Juan Soto set the tone in an impressive debut for the Yankees

John Heyman

MLB

HOUSTON — New Yankees star Juan Soto looked relaxed and happy before his debut in what is usually considered his new team's house of horrors. If Soto knew anything about the recent history here, he didn't tell us.

Soto also made no secret of his excitement for his new beginnings with his third major league franchise at the age of 25. This is an unusual winding road for a young genius. But he knows this isn't just a privilege, and he seems happy to be part of history now.

“This is going to be great. This is going to be fun. This is going to be amazing,” Soto told The Post two hours before his first game in the pinstripes.

If there were nerves, he didn't show them before — or certainly during — the game, which turned into a thrilling Opening Day success with the Yankees' 5-4 victory Thursday over their nemesis Astros after a rough start. Soto had a typical offensive performance for him, then put up a nice defensive punctuation mark in the first game of what the Yankees hope will become a long and distinguished career in New York after his impressive starts in Washington and San Diego.

In a script set to star, Soto ends up saving the day, his first in pinstripes.

“That was classic Yankee — Juan's debut,” captain Aaron Judge said afterward. “It speaks volumes about the type of player he is and the type of presence he has.”

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Juan Soto #22 of the New York Yankees reacts after hitting an RBI single during the fifth inning.
Juan Soto #22 of the New York Yankees reacts after hitting an RBI single during the fifth inning. Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

Soto walked two — his calling card — in five plate appearances, and singled out the Yankees' first run of the early walk that turned the game from what looked like a potential defeat for the Astros into one of the most satisfying wins they've had in a long time — perhaps even before Disastrous 2023 season.

There's still a long way to go — this season, the Yankees are hoping for Soto's career — but the 2024 campaign couldn't start with a more meaningful win over a more hated rival. They overcame a lot to get the job done too, which makes it even more fun.

They overcame the absence of star player Gerrit Cole, the man of the match, who was sidelined with an elbow problem. Cole said before the game that he felt good and hoped to return to what is often whispered as the target date for his return, which is June 1. But in the meantime, they need to rely on a temporary rotation, with Nestor Cortés assuming the main role here. On opening day.

They have overcome their demons in this harsh abode, which has been the site of much unhappiness over the past several years. Houston fans were excited about the Astros' quick 4-0 start, but the Yankees quickly cut the deficit, then rallied with a solo home run by Oswaldo Cabrera to tie it up and a sacrifice fly by newcomer Alex Verdugo to give the goal. The Yankees had a lead they would hold.

Most important of all, they beat the Astros, who dominated the American League like few teams — unlike the Yankees' former clubs. Seven straight ALCS appearances is very impressive. As we know now, it all started in the tainted 2017 season, but there have been six true winning seasons since then.

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If anyone was affected by the Astros, no one would let it happen. Manager Aaron Boone was talking about his usual positivity in the pregame press conference. And Soto was feeling good about his closet.

When it was pointed out that the locker given to him — a $30 million player — contained a broken drawer, he just smiled. “It's good luck,” he said.

Yankees right fielder Juan Soto (22) hits an RBI single during the fifth inning against the Houston Astros.
Yankees right fielder Juan Soto (22) hits an RBI single during the fifth inning against the Houston Astros. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Conn

I think we'll find out in the next few hours.

“I told you it was good luck,” he told me afterward.

Curtis, after a rough start, pitched admirably over his final three innings, significantly outscoring Astros star Framber Valdez, who himself was replacing future Hall of Famer, former standout Justin Verlander.

The Yankees knocked Valdez out in the fifth with this three-run rally in which Soto pitched the first run with a single to right field. But Soto's highlight came on that game-saving throw in the ninth inning when a beautiful one-hop throw by catcher Jose Trevino pinned Mauricio Dubon at home plate.

Soto is not known for his defense. But he made the play of day and night, setting up beautifully and getting Dubon to second out after hitting Alex Bregman to right.

“When I got the ball, I couldn't see it in my window, so I knew I saw it [expletive] Soto later said.

The Yankees hope this is the start of something special.

Soto, who was ready for the game from the start, was asked before the game what he most hoped for this season, and he immediately said: “Winning the World Series.”

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Then he released what they had to do to make it possible, and it started right away.

“We can do it,” he said. “We just have to set the tone tonight and this week.”

In his masterful and memorable debut, Soto did just that.




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