By RONALD BLUM, AP Baseball Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — As Michael Pineda threw strike after strike and got out after out, the excitement of the home opener crowd at Yankee Stadium increased and its noise-level rose.
“You’re thinking is it’s going to be another special day here at the Stadium,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
Pineda retired his first 20 batters, striking out half of them with a darting fastball, a diving slider and a moving changeup.
Could he? Would he?
Pineda finally made a mistake when he hung a slider to Evan Longoria, who doubled into the left-field corner with two outs in the seventh. Pineda pitched two-hit ball over 7 2/3 innings Monday and left to a standing ovation in the Yankees’ 8-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.
“When the fans stand up, it’s a good moment for me,” Pineda said.
He dominated like the pitcher the Yankees have always hoped he would become. Pineda (1-1) struck out 11 , walked none and threw 67 of 93 pitches for strikes.
“He had control of his pitches. He had control of the game. At no point in time did he lose that control,” Yankees catcher Austin Romine said.
A hard-throwing 28-year-old right-hander obtained from Seattle after the 2011 season, Pineda was 6-12 with a 4.82 ERA last year, the 68th-highest ERA among 74 qualifying pitchers in the major leagues. Yet he struck out a team-high 207 and led the AL with 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings.
“It’s mind-boggling,” Girardi said before his final start last season. “It just doesn’t make sense.”
He tried to define the difficulty Monday.
“It’s mechanical,” Girardi said. “So is it mental? Is it physical? What is it? It’s everything being on time, and the bigger you are, the harder that is.”
Aaron Judge , Chase Headley and Starlin Castro homered for the Yankees, who broke open the game with a five-run eighth inning and won their second straight following a 1-4 start.
Pineda, who gave up four runs over 3 2/3 innings in a loss against Alex Cobb at Tampa Bay last week, started 15 of his first 18 batters with strikes and didn’t fall behind 2-0 in a count until the sixth. Longoria reached on a first-pitch hanging slider and tipped his helmet to Pineda after reaching second. Leading 2-0 at the time, Pineda then fanned Brad Miller.
“He had full command of all of his pitches today,” Longoria said. “I had just guessed slider on that pitch, and he made a mistake.”
Tampa Bay’s Logan Morrison homered with one out in the eighth, a ball that hit off the top of the wall in right-center and deflected off a fan before bouncing back onto the field. A video review was needed to determine it was a home run.
“He was doing a good job of mixing his slider in and putting it in a good spot where it was just the bottom of the zone or diving down below,” Morrison said. “His fastball was down more, so it was kind of tougher to pick up which was what.”
Tyler Clippard and Chasen Shreve combined for perfect relief. The Yankees won their home opener for the 16th time in 20 years.
New York took a 2-0 lead against Alex Cobb (1-1) on Jacoby Ellsbury’s RBI double in the third and Judge’s home run in the fourth, his second in two days. Headley, batting .375, led off the seventh with his second home run, and Matt Holliday chased Cobb with a run-scoring double in the eighth.
Strangely, a one-sided win felt like a letdown.
“I was disappointed when Longo hit that double,” Brett Gardner said, “but still just an awesome outing by big Mike.”
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It was sunny and 76 degrees at game time, more than double the 36 for last year’s Yankee Stadium opener.
Gardner moved to the locker next to the entrance by showers, formerly occupied by Carlos Beltran and before that Jorge Posada. Matt Holliday took over Alex Rodriguez’s stall to Gardner’s left, and Romine moved into Gardner’s old space toward the center of the room.
“Decent real estate,” Gardner said.
On the third base side, a new carpet in a lighter gray was installed in the visitors’ clubhouse.
Yankees C Gary Sanchez, who went on the DL after straining his right biceps Saturday, is expected to be out four weeks with a strained brachialis muscle. … C Kyle Higashioka made his big league debut in the ninth. … New York 1B Greg Bird missed his third straight game, a layoff originally caused by a sore ankle but now by a stomach illness.
After an off day, 24-year-old LHP Jordan Montgomery will make his major league debut for New York on Wednesday after winning the No. 5 starter’s job. LHP Blake Snell (0-1) will pitch for the Rays.
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