Tyler Austin was about to step into the batter’s box for the first plate appearance of his major-league life.
“Do your thing, T,” on-deck hitter Aaron Judge said.
And Austin did, lining a home run just over the fence down the rightfield line at Yankee Stadium.
Then Judge stepped into the box for his first appearance alongside a major-league plate. There was a loud crack and a soaring drive to center by the 6-7, 275-pound rookie. The ball crashed off the facing above the black glass that serves as the batter’s eye and landed on the netting over the retired numbers in Monument Park.
“A special shot,” Joe Girardi said Saturday after the Yankees’ 8-4 victory over the Rays.
Welcome to the Yankees’ future, which loudly announced its arrival on a back-to-back basis in the second inning.
Besides a celebration of the happy 20th anniversary of the Yankees’ 1996 championship, it was Life After A-Rod Day. After Alex Rodriguez’s pinstriped finale Friday night, the Yankees called up Austin and Judge, and they became the first pair of teammates in major-league history to homer in their first career plate appearances in the same game.
And both did it after falling behind 0-and-2 in the count.
“I don’t think I could’ve asked for anything better,” Austin said, “especially with us coming out on top with a win today.”
In an unusual lineup that featured Aaron Hicks batting second, Chase Headley third and Didi Gregorius fourth, each new guy also contributed a single and Austin added a steal. The Yankees belted a season high-tying five homers that accounted for all eight of their runs.
Masahiro Tanaka improved to 9-4 after allowing four runs, five hits and no walks and striking out eight in seven innings. Brad Miller accounted for all of the Rays’ runs with a three-run homer in the fourth and a solo shot in the sixth.
The Yankees (60-56), who have been shedding veterans lately in favor of youth, have won four in a row to move to a season high-tying four games above .500.
“We felt that maybe with a [Gary] Sanchez and with a Judge and maybe an Austin sprinkled in here, we could get the offense improved, and that maybe we could stay in this thing and take a shot at it regardless,” general manager Brian Cashman said. “ . . . And we’re obviously still in this thing, which is tremendous.”
It was a 3-3 game in the fifth when Judge opened with a single to left against Matt Andriese (6-4). One out later, Jacoby Ellsbury singled and Hicks hit his second homer in two games, a three-run drive into the second deck in rightfield.
When Austin and Judge launched their homers, they became the fourth and fifth Yankees to do it in their first career plate appearances, joining John Miller (1966), current Yankees assistant hitting coach Marcus Thames (2002) and Andy Phillips (2004).
Judge also became the third player to either homer off the black glass or the facing above it. ESPN Stats & Info had it at 457 feet, the longest by a Yankee since Rodriguez’s 460-footer in 2011.
“Judge definitely looks the part,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “If he wasn’t playing baseball, it looks like he should be a defensive end somewhere. He’s massive.”
Tanaka lost his 2-0 lead in the fourth, yielding a three-run homer to Miller. Starlin Castro tied it in the home half with his career high-tying 14th homer.
After Hicks untied it, Miller homered in the sixth, allowing the Rays (46-69) to move within 6-4. But Didi Gregorius blasted a two-run homer in the seventh, his 15th.
Opening Day of this new A-Rod-less era went rather well.
“We have a lot of guys coming up,” Judge said. “It’s exciting. It’s a great time to be a Yankee.”
Touch ’em all
Yankees who homered in their first major-league at-bat:
John MillerSept. 11, 1966
Marcus ThamesJune 10, 2002
Andy PhillipsSept. 26, 2004