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Yankees frequently hit the ground running with first-inning runs

Yankees centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury and Yankees leftfielder Brett

Yankees centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury and Yankees leftfielder Brett Gardner celebrate after scoring on a double by Yankees catcher Brian McCann against the Tampa Bay Rays during the fifth inning of a game at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, April 28, 2015. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

MINNEAPOLIS - The goal for any pitcher, of course, is to put up zeros regardless of the score and regardless of the inning.

But don't believe for a second that first-inning runs that give a starter an immediate lead are irrelevant.

"It's a great feeling," CC Sabathia said. "If they get two or three runs, you can go out and just try to establish the strike zone and go from there. It's great."

The Yankees have bludgeoned teams in the first inning all season. Earlier this week against the Orioles, they scored in the first inning in each game of their three-game sweep.

The Yankees entered Friday night's game against the Twins having scored 86 first-inning runs this season, by far the most in baseball. The Rockies and Tigers were next at 65 runs, followed by the Reds (63) and Royals (62).

Entering Friday night, the Yankees had scored in the first inning in seven of their previous 12 games and 39 of their first 94 games, going 29-10 in those contests.

"It's definitely a lot easier going out there in the first inning, or going out in the second inning, when you have a lead," Nathan Eovaldi said.

In Tuesday night's 3-2 victory over the Orioles, which was started by Eovaldi, Jacoby Ellsbury doubled in the first and scored on Alex Rodriguez's sacrifice fly.

It got even better for Ivan Nova in Wednesday night's 4-3 victory as the Yankees scored three runs in the first, two on Mark Teixeira's home run.

On Thursday afternoon, the Yankees scored four first-inning runs for Masahiro Tanaka -- three on Chase Headley's two-out double -- in a 9-3 victory.

"I think it has a lot to do with the guys we have at the top of the order and their ability to create runs and do some different things," Joe Girardi said. "As much as they've been on base this year is probably one of the reasons."

Entering Friday night, Ellsbury was batting .308 with a .382 on-base percentage. Brett Gardner, who hit leadoff while Ellsbury was on the disabled list and has stayed hot since moving to the two-hole, was hitting .296 with a .374 OBP.

"When you have two of them back-to-back that are on almost 40 percent of the time," Girardi said, "there's a good chance somebody's going to be on."

On base, that is, for middle-of-the-order hitters Rodriguez, Teixeira and Brian McCann to drive them in, which they've consistently done. Teixeira entered Friday night tied for the American League RBI lead with 65. McCann had driven in 58 and A-Rod 54.

Girardi said a fast start at the plate can let a pitcher tweak, though not outright change, his approach.

"I think it allows them to be a little bit more aggressive and know that one pitch isn't necessarily going to beat you," he said. "I think they obviously feel more comfortable."

Sabathia, who will start Saturday night's game against the Twins, said he was unaware of the gaudy first-inning numbers but wasn't shocked to hear them.

"It doesn't surprise me," he said. "You've got Ellsbury and Gardy at the top. It can be 1-0 really quick."

Sometimes even more than that.

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