Zelous Wheeler waited eight years to make his Major League debut, bouncing around the minor leagues, getting over 2,000 at-bats in the minors before the Yankees called-up on Wednesday night.
In his second big league at-bat, Wheeler hit a 412 foot homerun into the left-center field bullpens, a few batter after Carlos Beltran launched hit 9th homerun of the year, back up Masahiro Tanaka, who in the first time in 18 starts this season failed to record a quality start, as the Yankees beat the Minnesota Twins, 7-4, on Thursday night at Target Field.
It was clear from the start that Tanaka was not on the top of his pitching game, coming off of two straight losses -- even though he pitched well in both starts -- as the Twins jumped on the board with a quick run in the first inning.
Brian Dozier opened the inning with a single off of Tanaka, then two batters later, Chris Parmelee hit a one-out double into the right field corner, scoring Dozier to put the Twins up 1-0. Parmelee was tagged out trying to stretch the double into a triple.
Minnesota went up 2-0 in the 3rd inning after Sam Fuld and Dozier reached on singled to kick off the inning, putting runners on 1st and 3rd,
The two runs gave Phil Hughes some room to work with, having beat the Yankees in his first start against them back on June 1 when he tossed eight innings of two-run ball. Hughes retired 11 of the first 12 batters that he faced through four innings, having set down the first six to make it 24 straight Yankee hitters going back to that June start at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees' lineup finally broke through against it's former teammate in the 5th inning. Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann hit back-to-back singles open the frame, then Beltran cleared the bases and gave Bombers a 3-2 lead with a three-run shot to right field. Both Beltran and McCann are hitting in the .220's, and need to start hitting better, obviously. Two batters later, Wheeler prompted John Sterling to debut "Wheels up for Zelous" for his first big league homerun, making it a 4-2 game.
Minnesota gained a run back on Tanaka in the bottom half of the 6th inning on an RBI groundout by Kendrys Morales, scoring Kurt Suzuki, who doubled then moved to third base on a Parmelee groundout. That cut the Yanks' lead to 4-3.
The Bombers, though, would extend their lead up to four runs in the next half inning with a three-run frame. Ichiro Suzuki drew a one-out walk and Wheeler followed up with a single. The next batter, Brendan Ryan, doubled to score Ichiro and move Wheeler to third, making this a 5-3 game.
Brian Duensing relieved Hughes to end his night. Hughes, and All-Star Game candidate two weeks ago, has been roughed up lately, and was tagged for seven runs on eight hits tonight, with a walk and six strikeouts.
Brett Gardner welcomed Duensing to the game with an RBI single that scored Wheeler and put Ryan on third base with just one out. A batter later, Derek Jeter grounded out, which was enough to score Ryan, giving the Yankees a 7-3 lead.
Tanaka in the 7th inning gave up his fourth run of the game for the very first time in his big league career. Trevor Plouffe doubled with one out, then Edurado Escobar singled home Plouffe to pull the Twins within three runs.
Like I said, this wasn't Tanaka's best game, facing the Twins for the second time in his career. He was charged with four runs on seven hits, with just three strikeouts and no walks on 85 pitches in seven innings of work.
He handed the ball off to Dellin Betances, who shut down the side in the 8th while striking out a pair, during his normal Betances thing. That lead to David Robertson, who issued a two-out walk, but still struck out the side to end the game for his 19th save of the season. Robertson has been really good in his first season as the closer, and as a free-agent at the end of the season, the Yankees need to lock him up.
Back to .500, the Yankees will send Chase Whitley to the mound on Friday afternoon for a special 3 pm start time on Independence Day, going up against right-hander Kyle Gibson. The game will be aired on ESPN.