Almonte homers in first start, lifts Yanks

Rookie Zoilo Almonte ranked Friday night, along with the birth of his son, as the best day of his 24-year-old life. He started his first major league game. He hit his initial major league homer. And the announced crowd of 41,123 demanded a rare sight in 2013 -- a curtain call.

"It was a lot of emotion," Almonte said through translator Kenny Leandry after his three-hit night in the Yankees' 6-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays Friday.

Almonte grew up in the Dominican Republic, dreaming of his first major league start. He said he played with some nerves, but you could hardly tell. He even added a nice throw from left field in the fourth that prevented a Ray from trying to score from third. He looks as if he is becoming more comfortable by the inning.

"It is not easy for me, but thankfully up to this point, everything feels good," Almonte said.

Almonte retrieved his home run ball after coach Mike Harkey caught it in the bullpen, where it traveled over the right-field wall in the sixth. Almonte planned on having each and every Yankee sign it, and then he will present it to his mother.

The Yankees have liked Almonte for a while. Joe Girardi first noticed Almonte's switch-hitting swing a few springs ago.

"We liked his swing," Girardi said. "We said, 'This kid has a pretty swing and we expect him to be a big league player at some point,' and the time has arrived."

Almonte will get a chance to win the left-field job with Curtis Granderson out. Vernon Wells, whose average has dropped to .221, could be sitting against all righties and playing some against lefties. Since Almonte is a stronger left-handed hitter than right-handed, there is potential for a platoon situation until Granderson returns

During this spring training, Almonte admitted he was pressing a bit. He knew -- with all the injuries in the outfield -- there might be an opportunity, so he tried a little too hard.

Prior to Friday night, Girardi hoped Almonte could give the Yankees some offense, but he didn't expect what happened in his starting debut.

"You don't ever think a kid is going to run out there and get three hits," Girardi said.

Since 1916, only Almonte and Oscar Azocar (in 1990 against the Royals), have had a three-hit, one-homer game within their initial three games.

Zoilo (pronounced Zoy-lo) has a name that could make him a folk hero. He is off to quite the start, topped by Friday's three-hit night. He is now 4-for-6 as a big leaguer. And he doesn't look nervous.