Opportunity knocked in the Bronx Friday night. Zoilo Almonte not only opened the door, he kicked it down.
The 24-year-old outfielder got his first major-league start over ice-cold Vernon Wells and went 3-for-4 with a solo home run in the Yankees' 6-2 win over the Rays at Yankee Stadium.
Almonte, who picked up his first big-league hit with a pinch-hit single Thursday, singled in his first two at-bats Friday night.
In the sixth inning, Almonte crushed an 0-and-1 pitch from Roberto Hernandez into the Yankees' bullpen in right-centerfield for his fourth consecutive hit and first major-league home run. He also received his first Yankee Stadium curtain call.
Bullpen coach Mike Harkey caught the homer barehanded, and Almonte said he will give the ball to his mother. Was it his best day? "Today and when my son was born,'' he said through a translator.
"You don't ever think a kid's going to run out there and get three hits,'' Joe Girardi said. "But we knew he had a good swing. He's been a prospect and he's been on our radar for a while.''
Almonte sparkled on defense, too, making a nice running catch in left and a strong throw to keep a runner at third base. He started instead of Wells, who has nine hits in his last 90 at-bats.
"I think any time you're out there, it's an opportunity,'' Girardi said before the game. "There's a lot of guys where you say, we're going to give a guy a day off, then he does well. And he's playing a second day. And then one more. And then all of a sudden, he's playing a lot more. Any time you go out there, it's an opportunity.''
Almonte was called up on Tuesday from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he hit .297 with six home runs and 36 RBIs in 259 at-bats and played all three outfield positions. He hit 21 home runs in 419 at-bats for Double-A Trenton last season.
"I just kept working hard,'' Almonte said. "Whenever this day was going to come, I knew I was going to be grateful.''
The switch-hitting Almonte is better from the left side, which is why he started against righthander Hernandez (4-8), who used to be known as Fausto Carmona.
David Phelps (5-4) allowed two runs in 52/3 innings and four relievers combined to allow one baserunner with four strikeouts in the final 31/3 innings. Mariano Rivera pitched a 1-2-3 ninth in a non-save situation.
Robinson Cano gave the Yankees a 1-0 lead in the first with a sacrifice fly. Ichiro Suzuki made it 2-1 in the third with an RBI groundout. After the Yankees loaded the bases with none out in the fourth on singles by Travis Hafner, Lyle Overbay and Almonte, Jayson Nix's double-play grounder and David Adams' infield single made it 4-2.
Notes & quotes: Reid Brignac (.114 with the Yankees) was designated for assignment and replaced by infielder Alberto Gonzalez. Of more consequence was Girardi's assertion that Adams and Nix will be the team's left side of the infield . . . Curtis Granderson had the pin removed from his left pinkie and will start to grip a bat . . . Ivan Nova was scratched for Scranton, an indication he will spot-start for the Yankees Sunday . . . Michael Pineda's next rehab outing will be Tuesday for Double-A Trenton . . . The Yankees added to the Scranton roster by acquiring infielder Brent Lillibridge from the Cubs and pitcher Yoshinori Tateyama from Texas and signing outfielder Corey Patterson.