A-Rod hits 1st HR since yearlong suspension, but Yanks fall to Jays
Alex Rodriguez proved he’s still a power threat at age 39. Daniel Norris demonstrated he’s more than just a curious character living out of an old van.
Rodriguez hit his first home run since serving a yearlong drug suspension, but the Toronto Blue Jays beat the New York Yankees 6-3 Thursday night in the first major-league win for the eccentric Norris.
"The main focus is baseball. Winning ballgames, like tonight," Norris said. "So if I can keep going out there performing like I did tonight, hopefully I’ll put that stuff behind me."
Edwin Encarnacion homered and the Blue Jays got RBI singles from Jose Reyes and Kevin Pillar in a four-run second inning against CC Sabathia. Toronto took two of three in the season-opening series, boosting its record at Yankee Stadium to 7-30 since May 24, 2011.
On another raw and rainy night in the Bronx, Rodriguez led off the sixth by launching a high fastball deep into the left-field seats for his 655th career homer.
Rodriguez, moved up to second in the lineup against a lefty, tossed his bat aside and rounded the bases without any fanfare, though the drive invigorated a sparse crowd announced at 32,152.
"I felt like I needed a Google map to run the bases, it’s been so long," Rodriguez said. "Anything I can do this year is going to be a surprise, even for me."
It was A-Rod’s first home run since Sept. 20, 2013. The three-time MVP ranks fifth on the career list, five behind Willie Mays.
Mark Teixeira homered off Norris (1-0) two batters later, cutting it to 5-3, but Encarnacion hit a long drive against Esmil Rogers in the eighth that banged high off the wall behind the bullpen in left-center, some 430 feet or so from home plate.
Miguel Castro pitched a perfect ninth for his first career save.
Norris wore a knit hat as he walked through the clubhouse hours before the game, but pitched in short sleeves on a 42-degree night.
"It feels weird for me to pitch in sleeves. I’ve just got to keep everything the same," said Norris, who had his parents in the stands and was given the game ball as a keepsake.
The 21-year-old rookie received plenty of attention in spring training for his unusual, rustic lifestyle — he was living out of his 1978 Volkswagen van in a Wal-Mart parking lot and cooking on a portable stove. Hardly what you would expect from a second-round draft pick who got a multimillion-dollar signing bonus.
But the Blue Jays are hoping for big things on the mound from Norris, who went 12-2 and led the minors in strikeouts per nine innings last year. The left-hander from Tennessee, an avid surfer with curly hair and a dark beard, used his polished off-speed pitches and allowed six hits in 5 2/3 innings.
"He was really in control. He looked confident and relaxed out there," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "He picked up where he left off in spring training."
Sabathia (0-1) was much more impressive than his pitching line would indicate. Coming off right knee surgery in July and making his first start since last May, the big lefty threw his fastball 88-90 mph but had good downward tilt on his slider. He struck out eight and walked none in 5 2/3 innings.
He ran into some tough luck in the second, when the Blue Jays grounded four singles through the infield and scored four times. Sabathia had a chance to start a double play in the middle of it all, but Danny Valencia’s comebacker deflected off his glove for an infield single that loaded the bases with none out.
"He didn’t give up any hard hits," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "They just found some holes."
Blue Jays: OF Michael Saunders (left knee surgery) went 0 for 3 with a walk as the DH in the first game of his rehab assignment with Class A Dunedin. Gibbons said Saunders will not be back in time for the home opener Monday night against Tampa Bay.
Yankees: Three left-handed hitters were rested: Brett Gardner, Brian McCann and Stephen Drew. After batting seventh in the first two games, Rodriguez was in the No. 2 hole. "I like the way he’s swinging the bat," Girardi said before the game.
Blue Jays: LHP Mark Buehrle starts Friday afternoon in Baltimore’s home opener. "I feel like I’m a good guy to go out there. Everybody’s amped up and I don’t throw that hard, so it might work to my advantage," he said.
Yankees: The first meeting of the season between the Red Sox and Yankees features a pair of pitchers new to the old rivalry. Boston LHP Wade Miley, acquired from Arizona in December, starts at Yankee Stadium against New York RHP Nathan Eovaldi, obtained from Miami a week later.