With red, white and blue bunting dangling from all decks of a facility once lauded as a towering, triple-tiered wonder of the sporting world, Melky Cabrera homered and made two outstanding catches to earn a curtain call -- the Yankees' first in a season that promises to be rife with celebratory ovations.
The game marked the beginning of a new period in franchise history, with Joe Girardi managing the Yankees to a win in his first game after assuming the position formerly held for 12 seasons by Joe Torre. The final out came on an infield grounder to second base, and closer Mariano Rivera did the honors of handing the ball to his new skipper for safe-keeping.
"You play Opening Day and you want to get a lot of the firsts out of the way -- the first hit, the first win," Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said. "You want to relax and move on. I know he wanted to win this game, and I'm happy for him. Everyone was aware of the fact that this was our last opener here."
Girardi may have scribbled out the lineup card, but Cabrera -- batting out of the No. 9 hole -- took center stage as the game's standout performer. In the sixth, facing Blue Jays starter Roy Halladay, Cabrera connected with a high, arcing shot toward the right-field corner, well ahead of Alex Rios' leap and destined to hammer off the concrete walkway to tie the game.
Cabrera's right arm shot out toward the outfield wall as he raced around the bases, and he was later summoned out of the dugout to again acknowledge the crowd, putting his own personal flair on the staple by contributing what Jason Giambi would call a "straight scissor kick."
"Definitely the best curtain call I've seen in a long time," Giambi said.
Cabrera had a long way to run in the fourth inning, dashing into the gap in right-center field to flag down Lyle Overbay's deep drive before thudding against the wall with a leap. One batter later, Cabrera raced toward left-center field, stumbling ever so slightly before grabbing Aaron Hill's low liner, completing his acrobatics with a flourishing headfirst skid across the wet outfield turf.
"We don't look at him as a supplementary piece," Girardi said. "We look at him as very important to our club. When you play center field, there's a ton of responsibility. In a lot of lineups, Melky isn't going to hit No. 9."
The Yankees took the lead in the seventh against Halladay when, with the bases loaded, Hill couldn't find a quick handle on Hideki Matsui's hot ground ball to second base. Hill flipped the ball to shortstop David Eckstein's bare hand to record a putout, but Alex Rodriguez crossed the plate with the go-ahead run on the fielder's choice.
It'd be enough for sinkerballing starter Chien-Ming Wang, who splintered bats early and often with his expanding repertoire. Wang limited Toronto to two runs and six hits over seven innings -- a Marco Scutaro run-scoring fielder's choice in the second and Shannon Stewart's RBI groundout -- before yielding to phenom Joba Chamberlain for the eighth inning.
Thirteen of the outs Wang recorded came via ground ball, and Girardi raved that it was the best he had seen him this year following his troublesome Spring Training.
"It was very good, [Tuesday's] last Opening Day," Wang said. "It was the best."
Chamberlain allowed the tying run to get as close as second base before he recorded two strikeouts to end the frame, pumping his fist and screaming as 55,112 did the same. Rivera, as is his custom, retired the side in the ninth with decidedly less fanfare, recording the final out on a Scutaro groundout to second base.
It was a game that had trademarks of what one would want from the new Girardi era -- well-pitched baseball at the beginning, timely hitting and aggressive baserunning, athletic and reliable defense, and lights-out from the back end of the bullpen.
If this isn't Girardi's blueprint, it should be.
"It's going to be a little bit different with this team this year," Giambi said. "Joe ran us a lot in Spring Training, and everyone's in great shape. We had good defense because of it tonight. We've just got to keep everybody healthy."
"If we keep it like that, I'm sure we'll win a lot," Jeter said.
|"We don't look at him as a supplementary piece. We look at him as very important to our club. When you play center field, there's a ton of responsibility. In a lot of lineups, Melky isn't going to hit No. 9."|
|-- Joe Girardi on Melky Cabrera|
Thirty years after the Yankees' memorable 1978 world championship, the club's most prolific player of that era buzzed a strike across home plate to begin the sendoff -- and who better than Reggie Jackson, a man whose homer on Opening Day '78 prompted fans to shower the playing field with chocolate bars bearing his name?
There was sweetness for Rodriguez as well. In his first at-bat since signing a landmark contract that will keep him in New York for the next decade, the reigning American League MVP picked up right where he left off in 2007 by ripping a two-out double up the gap in right-center field, scoring Bobby Abreu.
"For me, I feel like it was game No. 163," Rodriguez said. "Hopefully I can just continue to play well."
Yankee Stadium originally opened on April 18, 1923, as Ruth clubbed a home run to defeat the rival Red Sox, 4-1, earning the facility the nickname "The House that Ruth Built." The stadium underwent dramatic reconstruction after the 1973 season and reopened on April 15, 1976, as the current facility, with the Yankees defeating the Twins, 11-4.
The game was originally scheduled to be played as an Opening Day, and there had never been a game played in the building's confines during the month of March; Mother Nature's heavy rains on Monday saw that tradition, so prominent in the facility's history, would be upheld. The Yankees and Blue Jays played instead under the lights on Tuesday, an opening act to remember upon baseball's grandest stage.
"The baseball gods wanted the game to last as long as possible," Girardi said.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.