ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Brian Roberts and Derek Jeter joked around the batting cage before the game at Angel Stadium, wondering which old guy would be the last to hit his first homer of the season.
Even Roberts was a bit surprised to beat the captain in that competition, and he did it at a key moment for the New York Yankees.
Roberts hit a tiebreaking solo homer in the ninth inning, and the Yankees beat the Los Angeles Angels 4-3 Tuesday night for just their second victory in seven games.
Roberts connected with two outs against Ernesto Frieri (0-3), putting his first homer with his new club into the elevated right field stands. After the game, the ball was nestled in the locker of the longtime Baltimore infielder.
“Never hit a homer in any other uniform, so I’ll take it home,” said Roberts, who also had an early RBI single. “I feel like I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable. Sometimes, some things just click. It’s been nice to get something going a little bit.”
After a slow start in pinstripes, Roberts is steadily improving at the plate, according to manager Joe Girardi. The Yankees’ unassuming replacement for second baseman Robinson Cano now has the same number of homers as Cano has hit for the Seattle Mariners this season.
Alfonso Soriano had a go-ahead RBI single in the eighth inning, and David Robertson pitched the ninth for his fifth save in an all-around encouraging effort by the Yankees.
Hiroki Kuroda had his longest and best start of the season, allowing just one earned run and not walking a batter while striking out eight in 7 2-3 innings. The Japanese right-hander is winless in four starts, but he largely shut down the Angels.
“When Kuroda pitched the way he did, you need to win those games,” Roberts said.
Mike Trout tripled and scored the tying run on Albert Pujols’ two-out single off Shawn Kelley (1-2) in the eighth inning for the Angels, who had won five of seven on their nine-game homestand.
Erick Aybar and Trout drove in runs with consecutive sacrifice flies in the third inning for the Angels, but their combustible bullpen let them down again after eight solid innings by C.J. Wilson.
Frieri had been pitching well since losing his job as the Angels’ closer, and manager Mike Scioscia isn’t discouraged.
“(Frieri) just made one mistake tonight,” Scioscia said. “He just yanked one pitch to Roberts, but give Roberts credit. He was ready for it.”
The Angels couldn’t reward Wilson, who yielded seven hits and struck out five in just his second non-winning start since April 1.
Wilson hit Jeter with a pitch to open the eighth, and Carlos Beltran’s seeing-eye grounder up the middle sent Jeter to third. Jeter was tagged out after Mark Teixeira’s grounder, but Soriano’s single to left easily scored Beltran.
“This is a lineup that typically goes up there and swings for damage,” Wilson said of the Yankees. “But today they made a concerted effort to put the ball in play and make contact. I didn’t have a lot of strikeouts because they were just fighting pitches off and stuff. They did a really good job of that.”
Trout snapped an 0-for-12 skid with a two-out triple off the top of the right-field wall in the eighth, barely missing a tying homer. Trout has never gone more than 14 at-bats without a hit in his major league career, but he had something close to a slump when he struck out on a pitch in the dirt to end the fifth, stranding two runners.
“We all know how good a hitter he is,” Kuroda said through a translator. “At that moment (in the eighth), I tried to just attack him and see how it goes. I don’t feel bad about it.”
The hit chased Kuroda, and Pujols worked a full count from Shawn Kelley before delivering a clean single to left-center.
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