4/02/2008 11:29:00 AM

Melky Proves To Everyone That He Belongs

Posted by Mark McCray |

Joel Sherman/New York Post
Melky Cabrera is low key. He's not the richest, not the most famous, and not one of the celebrated "Big Three".

Yet on an opening night when he was the seventh most likely of the seven Yankees lefty hitters to deliver a signature Stadium homer, he did just that. He also was the most patient hitter of a lineup renowned for patience and the best defender on a night the Yanks were perfect in every way. It was probably fitting that a Yankees center fielder starred in the final opener ever at this stadium, even if we could not have seen that coming.

On this "Opening Night"-- the No. 9 hitter was the No. 1 star.

In the fourth inning of a 1-1 game, he raced to right-center to snare a Lyle Overbay drive just before smashing into the fence. The next batter, Aaron Hill, darted a liner to left-center that never seemed to rise much above six feet. Cabrera sprinted then dove headlong toward the missile to rob an extra-base hit. He left the field to a standing ovation that morphed into the Bleacher Creatures serenading Blue Jays standout center fielder Vernon Wells with chants of "Melky's better" when he took the field.

Still, the Yanks trailed 2-1 when Cabrera led off the sixth. Halladay was brilliant in both his efficiency and masterly blend of fastballs and curves. Cabrera had grounded out in the third, but had vitally seen seven pitches. He battled Halladay for 10 pitches in the sixth. At that point, Halladay had unfurled just 71 pitches and 17 - or nearly a quarter - were seen by the Yanks' last-place hitter.

And on the 10th pitch of this sequence, Cabrera lifted a drive that evaded the leaping attempt of Alex Rios. It was the perfect homage homer for the opener, just reaching the iconic right-field porch, tying the score.

Cabrera took an exuberant curtain call, fitting for a player with such an overt joy for the game.

"We don't look at him as a supplementary piece," Girardi said. "He's a very important part of the team."

I hate to say I told ya so :-)

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