Saturday, September 15, 2012
Nunez atones for error with huge homer
By Mike Mazzeo
Joe Girardi didn’t want Eduardo Nunez to take Friday’s ninth-inning error into Saturday’s game. So the Yankees manager met with his struggling shortstop in the team’s clubhouse a couple hours before first pitch to offer him some words of encouragement.
“I just told him, ‘You made a lot of good plays,’” Girardi said. “‘You can’t focus on the one you didn’t make. Learn from it and move on. Turn the page.’”
Nunez did just that. The 25-year-old atoned for his miscue the night before, flawlessly handling all three of his chances at shortstop, while belting a second-inning homer to help lead the Yankees to a 5-3 victory over the Rays in front of 46,856 at the Stadium.
“It’s always a good feeling when you’re manager gives you confidence and says, ‘Let’s go. Forget about everything that happened,’” Nunez said.
After Curtis Granderson lined a two-run homer to stake the Yankees to a 2-0 lead, Nunez immediately followed with a solo shot of his own -- his first of the season -- cranking a 1-1 two-seamer from James Shields into the left-field seats to make it 3-0.
“I’m very excited to hit a home run in front of the guys, because they laugh at me, and say I don’t have any power,” Nunez joked. “I was just looking for a pitch I could drive. I got one down the middle and put a good swing on it.”
Nunez hadn’t homered since Sept. 21, 2011, when he took Shields yard in the first game of a doubleheader. Nunez is 7-for-16 lifetime (.438) off Shields with those two homers.
“I told you that I liked the matchup when he went into that today,” Girardi said. “I know that James Shields is an outstanding pitcher with a lot of different weapons, but Nunie’s had a lot of good at-bats against him, and that’s why I put him back out there. We can focus on the error, but I’m gonna tend to focus on the good plays that he’s made in those first two games. That’s what I’m gonna focus on.”
Said Nunez: “He’s a great pitcher, but I see the ball well. I like to see him when he pitches.”
Of course, the Yankees didn’t demote Nunez because of his inability to hit. They sent him down to Triple-A because his shoddy defense (four errors in 20 games). Nunez was upset then, just as he was when he committed his fifth error of the season on Friday night, getting distracted by a runner and taking his eyes off a routine groundball which got past him.
But he was determined to not let it faze him Saturday -- and it didn’t.
“I love Nunez,” third baseman Alex Rodriguez said. “Nunez is a difference-maker. He’s one of the finest offensive players on this team, without a doubt. The one thing about Nunez that’s very special is he can hit really, really good pitching and that’s rare. He’s a big asset. He has the potential to kickstart our offense.”
• A-Rod has nine RBIs in 12 games since returning from the disabled list on Sept. 3.
• Rafael Soriano is 39-for-42 in save chances this season -- including 5-for-5 versus the Rays.
• Granderson is two homers shy of matching his career-high total of 41 set last year.
• The Yankees are 7-10 against the Rays this season, 32-29 against the AL East.
• Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh participated in the first-inning “Roll Call” with the Bleacher Creatures.