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Must C Curtains: Almonte hits first homer in Majors

NEW YORK -- Joe Girardi first saw Zoilo Almonte in Spring Training a few years ago. The Yankees' prospect had a pretty swing, the manager said, and Girardi expected the outfielder to be a Major Leaguer at some point.

Girardi likely could not have expected what Almonte did Friday night, though. Making his first career start, the left fielder put on a show for the 41,123 in attendance at Yankee Stadium, going 3-for-4 and launching his first career home run to help lead the Yankees to a 6-2 victory over the Rays.

"You don't ever think a kid's going to run out there and get three hits, I don't think," Girardi said. "He got hot in Triple-A, and he had a great day today."

Almonte doesn't know exactly where that pretty swing of his came from -- it sort of came naturally, he said -- but it was working for him on Friday. For the 24-year-old, his long-awaited big league debut has gone as well as he could have possibly imagined.

"I really didn't think about it too much," Almonte said through a translator. "Just wherever it was, get a lot of hits. Just get a lot of hits that night."

That's exactly what he did against Tampa Bay. After recording his first career hit in the ninth inning of Thursday night's game, Almonte picked up right where he left off on Friday. He led off the second inning with a base hit up the middle, and he loaded the bases with no outs in the fourth inning with a single to right field.

Almonte showcased some power in the sixth inning, belting a solo home run into the Yankees' bullpen in right-center field.

"That ball he hit was down -- I don't know if it was down-middle or down-in, but he got the bat head on it," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Definitely has some energy about him."

The Yankee Stadium faithful coaxed Almonte out of the dugout for a curtain call after his first big league big fly, and he got the ball back, too. After all of his teammates sign it, he said he's going to give the ball to his mother.

"It felt good," Almonte said of the curtain call, "because it's a sign that things are starting to be where they should be."

The stellar showing from the rookie doesn't mean the rest of lineup has broken out of its collective slump, though. The Yankees put the leadoff man on in each of the first four innings against Rays starter Roberto Hernandez -- who gave up five runs on nine hits over seven innings -- and they had runners in scoring position with no outs in three of those frames.

New York didn't record a hit in any of those situations, scoring its first three runs on a sacrifice fly, a swinging-bunt groundout and a double play. The team's first RBI hit didn't come until third baseman David Adams' infield single to third with two outs in the fourth inning.

The Yankees tacked on another run in the eighth inning on Lyle Overbay's RBI single to center.

"We're scrapping. We've been going through it as a team together," starter David Phelps said. "It's not just we're not scoring runs, we're not pitching -- we've had our ups and downs."

Phelps pitched well enough to pick up his fifth victory of the season. The right-hander pitched 5 2/3 innings of two-run ball, allowing eight hits and one walk while striking out four.

Tampa Bay did all its damage in the third and fourth innings.Ben Zobrist singled in a run in the third, and Luke Scott did the same in the fourth before Phelps worked out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam.

"I thought that was a real important inning for him," Girardi said. "I thought that was the inning for us that changed the game."

Almonte played his part in helping New York avoid too much damage in that inning, making a strong throw home on Matt Joyce's fly ball to left to keep Scott at third.

"I've played with him enough. He showed [his arm] off a couple times in Spring Training for me, too," Phelps said. "He's got incredible tools."

The native of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, has been waiting a long time to showcase those tools, and he finally got his chance on Friday.

He didn't disappoint, either.

"I've always thought it was going to happen," Almonte said. "As long as I kept working hard, I knew it was going to happen."

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