The injury-riddled New York Yankees welcomed Eduardo Nunez back to the lineup on Saturday to begin what they expect to be a parade of returning players, and the shortstop paid immediate dividends.
Nunez knocked in two runs and had two hits, including a run-scoring single up the middle in the sixth inning that snapped a 4-4 tie in New York's 5-4 victory over the Baltimore Orioles.
The win was the sixth in a row for the Yankees (48-39), who jumped over the Orioles (48-40) into second place in the American League East, 5.5 games behind the Boston Red Sox.
"I was excited, very excited," the Dominican said about his return to the Yankee Stadium diamond after being out two months with a strained rib cage muscle. "Everything's fine and I'm happy to be back."
Nunez had started the season as the regular shortstop in place of Derek Jeter, who is still out due to a fractured ankle, and then joined the Yankees captain on the sidelines when he was injured.
Jeter, meanwhile, will begin his rehab games, the last stage before returning to the team, on Saturday night with the Yankees' Triple A affiliate in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Slugging third baseman Alex Rodriguez is in the midst of his rehab assignment in Tampa, Florida. Outfielder Curtis Granderson is expected to follow them soon onto the field as well after breaking his hand when he was hit by a pitch.
Nunez provided a positive jolt right away, driving in a run in the second inning with a sacrifice fly to left.
He followed that with a single to right in his next at-bat and then drove in the go-ahead run to help make a winner out of Andy Pettitte (6-6) with evergreen closer Mariano Rivera notching his 29th save.
"I did not try to do too much, just do my job," said the 26-year-old Nunez, who thought the team and its recently acquired fill-in players had a good attitude.
"Right now there is a lot of confidence. They are happy, they are confident and now everybody is coming back."
Manager Joe Girardi said the team decided it was worth the gamble in bringing Nunez up after just 16 at-bats during his rehab assignment.
"Younger players are always a little bit different," explained Girardi. "The fact that he went through a full spring training and played the first month, we figured he wouldn't be too rusty.
"And Noony is kind of a free spirit. I don't think Noony probably thought much about not having a lot of at-bats," the manager said with a laugh. "He has the ability to really contribute offensively, to play good defense, steal a lot of bases and do a lot of different things. He has a lot of tools."