NEW YORK – Manager Lloyd McClendon has often joked that Roenis Elias isn’t shy about being in the spotlight, in fact he kind of enjoys it — sometimes a little too much.
Well, in the biggest city with the brightest lights, facing baseball’s pre-eminent team with all of its grandeur and tradition, the rookie lefty basked in that spotlight, pitching like he had played in Yankee Stadium his whole life.
Elias tossed seven solid innings in his first start in New York, the Mariners got just enough offense and Fernando Rodney limited the drama in the ninth inning for his sixth save as Seattle secured a 4-2 win over the Yankees on Thursday night. It was the Mariners’ third straight win and their fifth in six games, leaving them 12-14 for the season.
“The young man threw a tremendous game, that’s for sure,” McClendon said. “We’d thought he’d be OK in this atmosphere. This is a tough venue.”
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Elias put together one of his best outings of the season, allowing just two runs (one earned) on six hits with two walks and a career-high 10 strikeouts.
There didn’t seem to be an ounce of intimidation in Elias from the moment he stepped on the mound. The stadium, the crowd, the pinstripes, the ghosts of Yankees past meant little to him.
“Nothing, nothing at all,” he said through a translator. “It’s just baseball.”
That’s how he has pitched since spring training. He attacks without fear.
“He’s been through a lot in his life already, so baseball is fun for him,” catcher Mike Zunino said. “He’s a loose guy with a lot of confidence. He just goes out there and feeds off the energy. He’s the kind of guy that likes to rise to the occasion.”
Every player’s first start in New York is something to remember. And with McClendon deciding to stick with Elias and push back ace Felix Hernandez by a day, despite his success in Yankee Stadium (4-1, 1.22 ERA in his last six starts), the start took on even more meaning. With 43,121 in attendance – most ready to boo Robinson Cano at every turn – Elias had plenty of energy to work from.
“That’s where my enjoyment comes from,” Elias said. “That’s what makes me feel good.”
Even after he gave up a tying home run to Jacoby Ellsbury to start the bottom of the first inning, Elias didn’t panic. If anything, it seemed to motivate him more.
“I believe he turned on that,” Elias said.
He came back and struck out Derek Jeter, Carlos Beltran and Alfonso Soriano to end the inning.
From there, he started rolling. He wasn’t perfect. He allowed runners in all but one inning. But he was aided by a pair of double plays, all those strikeouts and a curveball that gave hitters fits all night.
“Best I’ve seen him,” Zunino said. “The last two or three starts he’s been feeling really good about his breaking ball and change-up and that helps.”
According to pitch tracker, Elias threw 41 curveballs on the night — 24 for strikes.
“The slot he was throwing it in today was perfect,” Zunino said. “We were able to get a lot of swing-and-misses with it, and he was able to repeat it all the time.”
Elias allowed just the unearned run after the first inning.
For the second straight game, the Mariners got on the board in the first inning. Cano doubled to right field, scoring Stefen Romero from first base to give Seattle a 1-0 lead.
The Yankees immediately answered with the Ellsbury homer in the bottom of the first.
Seattle snapped the tie in the third inning. Cano added to fans’ displeasure, scoring Miller from third with a ground ball for a fielder’s choice. Seattle pushed it to 4-1 in the fourth inning. Miller delivered a two-out single to left field to score Kyle Seager from second and Michael Saunders followed with a ground-rule double to drive in another. It was the second of three hits on the night for Saunders.
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On Twitter: @RyanDivish