NEW YORK — A big bopper powered the New York Yankees to victory in their most anticipated home opener in years — Didi Gregorius, not Giancarlo Stanton or Aaron Judge.
When the Yankees agreed to acquire Stanton from Miami on Dec. 9, Gregorius playfully tweeted : “Hey Skip am i still batting 4th ???”
He sure is.
Gregorius hit a pair of three-run homers and had a career-high eight RBIs, helping New York overcame five strikeouts by Stanton in his first game in pinstripes. In Aaron Boone’s chilly first home opener as manager, the Yankees broke a seventh-inning tie and romped over the Tampa Bay Rays 11-4 on Tuesday.
“That’s what a cleanup hitter does: You clean up the garbage in front of you,” Stanton said.
Starting his fourth season as Derek Jeter’s successor, Gregorius had four hits and walked. He set a major league record for RBIs by a player in a home opener and a Yankees record for RBIs by a shortstop.
Gregorius established career bests last year with .287 average, 25 homers and 87 RBIs.
“I think everyone around the game understands what a good player he is and what a big-time money player he’s become,” Boone said.
Stanton starred in last Thursday’s opening win at Toronto, homering twice. But he struck out three times against Chris Archer and once each when facing Austin Pruitt (1-1) and Sergio Romo. Stanton was booed in the eighth inning after the first five-strikeout game of his 11-season professional career.
“I was awful today,” he said. “You put up a performance like that, you should get some boos.”
Gregorius was asked to think back to April 2015, when he hit .206 in his first month with the Yankees and made several errors and baserunning blunders in his first month. Fans taunted him by chanting Jeter’s name.
“The reason why they boo you, because they want you to do good. It’s not because they hate you,” Gregorius said. “It’s a bad day today, but tomorrow if he gets five home runs, everybody’s going to forget about it.”
Gregorius doubled and scored in the second, and his first homer put the Yankees ahead 4-1 in the third.
“We prepare for him just as much as we prepare for the other boppers in their lineup,” Archer said.
After New York’s bullpen wasted a three-run lead for the second straight game, Gregorius drove an 0-2 pitch from Pruitt into the second deck in right in a four-run seventh. He blooped an opposite-field, broken-bat, two-run single to left in a three-run eighth.
“It died a soldier’s death,” he said of his lumber.
Fans rewarded Gregorius with a pair of curtain calls — he said they were his first in New York — after his second career multihomer game.
“Judge was telling me to go out there,” Gregorius said.
New York improved to 3-2 under Boone, who took over when Joe Girardi was fired after a decade in charge.
“I like when the big boy doesn’t get any and we’re able to score 11, because there’s going to be a lot of days when we hop on his back,” Boone said.
Tampa Bay has lost four straight since beating Boston in its opener.
A day after New York’s home opener was postponed because of 5½ inches of snow, the game started slightly late at 4:19 p.m. in a light, steady rain and with a 40-degree temperature. The stands were half-full despite an announced crowd of 46,776, and the Yankees called off the pregame introductions that Boone had been looking forward to.
Tommy Kahnle (1-0) won despite allowing a tying, two-run double to pinch-hitter Denard Span on an 0-2 pitch with two outs in a three-run sixth. The Yankees regained the lead just before Gregorius’ homer when Tyler Austin scored from second as Brett Gardner sacrificed and third baseman Matt Duffy threw wildly past first , where second baseman Brad Miller tried to make a backhand pickup.
“I couldn’t feel my hand,” Duffy said.
Stanton just felt happy Gregorius helped the Yankees overcome his whiff-a-thon.
“Not ideal for me, but a good thing it’s not all about me,” he said.
New York won its last 11 home openers at old Yankee Stadium but is just 6-4 at the new ballpark.
New York’s Jordan Montgomery allowed one run and two hits in five innings. Archer, pitching in short sleeves and using a turquoise-colored glove, struck out eight in five innings while giving up four runs and six hits.
Carlos Gomez robbed Tyler Wade of a home run with a leaping catch that ended the sixth.
New York acquired outfielder Trayce Thompson off waivers from the Los Angeles Dodgers and made room for him by transferring right-hander Ben Heller to the 60-day DL.
This was Yankee Stadium’s first game since the installation of expanded netting that extends five sections past the dugout down each foul line, a move made after several fans were hurt by foul balls last year.
Tony Award winner Kelli O’Hara, currently at the Metropolitan Opera in Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte,” sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” highlighted by a thrilling B-flat.
Yankees: OF Jacoby Ellsbury hurt a hip in his comeback from an oblique injury, a setback that means OF Aaron Hicks (strained ribcage) is likely to return from the disabled list first. Hicks is eligible to be activated April 9.
RHP Luis Severino (1-0) starts Wednesday’s series finale for the Yankees and LHP Blake Snell (0-0) for the Rays. Severino will pitch with five days’ rest after allowing one hit in 5 2/3 scoreless innings during the opening win at Toronto. Snell pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings in Friday’s loss to Boston.
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