All the love was for Don Mattingly at the start. All the attention was on the electric rookie Yasiel Puig at the end.
Puig made an immediate impression on the New York Yankees, trying to stretch a sure single into an easy out at second base in the first inning. No problem. Given another chance in the eighth, he slid safely in for a short double.
The Cuban defector with just 14 games in the big leagues also tried throwing a runner out at first base on a single to right field, and he fittingly took his hacks against Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 6-4 loss to the Yankees and former teammate Hiroki Kuroda on Wednesday in the opener of a day-night doubleheader.
"You can recognize the tools right away," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "There’s an awful lot to like about this kid."
Trailing 6-2, Puig led off the eighth with his daring double. Ichiro Suzuki then made a leaping catch on the warning track, but Hanley Ramirez followed with a two-run homer — his second longball this season — off Preston Claiborne.
"His talent’s great and his aggressiveness we love, because you love the way he plays," Mattingly said. "But we’ve got to make sure that we continue to teach, and for him to understand the right times to take those chances."
Baseball’s two injury battered $200 million teams have to pack a two-game series into one day because rain postponed Tuesday night’s opener. Los Angeles’ Chris Capuano was activated from the disabled list after the first game and was scheduled to start the nightcap against New York’s Phil Hughes. The Dodgers optioned outfielder Alex Castellanos to Triple-A Albuquerque. Castellanos went 0 for 2 in the opener.
The Dodgers lost for the seventh time in nine games thanks in part to four errors, two by Ronald Belisario in the seventh that led to three runs.
With runners on first and second, Belisario let Vernon Wells’ meek pop in front of the mound drop for an error. Jayson Nix advanced to third on the drop and scored when Belisario threw the ball into center field trying to get Robinson Cano at second base. Belisario hit Thomas Neal with a pitch, then Suzuki greeted Paco Rodriguez with a blooped two-run single to make it 6-2.
"I think it’s a tough situation where the ball wasn’t in the air very long," Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis said. "I think with the crowd noise and the situation, your baseball instincts take over and it was just a right or wrong decision at that point."
That decision also helped spoil Don Mattingly’s return to the Bronx. Yankees fans cheered Mattingly, who played in New York from 1982-95, when he brought out the lineup card. The Bleacher Creatures chanted "Donnie Baseball!" before the bottom of the first and the Yankees showed a video highlighting the 1985 AL MVP’s career in pinstripes before the bottom of the second.
"It means a lot. It’s always been part of me," Mattingly said. "I played my whole career here, so it’s obviously a good feeling when people appreciate the way you played and acted."
Kuroda shut down his former team into the seventh inning, Suzuki homered and drove in three runs and Lyle Overbay hit a two-run double against South Korean rookie Hyun-Jin Ryu (6-3) in the first game in New York between the old October rivals since Los Angeles clinched the 1981 World Series title with a victory in Game 6 at the original Yankee Stadium. The teams that have met in a record 11 World Series — eight won by the Yankees — never faced off in interleague play at the Stadium before this week.
After Ramirez’s homer, David Robertson relieved Claiborne and walked his first two batters before ending the inning without further damage. Rivera was perfect in the ninth for his 25th save, striking Puig to end it.
The Yankees scored twice in the second against Ryu. After Neal and Suzuki led off with singles and advanced on David Adams’ sacrifice, Overbay laced a line drive over center fielder Andre Ethier’s head for two runs.
Kuroda (7-5), who began his Major League career with the Dodgers in 2008 and won 41 games for them, limited Los Angeles to five hits and helped himself by catching a liner to start a double play with runners on second and third in the fourth before the seventh. He was lifted after giving up Ellis’ sacrifice fly former Yankees utilityman Jerry Hairston Jr.’s two-out, RBI pinch-hit single in the seventh.
"Once the game start I didn’t really focus too much on who I was facing," Kuroda. "I was trying to contribute for the Yankees."
Kuroda allowed eight hits overall and two runs.
Suzuki homered in the sixth off Ryu, who gave up three runs and five hits.
NOTES: The Dodgers and Yankees split six games in two interleague series in Los Angeles. … Dodgers LHP Ted Lilly (neck sprain) has begun throwing and Mattingly doesn’t think he will be on the DL long-term. … Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully will live tweet at (at)Dodgers for the second game of the doubleheader.