ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.
Admit it: You weren’t really ready for Sunday to be Opening Day yet.
It’s OK. Neither were the Yankees. Especially Masahiro Tanaka and the much-talked-about Baby Bombers.
Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird and Aaron Judge — after spending spring training as the terrors of Tampa — went a combined 1-for-13 with three strikeouts and left 11 runners on base in the Yankees’ 7-3 loss to the Rays inside the antiseptic bubble known as Tropicana Field.
Judge had the only hit, an RBI double in the second inning. Bird walked once. But it was Sanchez who had the roughest day. He went 0-for-5 and didn’t come through in a pair of at-bats in the late innings as the Yankees tried to claw back from Tanaka’s uncharacteristically poor outing.
“Definitely had people on base there those two at-bats,” Sanchez said through a translator. “I was trying to bring them in, but I couldn’t. But I think now you’ve got to look forward to Tuesday and be ready for another situation like that.”
Sanchez also had a throwing error that allowed Tampa Bay’s final run to score. That closed the book on Tanaka, who was charged with seven runs in 2 2⁄3 innings after a spring training in which he allowed one earned run in 23 2⁄3 innings.
Tanaka (and his 23.63 ERA) will recover. He has to; he is the only sure thing in the Yankees’ rotation. But the trio of young sluggers were for the most part humbled during their first Opening Day.
In spring training, Sanchez, Bird and Judge hit a combined .382 with 16 home runs and 38 RBIs. They are all prodigious talents, and if this Yankees season goes sour, you might want to set up some sort of Google alert system so you can at least watch Sanchez, Bird and Judge take their hacks.
Especially Sanchez. After what he did last year, it’s easy for your mind’s eye to see him hitting a home run every time up. But that’s not what happened Sunday.
Sanchez’s first at-bat of the season was his best of the day. He hit a scorching one-hopper off Chris Archer’s leg that the Tampa Bay starter turned into an out. According to MLB.com Statcast, the ball went 115.7 mph, making it the hardest one Sanchez has hit in the majors.
Later in the game, Sanchez had two chances to have a signature Opening Day moment. The first came in the seventh, when the Yankees, trailing 7-2, had the bases loaded and two outs.
Archer, who pitched for the U.S. team in the World Baseball Classic and was stretched out, was at 102 pitches when Sanchez came to the plate. After a ball, Archer threw a 96-mph fastball for strike one and a 90-mph outside slider that Sanchez waved at for strike two.
Sanchez looped the next pitch down the rightfield line — just foul. Fair and it would have been at least a two-run double.
“Last minute, it kind of like went right,” Sanchez said.
Two pitches later, he grounded to short to end the inning.
With one out in the ninth, Sanchez faced Alex Colome with the Yankees down 7-3 and two runners on. One more baserunner would have brought up the potential tying run in Bird, who hit eight home runs in spring training.
Hey, it was Opening Day. It’s OK to dream big.
But Sanchez struck out and Bird hit a harmless fly ball to center to seal the Yankees’ sixth consecutive season-opening defeat.
It’s a weird streak, and means just as much as if the Yankees had won six openers in a row, which is to say nothing at all.
The Baby Bombers will take a day off and come back swinging tomorrow. So should you. It’s a long season.
2017 season firsts
Pitch — Chris Archer to Brett Gardner, 1:12 p.m.
Replay review — After Matt Holliday was called out at first to end top of first. Called was upheld.
Hit -- Corey Dickerson, leadoff single, bottom of first
Double — Kevin Kiermaier, second batter, bottom of first
Home run — Evan Longoria, bottom of second
Error — Gary Sanchez, throwing error, bottom of third