The night couldn’t have unfolded much better from Joe Girardi’s perspective.
He had a powerful new weapon at his disposal in the back end of his bullpen and was able to deploy it.
And he didn’t have to do it in the cauldron of a closing situation — which was a good thing, as it turned out.
An early power show — five solo home runs in the first 2 2⁄3 innings, including two by Carlos Beltran and one each by Brian McCann, Brett Gardner and Aaron Hicks — gave the Yankees a 6-3 win over the Royals on Monday night at Yankee Stadium.
Aroldis Chapman — who made his Yankees debut in his return from a 30-game MLB suspension for an alleged domestic-abuse incident last October — came on in the ninth in a non-save situation with the Yankees leading by four runs. It worked out well that he had a bit of a cushion.
What was left of the crowd gave Chapman a loud ovation, with a majority of the fans giving him a standing ovation.
Chapman, who has inherited the closer’s role from Andrew Miller, struck out the first two batters before allowing a pinch-hit double by Paulo Orlando and an RBI single by Alcides Escobar that made it 6-3.
His first two pitches reached 100 mph, the next two 101. Omar Infante struck out on a 97-mph fastball and Cheslor Cuthbert went down on a 101-mph heater.
“I had a bet going on in the bullpen,’’ Dellin Betances said. “I thought he would reach 102 today. So I told him I was disappointed that he just hit 101.’’ Then Betances laughed.
Said Girardi, “I think we all take a look at the board to see what it is. You see that 101, it’s not something you see every day.”
“I looked up a couple of times,” said McCann, who was tested by Chapman’s fastball. “It’s tougher than I thought,’’ he said. “It’s hard to see.’’
Chapman spent April in extended spring training games, mostly facing young minor-leaguers with little chance of making it to the big leagues. “I felt good out there,’’ he said through a translator. “For it being my first outing in a while, I think it was pretty good.”
Speaking of the crowd reaction, Chapman said, “A lot of people have been asking me about that. But after the reaction I got tonight, I can say it was incredible.”
Said Betances, who throws pretty hard himself: “I felt like the crowd was electrifying. It’s a show. Everybody, as soon as he starts throwing the ball in the bullpen, the whole crowd gets up and takes out their phone. Everybody’s on the top step [of the dugout]. It was definitely fun to watch.”
Ivan Nova, making his first start of the season as he took the injured CC Sabathia’s rotation spot, finished an out short of the victory, allowing one run and six hits in 4 2⁄3 innings. With two on and two outs in the fifth, Girardi brought on lefty Phil Coke to face the lefthanded-hitting Eric Hosmer, who flied out to the middle of the warning track in left.
Kirby Yates earned the victory, pitching a scoreless 1 2⁄3 innings.
All of that — including Chapman’s outing, of course, to a degree — was secondary to the Yankees’ offense. They took advantage of batting practice-caliber pitches thrown by Chris Young, who faced 14 hitters and allowed five homers.
McCann jumped on a 1-and-1 pitch and drove it just over the wall in right for his fourth homer to make it 1-0. But with one out in the second,
Alex Gordon stepped into a belt-high 95-mph fastball and drove it into the net that overhangs Monument Park in center to make it 1-1.
Beltran untied it in the bottom half, launching a flat 87-mph fastball to deep right-center for his fifth homer, giving the Yankees the lead for good at 2-1. The homer was the 397th for Beltran, tying Mark Teixeira for fourth by a switch hitter.
Gardner led off the third with his second homer in as many nights. Three pitches later, Hicks went back-to-back. Later in the inning, after Teixeira struck out for the second out, he saw Beltran pass him with a drive to right for his 398th homer.
Hicks added a sacrifice fly in the seventh and Chasen Shreve allowed a home run by Hosmer — the fifth he had allowed in 5 2⁄3 innings at that point — on his first pitch of the eighth. That left Chapman with a four-run cushion.
Said Girardi, “We wanted to make sure we got him in tonight. If it would have been a save situation, I think he would have been fine, too. I would have used him. But it’s always nice to get your first one under your belt.”