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Wednesday, August 28, 2013
First Pitch: Sori, Hal

By Wallace Matthews

Alfonso Soriano
Yankees fans should be thanking the heavens -- and Hal Steinbrenner -- for Alfonso Soriano.
TORONTO -- This is what a lot of New York Yankees fans should be saying today: Sorry, Hal Steinbrenner, for criticizing the decision to bring Alfonso Soriano to the Yankees at the trade deadline.

Because now, a little more than a month into his second go-round with the Yankees, Soriano doesn't just look like a bargain, he looks like a steal.

Soriano hit two home runs in the Yankees' 7-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday night, driving in four runs, reaching a personal milestone of 400 career home runs and, perhaps most incredibly, pulling even with Vernon Wells for the team lead in home runs by a righty, 11, despite the fact Wells has more than three times as many at-bats.

Most importantly, from the moment he became a Yankee, Soriano has added one more bat for an opposing team to fear in the Yankees' lineup, which is one more than they had before he got to New York. Up to then, the only hitter opposing teams truly feared was Robinson Cano. Now, there are threats from both sides of the plate in the middle of the Yankees' lineup, which makes late-game bullpen maneuvering that much more difficult.

Soriano
Soriano tagged two more big flies in the Yankees' demolition of the Blue Jays on Tuesday.
"Well, he's been great for us," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He’s a big reason we’ve scored a lot more runs and we’ve won a lot more games. He’s a big part of it."

The effect hasn't shown up so much in the won-loss column -- the Yankees are 16-14 since Soriano came aboard on July 26 -- as on the scoreboard. In the 30 games Soriano has played for the Yankees, their previously anemic offense has scored in double figures three times, and their average runs per game has gone up to nearly 4.5 after loitering at 3.89 up to that point.

Certainly, Soriano is not the only reason; in the interim, Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson have returned to the lineup as well. But it is hard to argue that the biggest jolt to the Yankees' offense hasn't been the injection of Soriano into the cleanup spot.

There's little doubt that Soriano came here with something to prove. He was considered washed-up and overpaid in Chicago, and the Cubs were only too happy to pawn off the rest of his eight-year, $136 million contract on anyone who would take it. Luckily for them, the Yankees were willing to eat some of it. They paid a piddling $1.8 million for his services through the end of this season, and will pick up $5 million of the $18 million he will be paid next season.

In return, the Yankees have gotten a legitimate right-handed home run threat, something they have lacked since Russell Martin and Andruw Jones departed and Mark Teixeira went down with a season-ending wrist injury.

"It’s great to me," Soriano said. "When I left here, I wasn’t sad, because it’s part of the game, but I thought that I had something to prove to myself, my teammates and the fans. I’m just playing my game. That’s what I like to do. Focus every day, try to get better and try to show the people that I can keep doing it."

"He's been impressive," said Andy Pettitte, the beneficiary of Soriano's production Tuesday night. "It's impressive what he's been doing since he's been with us. You knew he could hit. I've been impressed with how good he's been moving around in the outfield. How well he's playing out there. He's just doing a great job stealing bases for us. He's very aggressive on the basepaths. He looks like a young man out there, and I know he's not. Great pickup for us."

By now, I think we'd all have to agree.

Question: Has Soriano pleasantly surprised you with his power and his play in the outfield so far? Let us know in the comments section or via my Twitter feed, @ESPNNYYankees.

Up now: The rapid reaction from Tuesday night's 7-1 win, as well as a column on a rare night of good luck for the 2013 Yankees, and some postgame notes, including why Alex Rodriguez thought Eduardo Nunez had been shot.

On deck: Rubber game of this three-game series and the end of this six-game road trip. Yankees try to win the series behind Hiroki Kuroda (11-9, 2.71), facing RHP Todd Redmond (1-2, 4.44), first pitch at 7:07 p.m. Clubhouse opens at 3:37 p.m. and I'll have the lineups and the pregame scoop shortly thereafter. I'll also be doing a Yankees live chat at noon, so please join us if you can. And as always, thanks for reading.