Cano's late pinch-hit homer lifts Yanks
A-Rod, two others go deep; Kennedy OK after comebacker
ST. PETERSBURG -- Having set his head upon a pillow about the same time the orange sunrise crested above the Florida coastline, Robinson Cano was having trouble keeping his eyes open on the Yankees' bench as he witnessed a slugfest creeping into the late innings.
His sleepy season opening may have had its wake-up call. Cano came through with an eighth-inning pinch-hit home run off Al Reyes on Monday, lifting the Yankees to an 8-7 victory over the Rays at Tropicana Field, bailing out the bullpen after it relinquished a five-run lead.
With just two hits in his last 18 at-bats, Cano was given a day off to clear his head, using his time to study left-handed swings in both uniforms and mentally tweak what he was doing incorrectly. Hitting coach Kevin Long stopped by with positive words, as always, but the best encouragement came as Cano connected and sent Reyes' 2-1 changeup sailing into the right-field seats.
"I hope it's a start for me," Cano said. "It feels good at the plate and everything is good. My mechanics are good. I'm not doing good, but I feel good at the plate."
In the offseason, the Yankees bid heavily on the future of Cano, one of baseball's bright young second base talents, investing four years and $30 million into his services. With Cano batting just .185 after his eventual game-winner off Reyes, the Yankees will bank that -- just like last season, before the All-Star break, when he caught fire and helped the Yankees to the American League Wild Card -- Cano is simply a slow starter.
"It's such a long year," Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said. "All you can do is go up and have good swings and hit the ball hard, and the hits will come eventually. I think he understands that. He started slow last year, so it's not like it's foreign. He's the type of hitter that when he gets hot, he can go for weeks."
The Yankees had plenty of other items to worry about in a troublesome seventh, as right-hander Ian Kennedy was struck near his belt line on the right hip with a batted ball and left the game. Though Kennedy's injury was not considered serious, the Rays would hit three home runs in the inning off New York relievers to put up a five-run frame and tie the game.
Carl Crawford touched left-hander Billy Traber for a two-run homer before B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria went back-to-back against right-hander Brian Bruney -- Upton belting a two-run shot to straightaway center field and Longoria hitting the first home run of his Major League career into the left-field seats.
"That's a tough game to swallow if you lose it with a 7-2 lead," manager Joe Girardi said. "But no one ever said it was going to be easy."
Normally, the Yankees might have flipped the ball to dominant setup man Joba Chamberlain, but the 22-year-old was in Nebraska tending to his ailing father at the moment Bruney caught himself flying open with his delivery.
"[Chamberlain] has got something much more important than baseball to take care of," Girardi said.
With a few other bullpen options looming, Girardi opted to stay with Bruney, who recorded the first two outs of the eighth before Mariano Rivera nailed down a four-out save, his fourth.
"Personally, I wanted to finish the game," Bruney said. "It means a lot when the manager sticks with you and sends you back out there."
Earlier, it was the Yankees who lit up the scoreboard. Jeter drove in two runs in his return to the lineup, and three Yankees homered to chase Rays starter Andy Sonnanstine, who surrendered solo home runs to Johnny Damon, Alex Rodriguez and Morgan Ensberg.
Rodriguez's home run was the 521st of his career, tying him with Willie McCovey and Ted Williams for 15th place on baseball's all-time list. Seven different players scored for the Yankees, who surpassed their season high of six runs as they continue a stretch where they play 18 of 20 games away from Yankee Stadium.
"It's not exactly how you draw the game up, but I think it was a good character game and our guys battled back," Girardi said.
Making his second start and third appearance of the season, the 23-year-old Kennedy allowed eight hits and three earned runs in six-plus innings, including a Crawford sacrifice fly in the third and an RBI ground-rule double to Eric Hinske in the fourth.
Kennedy otherwise held the Rays scoreless until Jason Bartlett hit him with the liner up the middle leading off the seventh. He credited the Yankees' three-run lead after two innings as helping him find the confidence to challenge Tampa Bay's lineup instead of trying to be too fine, as he admitted he had been in his first two outings against the Rays and Royals, respectively.
"With our offense putting up all the runs, it allows me to just go right after them," Kennedy said. "I can get strike one. They're an aggressive team so as soon as you get ahead, it puts them right on the defense. It helps to get that run support."
Kennedy, a University of Southern California alum, joked that he instantly clicked with catcher Chad Moeller. The 33-year-old journeyman was recalled from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre earlier in the day to shore up New York's battered catching situation, with both Jorge Posada and Jose Molina unable to see defensive duty.
"He's a Trojan, so we were right on the same page," Kennedy said.
Sonnanstine beat the Yankees on April 4 in the same pitching matchup, but lasted just 3 1/3 innings on Monday, allowing seven runs on nine hits. New York scored four times in the fourth as Damon and Jeter had consecutive run-scoring hits, with Damon's drive a double. Scott Dohmann threw 3 2/3 innings of scoreless relief to stifle New York before Reyes took the loss.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.