First impression: Beltran steps up in big way
Veteran outfielder fills in at 1B when Cervelli goes down to hamstring strain
NEW YORK -- When Francisco Cervelli strained his right hamstring running out a ground ball on the back end of a potential double play during the fourth inning of Sunday night's 3-2 Yankees win over the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium, manager Joe Girardi looked down his very shortened bench and had two choices at first base:
Ichiro Suzuki or Carlos Beltran.
Girardi asked if either of them had ever played the position. The answer came back "no" on both counts. Beltran had never played there and Ichiro hadn't done it since he was a kid growing up in Japan.
"If he said to go to first, I might have told him I have a hurt leg," Ichiro said through his interpreter.
Beltran had the opposite reaction, and Girardi didn't have much of a choice. He said Beltran provided the bigger target.
"Yeah, he asked me and I said no. He asked Ichiro and he said no," Beltran said. "Joe said, 'You know, Carlos, you go to first base.' I said, 'OK, let me go.' I just looked into the dugout and tried not to think about it, do the best I can."
It worked out pretty well in the end. Beltran had to take only three throws and he did it flawlessly. He never had to field a ground ball. Ichiro replaced Beltran in right field and made a leaping game-saving catch, robbing David Ortiz during the eighth inning.
Beltran applauded Ichiro, wondering if he might have been able to make that catch.
"I don't know," he said. "I wasn't out there."
But he has no future at first base.
"I hope I never have to do it again," Beltran said.
That depends on what moves the Yankees make in the next few days before playing the Cubs here Tuesday night in a Jackie Robinson Day affair.
In a wild and wacky game, both teams hit the field short. The Red Sox had a 23-man roster, playing without closer Koji Uehara (sore shoulder) and second baseman Dustin Pedroia (sore wrist). The Yankees, as it turned out, were in the same predicament when infielder Brian Roberts reported with a sore back and Derek Jeter was held out because of a tight quad. The Yankees already had first baseman Mark Teixeira on the disabled list recovering from a strained hamstring.
Kelly Johnson has been filling in for Teixeira at first base, but the loss for at least the night of Roberts and Jeter necessitated Johnson's move to third base. Rookies Dean Anna and Yangervis Solarte played shortstop and second base, respectively. Cervelli, the backup to catcher Brian McCann, started at first in what might have been the strangest Yankees infield alignment since the days of Horace Clarke, Charley Smith, Ruben Amaro Sr. and Joe Pepitone.
Cervelli was injured legging out a ball with one out and runners on first and third that turned out to be the nexus of the game. The call was originally a double play, but Girardi used his replay challenge as Cervelli lay writhing on the ground beyond first base.
The call was overturned, allowing McCann to score what proved to be the winning run and Boston manager John Farrell was automatically ejected when he subsequently stormed on the field to argue the verdict.
It's never too early in the season anymore to take anything for granted, Girardi said.
"Divisions and Wild Card spots come down to one game," he said, "and that was an important run."
The manager didn't have much time to enjoy it as Cervelli limped to the clubhouse and may be out for a prolonged period. After all, it was only Cervelli's second game ever at first base and Girardi had to make a quick decision to replace him.
"Well, I didn't have a whole lot of choices," Girardi said. "But it just obviously tells you the type of player that Carlos is. I asked if he had ever played first. He said, 'No, but whatever you need.' I said, 'All right, get a first baseman's mitt, you're going.' Maybe it's something he'll do some day. Who knows?"
Beltran grabbed Cervelli's mitt and jogged to first, far short of his usual position.
And that wasn't the end of the tumult, either.
In the eighth inning, reliever David Phelps clipped A.J. Pierzynski in his elbow guard, the ball deflecting off McCann's bare right hand. For several agonizing minutes, trainers worked on McCann, who said his index finger had gone numb.
"I had to wait to get the feeling back just in case I had to make a play or something," said McCann, who added he would have the finger X-rayed before leaving the stadium. "But it's fine."
With Cervelli gone, had McCann exited, Girardi would have been reduced to his last option.
"Dean Anna," Girardi said. "He doesn't know it yet, but that's who it is."
Alerted of that possibility, Anna smiled and said, "I'll be ready."
In that event, Jeter would have had to run out to short.
"I probably could have used him, but I was really trying to stay away from it because I think these three days [off] were important to him," Girardi said.
Lost in it all was the switch-hitting Beltran's single, double and two-run homer batting right-handed against Boston left-hander Felix Doubront. He came into the game hitting .091 vs. left-handers and came out of it batting .267 (4-for-15).
"Before this, I've been in between," Beltran said. "Today, I really feel like I gave myself a chance at the plate. I was seeing the ball well and staying back, actually swinging at strikes."
By the middle of the game, that would be the least of his problems.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.