NEW YORK (AP) — Luke Voit heard the “Luuuuuke!” chants during pre-game introductions, and that got the exuberant, oversized slugger going.
“Man, it fires me up every time,” he said.
Beats the start of last season, when Voit was stashed away in Triple-A.
A fast-rising fan favorite in the Bronx, Voit kicked off the season with a first-inning homer, backing a strong opening day effort by Masahiro Tanaka in New York’s 7-2 victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday.
Voit launched a three-run drive off Andrew Cashner (0-1), and Greg Bird added a solo homer in the eighth, the first big flies for New York a year after the Yankees hit a record 267 en route to 100 wins. Of course, that wasn’t enough to catch the rival Boston Red Sox, who won 108 games and a World Series championship.
Voit was playing for the Cardinals’ Memphis Redbirds last opening day, a then-27-year-old with limited major league experience. He was traded to New York in July, hit 14 homers in 39 games down the stretch and charmed fans with his big biceps and boisterous home run trots.
“It’s crazy how they took me in,” Voit said. “I hope they don’t boo me away too quick. I know it’s New York, but I bring the energy, have fun with the guys, and I think the fans feed off of it.”
Tanaka became the first Japanese pitcher to start four openers, breaking a tie with Hideo Nomo. Tanaka allowed two runs, one earned, and six hits over 5 2/3 innings, striking out five without a walk. Tanaka had been 0-2 with a 9.49 ERA on opening days.
“I always feel good about giving the ball to Masa,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.
Brandon Hyde lost in his managerial debut with Baltimore. Hired to replace Buck Showalter, Hyde had just eight players at his disposal who played in last year’s Orioles opener. Baltimore had won its previous three opening games with walk-off hits, but the rally never came against Tanaka and New York’s vaunted bullpen.
“I think the dugout seemed a little quieter than normal,” Hyde said, adding “I thought the dugout was good. I just felt like it was quieter than normal because of some jitters from some younger players.”
Fans wore ski caps and jackets with the first-pitch temperature at 48 degrees, but also needed sunglasses for the majors’ earliest ever opening day in the U.S. A giant American flag was unfurled in center field, a few Orioles fans revealed themselves by shouting “O!” during the national anthem, and the sellout crowd roared after Mariano Rivera delivered the ceremonial first pitch. The longtime Yankees closer became baseball’s first unanimous Hall of Fame selection in January.
“Today is a celebration of our sport,” Boone said before the game.
Just like the second half of last season, Voit was the life of the party. He added a fourth RBI in the fifth when he was plunked with the bases loaded and also walked twice.
“Who would’ve thought I’d be here for opening day?” Voit said. “I always thought I would do it in a Cardinal uniform. It was super frustrating, getting hurt last year and missed opportunities to get called up with St. Louis. To have that first opening day and hit a home run opening day is pretty special.”
Aaron Judge had two hits, free agent addition Troy Tulowitzki doubled for his first hit with the Yankees and every starter reached base at least once.
The rebuilding Orioles, coming off a 115-loss season, didn’t exactly put their best foot forward. Baltimore’s first inning at-bat ended when baserunner Jonathan Villar ran right into Trey Mancini’s would-be base hit, resulting in an automatic out.
In the fifth inning, Cashner and Mike Wright combined to walk three straight batters before Wright plunked Voit. Baltimore walked eight batters overall, four of them by Cashner in four-plus innings.
“From our whole pitching staff today, just too many walks, too many base runners allowed,” Hyde said. “It’s tough to win that way.”
Catcher Jesus Sucre dropped a popup in the seventh, although Baltimore got away with that one when umpires invoked the infield fly rule and Yankees runners tried to advance, anyway. Voit was tagged out in a rundown for a 2-5-4-6-4 double play.
Chris Davis struck out in each of his three plate appearances, a rough day after a historically unproductive 2018. His .539 OPS was the worst by a qualified hitter since Matt Walbeck (.530) in 1994. Hyde pinch hit for Davis in the ninth against Aroldis Chapman.
It wasn’t all bad. Mancini had three hits, and right fielder Joey Rickard robbed Gary Sanchez with a diving catch in the fifth.
Brooklyn native Adam Ottavino struck out three in 1 1/3 perfect innings in his first game in pinstripes. The reliever signed a $27 million, three-year deal with New York as a free agent in January. He is the first Yankee to wear No. 0.
Orioles: RHP Alex Cobb is recovering well from a right groin strain and is on track to pitch Baltimore’s home opener April 4 against the Yankees.
Yankees: New York put six players on the 10-day injured list to open the season, including RHPs Dellin Betances (right shoulder impingement) and Luis Severino (right rotator cuff inflammation), OF Aaron Hicks (lower back strain) and SS Didi Gregorius (Tommy John surgery). LHP CC Sabathia started serving his five-game suspension for hitting Tampa Bay’s Jesus Sucre with a pitch in his last regular season start of 2018.
LHP James Paxton makes his first start with the Yankees on Saturday after being acquired from Seattle this offseason. Baltimore will use RHP Nate Karns as an opener, the first time in 2019 a reliever will start a game.
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