first pitch — picking it off on a hop.
“That’s the furthest I’ve thrown a ball since that playoff game,” Sabathia said, admitting some nervousness and recalling his final appearance during last year’s AL Division Series, when his shoulder gave out at the Stadium.
“Obviously, I’m not ready to throw from a mound yet,” Sabathia said. “So, it just reinforces my decision to retire.”
Wearing a T-shirt honoring the Negro League’s centennial anniversary, Sabathia said he’s been deeply involved in the Players Alliance and has spoken to a wide range of players, including Mookie Betts and Tim Anderson as well as his recent ex-teammates.
At Washington last week, Aaron Hicks and Giancarlo Stanton took to one knee for the anthem, in the cause against racial injustice.
“I think the time is right for making a stand and trying to make some change,” a supportive Sabathia said. “Anything they want (in getting) together and doing a peaceful protest, I think we’re all for.”
Story by Pete Caldera
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