Robinson Cano was perhaps not always a player who could fill the seats or keep people on the edge of them. What was undeniable and very evident Saturday is that, at Yankee Stadium, he sure can hit baseballs into those seats.
Regardless of his struggles this season, he represents a void the Yankees have yet to fill. Second base still is a question mark for the Yankees, what with rookie Rob Refsnyder apparently getting a shot to supplant Stephen Drew at the position -- a spot once held by Cano, who planted two shots into the stands in the Mariners' 4-3 victory Saturday.
In the first, Cano hit a two-run shot to left-centerfield -- "which is hard to do," said Yankees catcher Brian McCann, who had his own two-run blast to right in the fourth.
In the sixth, Cano launched a second two-run home run, off a second fastball from Michael Pineda, to give his team all it needed.
All told, it was a reminder to everyone watching, including Cano himself, what a hitter he is, despite entering the game with a .249 average, .287 on-base percentage and only six home runs in 87 games. Not that the Yankees needed reminding.
"He's a dangerous hitter and if not the best, one of the very best hitters I've played with," Brett Gardner said. "I love to watch him hit. Just not against us."
As a friend and former teammate who earned a 2009 championship ring with Cano, Gardner made a point to say hello before the series opener Friday. "I didn't necessarily get in there and pick his brain, but he was his same old happy-go-lucky self," the Yankees leftfielder said. "That's probably one of the things that has helped make him so successful, just being the same guy every day -- probably something he learned from Derek [Jeter] early on. Take things one day at a time."
Most days have been borderline nauseating for Cano, though. Fact is, he said recently he has been beset by a long-running stomach ailment. Other factors might be pressure from his big contract or absence from homer-happy Yankee Stadium. In any case, he was pleased and confident after having gone 3-for-4.
"I'm not going to lie. Anybody would love to have this kind of game, to go out there in the second game, second half, hit two homers after only six in the first half," he said, adding that he is hopeful about the benefits of a better diet and his work with Mariners hitting coach Edgar Martinez.
Cano was not the only story Saturday, of course.
There was Seattle starter Hisashi Iwakuma (2-1), whose herky-jerky delivery kept the Yankees off stride and struck out Alex Rodriguez three times.
There was losing pitcher Pineda (9-6), whose only major mistakes were against one batter.
There was the rally in the bottom of the ninth that brought home one run and left the potential tying run on second against closer Carson Smith.
Still, Cano's signature was on every page. He fielded the only fair ball hit by Rodriguez, his mentor. He made the play on Didi Gregorius to end the game.
"He made some good swings," said Refsnyder (0-for-3), who never has met the man whom he might replace as regular second baseman. "Obviously, his home runs are impressive but I think the most impressive one to me was when he stayed on the changeup [for a single]. He broke his bat but he stayed on it pretty good."
Cano's current-year statistics notwithstanding, Joe Girardi said that in Yankees meetings, "we consider him dangerous."
And Gardner said it would be "foolish" to think Cano will end the season hitting in the .240s. "If I could teach my kids to hit like somebody, it would be Robbie Cano," the All-Star outfielder said. "He looked good today. Unfortunately for us."