Alex Rodriguez took an immediate liking to his new spot lower in the batting order.
Dropped three rungs to sixth in a struggling lineup, Rodriguez hit a two-run homer that snapped his hitless skid and sent the New York Yankees past the Seattle Mariners 4-3 on Sunday, ending their four-game losing streak.
Sometimes you’ve got to do that, you’ve got to shuffle the deck a little bit,” Rodriguez said. “Whatever it takes to win.”
Masahiro Tanaka topped old pal Hisashi Iwakuma in the first major league pitching matchup of former Japanese teammates, a game that was broadcast live on television back home — at 2 a.m. in Tokyo.
Brett Gardner had three hits, including an RBI double that stopped New York’s 0-for-30 stretch with runners in scoring position. He scored the tiebreaking run on a wild pitch by Iwakuma (0-2) in the fifth inning.
Still, the Yankees continued to struggle at the plate in clutch situations, finishing the three-game series 1 for 35 with RISP.
“You don’t ever want to get swept, especially at home,” Gardner said. “I thought we played pretty well today.”
New York salvaged a win thanks in large part to Tanaka (1-0), who yielded three runs — two earned — and six hits in seven efficient innings. He struck out six and walked none, improving to 4-0 in four career starts against Seattle.
Tanaka worked out of a bases-loaded jam in a 24-pitch first inning, when Kyle Seager drove in a run with a groundout. The right-hander needed only 93 pitches to get through seven.
“Just extremely satisfied being able to get that win,” Tanaka said through a translator.
Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller combined to strike out all six batters they faced on 13 pitches apiece, with Miller working the ninth for his third save.
“It seems whatever I do, he does it better,” Betances said. “We feed off each other.”
Said catcher Brian McCann: “Those guys are ridiculous.”
Steve Clevenger had an RBI single for the Mariners, who had won three straight following a five-game slide. Nori Aoki tripled and scored on Seth Smith’s single.
Iwakuma, teammates with Tanaka from 2007-11 on the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan, was charged with four runs and eight hits in seven innings.
“I was very excited to face (my) ex-teammate,” Iwakuma said through a translator. “Just watching him, in general, he was pitching with composure and he kept the ball down. Looking at that, I said to myself, `I’ve got to keep the ball down, too.’ And I was able to make adjustments, but it was kind of too late.”
Rodriguez homered on the first pitch he saw after Iwakuma plunked McCann in the second inning. The 40-year-old designated hitter was without a hit in his previous 19 at-bats, two shy of matching the longest drought of his career.
The three-time MVP sent an 86 mph fastball into the lower-deck seats in left field. It was the 689th home run for Rodriguez, who ranks fourth on the career list.
A season after hitting 33 home runs, A-Rod began the day batting .100 (3 for 30) with one homer and two RBIs. Carlos Beltran, off to an excellent start this season, was moved up two spots to No. 3 in the Yankees’ lineup.
“It’s not necessarily permanent,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I just thought I would change it up a little bit today. I’m not sure what I’ll do on Tuesday.”
Yankees center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury lost his glove, cap and sunglasses when he dove for Aoki’s triple and went chasing after the ball without any of them in a scene straight out of Little League. “I realized I was running after there with nothing,” Ellsbury said. “Maybe it made me faster.”
Betances has fanned 15 of 24 batters this season, recording each of his last eight outs and 14 of the past 15 via strikeout. Miller has whiffed his last seven hitters and 12 of 17 overall this year. “I don’t think it’s worth the effort trying to keep up with Dellin,” Miller said. “He’s better than everybody.”