“It’s amazing. I can’t believe it,” said another jubilant Yankees fan, Chris Brewer of East Rockaway, N.Y. “For this money, I’d probably have to sit in the outfield in the upper deck at Yankee Stadium.”
Instead, on Monday, Brewer’s seat was about even with third base just a few rows behind the Yankees’ dugout.
Chris Cawley, a Yankees fan from New Milford, Conn., said he was making his first trip to Citi Field and he was as happy as Barbarito and Brewer. “For the money, you can’t beat this,” he said of his seats, which were near the field past third base. “It’s going to be a great night.”
For their money, Yankee fans got to see a 5-1 Yankees victory that moved them to within three games of the idle Boston Red Sox in the American League East. It was their eighth victory in the last 11 games.
Girardi said the Yankees approached Monday’s contest the same way they would if they were playing the Mets in Queens, with the team meeting at Yankee Stadium in the early afternoon and traveling to Citi Field on several team buses.
But Girardi played down the perceived advantage the Yankees — who have a 40-27 record at home, third-best in the A.L. — would have in playing these games in New York.
“I think people are probably going to assume that, but really it comes down to who plays the best, no matter where you’re at,” Girardi said. “You get to sleep in your own bed, and that’s nice, but you’re still not in your own ballpark, and we’re built for that park.”
In the fourth inning, the Yankees played as if they were built for Citi Field, with a big assist from Rays third baseman Trevor Plouffe, who allowed Matt Holliday’s routine grounder to scoot under his glove instead of becoming the third out of the inning. After Jacoby Ellsbury reached on yet another catcher’s interference — his fourth this season and the 30th in his career, the most in major-league history — Todd Frazier clubbed a three-run homer off the facing of the empty second deck in left field to give the Yankees a 5-1 lead.
The pro-Yankee crowd erupted in cheers, making Flushing sound very much like the Bronx.
“I thought the energy was great in the stadium,” Girardi said after the game. “It was hard probably for a lot of Tampa fans to get there in a sense, because they didn’t know where the series was going to be until Saturday. And for a bad situation, I give Tampa credit for coming here and making it somewhat easy on everyone in a sense. But I thought the fans were great”
Girardi pulled C. C. Sabathia after just four and a third innings, with two runners on and Evan Longoria, who has hit Sabathia hard over the years, coming to bat. David Robertson came in to pitch, and he struck out Longoria.
“He was not sharp tonight,” Girardi said of Sabathia. “He had to battle all night, he threw a lot of pitches and Longoria has been the guy who has hurt him as much as anybody in the game. I kind of felt that was the game right there.”
According to a Mets spokesman, the team was expecting to sell about 10,000 tickets for the first game, with seating restricted to the lower level of the stadium, but the announced crowd was 15,327, the largest home crowd the Rays have played before since they drew 17,775 for a game against Cleveland and Corey Kluber, the Indians’ Cy Young Award candidate, on Aug. 13.
Since then, the Rays had played nine home games to increasingly puny crowds; their game against the Minnesota Twins on Sept. 5 drew just 6,509 fans to The Trop.
Larger crowds were anticipated for Tuesday and Wednesday, when more of Citi Field’s seats were expected to be put on sale. However, the parking capacity for all three games will be limited because preparations are underway in some of those lots for a weekend music festival.
The Mets provided the grounds crew, the scoreboard staff, the ushers, vendors and security guards, and the printing of tickets.
The Rays, meanwhile, got the use of the Mets’ clubhouse and all its facilities. They also got to hear Yankee fans perform the roll call, a nightly feature at Yankee Stadium done in the first inning for the team’s starting infielders and outfielders. This time it occurred in the bottom of the first, not the top.
It remains to be seen if the Mets’ home run apple behind the center-field fence would be raised if any Ray hit a home run, since none of them did.
“We’d much rather have played these games in Tampa,” said Yankees infielder Chase Headley. “That would mean the hurricane never happened. But we’re just thankful it didn’t hit as hard as it could have. Circumstances aren’t what you want, but they are what they are.”
Greg Bird was scratched from the starting lineup after experiencing back spams while taking batting practice. Joe Girardi said his status was day-to-day.