Rodriguez Home Run Ties Griffey as Yankees Win Opener in Bronx

Third baseman Alex Rodriguez hit his 630th career home run and Hiroki Kuroda pitched eight scoreless innings as the New York Yankees beat the Los Angeles Angels 5-0 in their first home game of the Major League Baseball season.

Jason Bay hit a two-run homer to lead the New York Mets (5-2) to a 5-2 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies (3-4). Josh Becket allowed one run in eight innings as the Boston Red Sox (2-5) routed the Tampa Bay Rays (4-3) 12-2. Los Angeles Dodgers’ Aaron Harang set a franchise record by striking out nine consecutive batters in the team’s 9-8 win over the San Diego Padres.

Kuroda, signed as a free agent from the Los Angeles Dodgers after last season, allowed five hits, two walks and struck out six in front of 49,386 fans yesterday afternoon in the 110th home opener in franchise history and fourth at the $1.5 billion Yankee Stadium. In a showdown of the two American League favorites to win the World Series, the Japanese-born right-hander left to a standing ovation in the ninth inning.

“It’s the greatest feeling in the world,” Kuroda, 37, said through a translator. “I’d like to repeat it as much as I can this year.”

Rodriguez hit the milestone home run on starter Ervin Santana’s first pitch of the third inning for a 4-0 lead. It moved Rodriguez into a tie with former teammate Ken Griffey Jr. for fifth place on baseball’s all-time list.

Amazing Career

“You look at the home runs, the RBIs, the runs that he’s scored, it’s amazing what he’s done in his career,” New York manager Joe Girardi said.

Nick Swisher had a three-run double in the first inning and Curtis Granderson hit his second home run of the season off Santana in the fifth.

The early runs helped Kuroda settle into his second start of the season. He evened his record at 1-1 and moved the Yankees to 4-3, the first time they have been over .500 this year. They opened with three straight losses to Tampa Bay.

“When you have that kind of run support, I was able to get a really good rhythm,” he said. “I was able to be more relaxed.”

Kuroda threw 71 of his 109 pitches for strikes, striking out six and lowering his season earned-run average to 2.63. The third, fourth and fifth batters in the Angels lineup -- nine-time All-Star Albert Pujols, designated hitter Kendrys Morales and third baseman Mark Trumbo, last year’s runner-up for AL Rookie of the Year -- combined for one hit in 11 plate appearances.

Accustomed to Pressure

“I didn’t think he’d be too fazed by his surroundings, and the magnitude of the game,” Girardi said of Kuroda. “I talked about the pressure that a player who comes over from Japan feels a lot of times, they’re used to pitching in games like this.”

Pujols, 32, is off to a slow start in his first seven games since signing a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Angels in December. The three-time National League Most Valuable Player is hitting .222 with two runs batted in and no home runs.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia said after the game that he was confident Pujols would soon find his rhythm.

“This isn’t about Albert, this is about our team doing some things better on the mound and playing a little more fundamentally sound baseball,” he said. “Albert is going to be there, but we have to be more than Albert and we are.”

One of the Guys

On a 65-degree day with no clouds, Rodriguez pulled even with Griffey, his teammate on the Seattle Mariners from 1994 to 1999. The Yankees’ third baseman said after the game that he didn’t want reaching the milestone, or moving closer to Willie Mays at 660 and No. 4 on the all-time list, to interfere with his focus on the club’s season.

“I don’t allow myself to be a fan of what I’m trying to do because I’m part of a team and I’m trying to be one of the guys and help the team win,” Rodriguez said. “To go out today in pinstripes and play in the best stadium in baseball in front of the greatest fans in the world, on a day like today, is all pretty special.”

Former Yankees catcher Jorge Posada, who threw out the ceremonial first pitch, said that as a player he’d lose sleep prior to opening day in the Bronx. The 40-year-old Posada played on five World Series-champion teams in a 17-year career with New York before retiring in January.

‘Like a Playoff’

“Opening day is like a playoff, like a World Series, it’s that atmosphere,” Posada said after receiving a standing ovation from the crowd. “You get those chills and butterflies, you’re eager to get the field and put that uniform on.”

The Yankees opened their season with three consecutive road losses to the AL East-rival Rays, and followed that series with a three-game sweep of the Orioles in Baltimore. The team has now won 14 of its last 15 home openers and a half game behind the division-leading Toronto Blue Jays (4-2).

The Yankees and Angels entered the season as the two AL teams most likely to win this year’s World Series, according to online sports book The Yankees had 13-2 odds to win their 28th MLB championship, while the Angels, after offseason acquisitions of Pujols and pitcher C.J. Wilson, were 7-1.

“These guys made a lot of noise this offseason, they’re a good team,” Rodriguez said. “You have the feeling that we are going to see a lot of them, during the regular season, but maybe in the postseason as well.”

Girardi said he couldn’t have scripted a better home-opening for the Yankees.

“You get an early lead, your starter gets you into the ninth inning,” he said. “I don’t think it gets any better.”

In other American League games last night, it was the Chicago White Sox 5, Detroit 2; Cleveland 8, Kansas City 3; Baltimore 7, Toronto 5; Oakland 4, Seattle 0; and Texas 4, Minnesota 1.

In the National League, it was the Chicago Cubs 9, St. Louis 5; San Francisco 5, Pittsburgh 0; Washington 2, Reds 1 (13 innings); Miami 5, Houston 4 (in 11 innings); Colorado 7, Arizona 6; and Atlanta 10, Milwaukee 8.

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