Sánchez homers again, Kluber debuts, Yanks beat Jays 5-3

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK — Corey Kluber kept hitters mostly to humdrum contact off the bat – fitting for the monotone man they call Klubot.

Restricted by injuries to one inning in the previous two seasons, the two-time Cy Young Award winner induced six ground-ball outs and five strikeouts in his New York Yankees’ debut.

Kluber allowed one earned run over four innings, and Gary Sanchez joined Elston Howard in 1963 as the only Yankees catchers to homer in each of the first two games. Jay Bruce highlighted his 34th birthday by blooping a two-run single in the seventh for his first hit with his new team and made a diving backhand stop at first to rob Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of a double in a 5-3 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday.

“The most fun part of it for me today was going out there with my teammates and competing and trying to win,” Kluber said.

Pitching in long sleeves on a 44-degree afternoon, Kluber threw 37 pitches in the first two innings, more than double his 18 last season. His 2019 season ended May 1 when he was hit on the forearm by a comebacker, and his debut for Texas in 2020 lasted just one inning before he tore a muscle in his right shoulder on July 26.

Winner of two Cy Young Award with Cleveland, the 35-year-old right-hander allowed three walks, five hits, a hit batter and a wild pitch in four-plus innings. He faced 19 batters and just two hits were hard: Guerrero’s leadoff single in the fourth and Marcus Semien‘s homer that ended Kluber’s afternoon in the fifth.

His 11 fastballs topped at 90.7 mph, and he mixed in 22 in curveballs, 20 sinkers, 15 cutters and six changeups. Toronto tied it in the third with two walks and a wild pitch followed by Sanchez’s run-scoring throwing error into center.

Given his nickname for his reserved, robot-like manner, Kluber is among three Yankees starters coming off long layoffs.

Domingo German starts Sunday in his first appearance since Sept. 18, 2019, after completing a suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy. Jameson Taillon make his Yankees debut Wednesday against Baltimore after recovering from an elbow injury that had sidelined him since May 1, 2019, and required his second Tommy John surgery.

“Probably still going a little shorter with them in these first couple of starts as they continue to build up that bandwidth and that pitch count,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “And really just seeing how they’re able to hold their stuff.”

Left-hander Lucas Luetge also debuted for the Yankees in his first major league appearance since April 25, 2015, with Seattle. The 34-year-old allowed a leadoff single in the seventh to Randal Grichuk, who scored on two wild pitches and Semien’s RBI groundout.

Chad Green got Rowdy Tellez to swing under a 96 mph pitch to strand two in the eighth and got a four-out save in the absence of Aroldis Chapman, who completed a two-game suspension for throwing near the head of Tampa Bay’s Mike Brousseau last Sept. 1.

“Adrenaline is definitely starting to come back. Obviously different than it was last year having to kind of create your own adrenaline,” Green said. “Last year, you kind of had to realize the big situations, and now the fans will kind of tell you the big situations.”

A sellout crowd of 10,107 – capacity was limited to 20% under New York State novel coronavirus restrictions – was noticeably louder than during Thursday’s 3-2, 10-inning loss.

Toronto’s Ross Stripling, starting because of injuries to Robbie Ray, Nate Pearson and Thomas Hatch, allowed three runs, seven hits and two walks in 3 1/3 innings with five strikeouts.

AL batting champion DJ LeMahieu legged out a run-scoring, two-out infield hit in the second. Sanchez homered for a 2-1 lead in the fourth, and Aaron Hicks added a run-scoring hit off the glove of an overshifted Semien diving behind at second.

Bruce, New York’s first baseman while Luke Voit recovers from knee surgery, blooped a sinker from left-hander Tim Wayza, who made his first appearance since Sept. 13, 2019, with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh.

“He made the pitch,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said.

The ball traveled just 234 feet into left, landing in front of Lourdes Gurriel Jr. for a two-run single.

“It wasn’t the prettiest or hardest hit of all time,” Bruce said. “It was timely, and that’s even more important.”

SLOW START

Hicks also has struck out three times each in consecutive games for the first time in his nine-season career.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Blue Jays: OF George Springer (strained left oblique) could be activated for Thursday’s home opener against the Los Angeles Angels in Dunedin, Florida.

Yankees: LHP Justin Wilson (shoulder tightness) threw batting practice and could be activated from the IL when the Yankees start a trip at Tampa Bay on Friday.

UP NEXT

German pitched nine scoreless innings over five appearances during spring training, allowing five hits, striking out 13 and walking one. RHP T.J. Zeuch starts for the Blue Jays.

Biden praises Braves’ ‘unstoppable, joyful run’ to 2021 win

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said the Atlanta Braves will be “forever known as the upset kings of October” for their improbable 2021 World Series win, as he welcomed the team to the White House for a victory celebration.

Biden called the Braves’ drive an “unstoppable, joyful run.” The team got its White House visit in with just over a week left before the 2022 regular season wraps up and the Major League Baseball playoffs begin again. The Braves trail the New York Mets by 1.5 games in the National League East but have clinched a wildcard spot for the MLB playoffs that begin Oct. 7. Chief Executive Officer Terry McGuirk said he hoped they’d be back to the White House again soon.

In August 2021, the Braves were a mess, playing barely at .500. But then they started winning. And they kept it up, taking the World Series in six games over the Houston Astros.

Biden called their performance of “history’s greatest turnarounds.”

“This team has literally been part of American history for over 150 years,” said Biden. “But none of it came easy … people counting you out. Heck, I know something about being counted out.”

Players lined up on risers behind Biden, grinning and waving to the crowd, but the player most discussed was one who hasn’t been on the team in nearly 50 years and who died last year: Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

Hammerin’ Hank was the home run king for 33 years, dethroning Babe Ruth with a shot to left field on April 8, 1974. He was one of the most famous players for Atlanta and in baseball history, a clear-eyed chronicler of the hardships thrown his way – from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America’s most hallowed records. He died in January at 86.

“This is team is defined by the courage of Hank Aaron,” Biden said.

McGuirk said Aaron, who held front office positions with the team and was one of Major League Baseball’s few Black executives, was watching over them.

“He’d have been there every step of the way with us if he was here,” McGuirk added.

The president often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically a nonpartisan affair in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.

Those visits were highly charged in the previous administration. Many athletes took issue with President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more. Trump, for his part, didn’t take kindly to criticism from athletes or their on-field expressions of political opinions.

Under Biden, the tradition appears to be back. He’s hosted the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the White House. On Monday he joked about first lady Jill Biden’s Philadelphia allegiances.

“Like every Philly fan, she’s convinced she knows more about everything in sports than anybody else,” he said. He added that he couldn’t be too nice to the Atlanta team because it had just beaten the Phillies the previous night in extra innings.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was later questioned about the team’s name, particularly as other professional sports teams have moved away from names – like the Cleveland Indians, now the Guardians, and the Washington Redskins, now the Commanders – following years of complaints from Native American groups over the images and symbols.

She said it was important for the country to have the conversation. “And Native American and Indigenous voices – they should be at the center of this conversation,” she said.

Biden supported MLB’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia’s sweeping new voting law, which critics contend is too restrictive.