Commentary

Russo shakes off nerves, plays hero

Rookie gets first hit, drives in first runs, as Yankees beat Mets in Subway opener

Updated: May 23, 2010, 12:30 AM ET
By Andrew Marchand | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- It was like asking a father which one of his children he loves more. The newest member of Subway Series lore, Kevin Russo -- who was born in Long Island and grew up a Yankees fan -- was trying to decide if his first major league hit, a third-inning single, or his seventh-inning two-run tiebreaking double was more satisfying.

"They were both great," Russo ultimately said after the Yankees' 2-1 win over the Mets in the first Subway Series showdown of 2010.

Russo, 25, shook off the nerves from his first career at-bat in Boston nearly two weeks ago and stepped to the plate with confidence Friday night.

[+] EnlargeKevin Russo
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IIKevin Russo's two-run double was the difference in Game 1 of the 2010 Subway Series.

He'd started in left field only because there was barely anyone in the Yankees' clubhouse who owned an outfielder's glove, and could stand. With Curtis Granderson still a week away, Marcus Thames with a bad ankle and Randy Winn struggling at the plate, Russo got the start despite his limited outfield experience.

"Guys have an opportunity to step up," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He had a great night for us."

He had a great night, even while still trying to find his way around a major league clubhouse. Russo's mother and grandmother watched from West Babylon because Russo didn't know how many tickets he could get from the Yankees.

"I don't know how things work," said Russo, who has just three big league games under his belt.

So only his brother, Ryan, and his 8-year-old niece, who flew in from Colorado, were at the game.

Russo was born in West Babylon, but moved to Colorado when he was 3. He said he followed the Yankees because his father did.

What Russo hasn't done a lot is play the outfield so, almost on cue, the opening line drive from Jose Reyes in the bottom of the first inning found him in left.

"I was glad to get that one out of the way," said Russo, who had a flawless night in the field.

Russo was also happy to get his first hit out of the way. In the third, Russo served a 1-0 changeup from Mets starter Hisanori Takahashi into left field.

The bigger hit came in the seventh. With the score tied, Russo came to the plate with two on and no one out against reliever Elmer Dessens. Russo nailed a slider that spun away from Jeff Francoeur and provided Russo with his first extra-base hit and RBIs of his career, and gave the Yankees the lead.

Girardi chimed in on which hit was bigger -- the first hit or the go-ahead hit. For the manager, the call was easy.

"The last one was obviously bigger," Girardi said.

In the clubhouse, Russo looked as if he were just trying to fit in. With Mariano Rivera dressing on one side and Derek Jeter on the other, Russo had a gaggle of reporters around him in the middle of the room.

Russo didn't know exactly how to handle all the attention. He didn't have too much to say because he was afraid of breaking any team rules.

His words didn't matter, though -- only his actions. And, in a big spot, Russo came through.

Andrew Marchand covers baseball for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

More from ESPNNewYork.com »

Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

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