NEW YORK — The Toronto Blue Jays gave catcher Russell Martin the second-largest contract in franchise history to help bolster a potent lineup and give the young pitching staff a steady guide.
One game into the new season, the deal is looking pretty good for the team with the longest playoff drought in baseball.
Martin singled in two runs and Edwin Encarnacion hit a two-run homer off Masahiro Tanaka as the Blue Jays beat the New York Yankees 6-1 on April 6 in Alex Rodriguez’s return to the major leagues.
“Martin got it started,” Manager John Gibbons said. “A lot of good things happened.”
Without retired Derek Jeter in the lineup, a restless opening-day crowd at Yankee Stadium reserved one of its only cheers for Rodriguez in his first game back from a year-long drug suspension.
Batting seventh, his lowest spot in a regular-season game since he batted eighth in 1996, A-Rod singled, walked, and lined out.
“I have to admit, it definitely felt good. That’s for sure,” Rodriguez said after New York’s fourth straight opening day loss.
Drew Hutchison, at 24 the youngest opening-day starter in Blue Jays’ history, held the Yankees hitless until Brian McCann laced a ball just inside the first base line for a single with two outs in the fourth.
Hutchison (1-0) allowed three hits, including Brett Gardner’s homer in the sixth inning, to help Toronto improve to 20-19 in openers, including 1-2 vs. the Yankees.
“I was extremely excited,” Hutchison said. “It was a big day, overall.”
Last July, Hutchinson helped the Blue Jays snap another skid against New York: a 17-game losing streak in the Bronx.
Now, he hopes to help Toronto return to the postsesaon for first time since winning the World Series in 1993.
Martin, an ex-Yankee, hit a singled in a five-run third inning against Tanaka (0-1). Devon Travis homered later in the game for his first career hit, taking a speedy turn around the bases.
Shortly before the Yankees ran onto the field for the first time without a member of the Core Four — Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada — on the roster since 1995, the AC/DC song with the lyric “Are you ready for the good times” blared over the stadium speakers.
Those good times didn’t last long for New York in its 113th opener.
After Tanaka made Toronto look silly with a heavy mix of sliders and splitter for the first two innings, striking out three, the Blue Jays solved him.
“We got to him a couple of times because he made mistakes,” Dalton Pompey said.
Kevin Pillar led off the third with a single and the Japanese star, making his first opening-day start for New York, struggled to get an out after that.
Travis walked and Jose Reyes put down a bunt that third baseman Chase Headley threw away, allowing a run to score.
After Reyes was checked by a trainer at second base, Martin, who signed an $82 million, five-year free-agent contract this winter, singled. An out later, Encarnacion connected for a 5-0 lead.
The Yankees are counting on Tanaka to find the form that made him an All-Star in his rookie season last year before partially tearing a ligament in his right elbow and missing 2 1/2 months.
But he lasted only four innings, the shortest opening-day start by a Yankees pitcher since Phil Niekro in 1985, when he went four innings against the Red Sox, according to STATS.
A couple of days after saying he expected the velocity on his fastball to be down, Tanaka was right. He was regularly in the mid-90s mph last year, and twice hit 93 this time.
“Velocity can be talked about a lot, but we’ve seen guys throw 95, get hit really hard,” Yankees Manager Joe Girardi said.
“It comes down to location, movement and deception, which he had the first two innings. The third inning he did not because he got in bad counts.”
(HOWIE RUMBERG, AP Baseball Writer)