NEW YORK — Eduardo Nunez will certainly remember his first big league hit, when he drove in the go-ahead run at Yankee Stadium in place of Yankees star Alex Rodriguez.
He might get a few more chances, too, now that A-Rod’s on the disabled list.
Nunez singled in the seventh inning Saturday, breaking open a tie game and helping New York to a 9-5 win over the Seattle Mariners. The rookie had made two brief appearances since getting called up this week, but they were nothing like this, his first start.
“I was so excited. I was so happy,” said the beaming 23-year-old infielder, who plans to give the ball he hit to his mom. “I’m the most excited I’ve been in my life.”
The Yankees improved to 11-0 without Rodriguez in the lineup, according to STATS LLC, a record that should please manager Joe Girardi even if it doesn’t put him at ease. Rodriguez has been dealing with a strained left calf that finally became too much.
“We’re going to play it safe,” Girardi said. “He’s not any worse than he was before, we’re just going to play it safe and know we’ll have a player in 15 days.”
Ichiro Suzuki hit a pair of homers and Russell Branyan belted one of the longest ever at the new Yankee Stadium, but it wasn’t enough for Seattle and starting pitcher Jason Vargas (9-6), who packaged two shaky innings around a string of 15 consecutive outs.
Jorge Posada hit a two-run homer and Robinson Cano added a pair of RBIs against the young left-hander, who allowed seven runs in 6-1/3 innings. Vargas had won three in a row.
Relievers Chad Gaudin, Boone Logan (1-0) and David Robertson shut down Seattle over the final six innings, the only blemish coming in the ninth against Mariano Rivera. The veteran closer still finished up for his 25th save.
As if the loss wasn’t bad enough, Seattle first baseman Casey Kotchman committed an error in the eighth inning to end his streak of perfect games in the field at 274. It had been the longest stretch at that position in major league history.
“He’s a pretty good first baseman, obviously. You can’t say anything about his defense,” said Mariners interim manager Daren Brown, who dropped to 8-4 since taking over Aug. 9.
Things were promising at the start for Seattle.
Suzuki gave them a 1-0 lead before the Bleacher Creatures at Yankee Stadium could finish their traditional roll call of players, his line drive just skimming over the fence.
Two batters later, Branyan turned on a floating 3-1 pitch and sent it sailing into the second row of the third deck in right field, his third homer of the series and fourth in 10 career at-bats against Javier Vazquez. It was believed to be the first drive to reach the 300-level of seats at the 1 1/2-year-old ballpark.
“I asked him yesterday if he thought he could hit one up there, and he said maybe when he was younger,” Vargas said. “It was a pretty special home run, wasn’t it?”
The Yankees answered in the bottom half, though, when Robinson Cano’s two-run single tied the game. Posada followed moments later with his 14th homer, a two-run shot that landed in the left-field seats and gave New York a 4-2 lead.
Suzuki led off the third with a nearly identical shot as the first inning for his first multihomer game of the season and the fifth of his career. The Mariners then put together three straight two-out hits, with Kotchman’s single tying it at 4.
Austin Kearns began the Yankees’ go-ahead push in the seventh with a one-out single. Curtis Granderson also singled before Nunez’s go-ahead hit and Derek Jeter’s RBI single, and Nunez trotted home on Mark Teixeira’s sacrifice fly with an insurance run.
The Yankees added two more runs in the eighth inning.
“We’re all happy for him, because we’ve all been in that situation,” Jeter said of Nunez, smiling at him from across the clubhouse. “A lot of times the first one is the hardest to get, and he got it in a big situation.”