Big inning lifts Yanks past Rays
Duncan's first homer caps five-run outburst in twin bill opener
NEW YORK -- Andy Phillips dubbed Shelley Duncan the "Big Donkey" when the 6-foot-5 rookie set foot in the Yankees' clubhouse.
Now, the Yankees may have found another nickname for Duncan after he capped a sixth-inning rally with a two-run home run to beat the Devil Rays, 7-3, in the first game of a doubleheader on Saturday at Yankee Stadium.
Let it be known that the Big Donkey is a Colossal Clapper.
"This kid has so much energy," manager Joe Torre said. "In fact, when he hit the home run, Don Mattingly was standing next to me and said, 'Don't let him give you a high five when he comes in.'"
Phillips, who was on first base when Duncan connected, said being the one to score on Duncan's homer fit perfectly because the two of them had built a friendship at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre earlier this season.
But buddy-buddy or not, Phillips reiterated Mattingly's concern. Phillips said he might sidestep Duncan the next time he's waiting at home plate to greet the Colossal Clapper.
"It was an awesome experience until he slapped me in the hand and nearly knocked me down," Phillips said.
The home run came off a Jae Kuk Ryu changeup. Frustrated from a previous misfire at the plate, Duncan unleashed and deposited the ball into the left-field stands, evoking chants of "Shel-ley Dun-can!" followed by a curtain call loud enough to challenge the cheers of most Major League teams' Opening Days.
"I looked in my zone, I stayed there and that ball started in my zone so I committed to it," Duncan said. "I just tried to really stay on it because the at-bat before I came off it and I struck out."
The standing ovation came from the lungs of 54,412 at Yankee Stadium, the 21st sellout of the season.
Torre said Duncan's blast sent a jolt into the Yankees stymied offense.
"I don't want to say [we played] flat, but we really didn't do a whole lot," he said. "Then all of a sudden he hit that home run that perked everybody up."
It especially lifted Kei Igawa, who saw his learn-as-he-goes start shift from a 2-2 tie into the Yankees' 49th win of the season.
Igawa labored through five innings and 94 pitches, and his spot in the rotation, not to mention his place on the Yankees Major League roster, no longer seems as unstable as a three-legged chair.
"He's had good chunks of things in all of his starts, pretty much," Torre said. "But this one, I think, could be the best one based on the fact that he got behind, got in a little trouble, and kept it right there."
Coming into the game, nothing had worked for the Yankees' five-year, $46 million dollar investment.
Igawa started carrying around a wooden stick to remind him of proper mechanics after being called up from Triple-A. That hadn't made a difference to this point.
Then he switched his warm-up routine to what it was when he pitched in Japan, adding hours of cardio to his pre-start workload. That hasn't appeared to have helped much, either.
Devil Rays center fielder B.J. Upton and third baseman Ty Wigginton homered off Igawa in the first and second innings, respectively. But the left-hander followed that up with three scoreless innings while escaping jams, including a two-out bases-loaded situation in the fifth.
"Overall, one of the good things was that he learned a little bit today about how to pitch out of trouble," pitching coach Ron Guidry said. "That's something that he really hadn't been doing before. Usually when he got in trouble with the bases loaded, he had trouble because he tried to hurry up and tried to throw harder. All he did today was just slow down."
Whether Igawa can continue to improve and avoid being bumped to the bullpen or sent outright to the Minor Leagues remains to be seen. As it stands now, rookie pitchers Phil Hughes and Jeff Karstens -- both of whom have spent time with the club this season before falling to injuries -- are close to giving Igawa some healthy competition.
Both of the right-handers will get at least one start at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before the Yankees will consider putting them back in pinstripes. Either way, Igawa feels better about his performance.
"I did better than my last outing," Igawa said. "Most importantly, when runners were on base, I was able to shut them off without having them score."
Torre said that Igawa needs to keep his pitch count lower and continue to work on the command of his pitches. The skipper added that his No. 5 starter made the team out of Spring Training for a reason, and that Igawa's experience gives him an edge over Karstens and Hughes.
"But again," Torre said, "he still needs to carry the end of his load, and that's all about being able to pitch and giving us a chance to win."
Caleb Breakey is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.