NEW YORK – Eduardo Nunez certainly will remember his first big league start.
The Yankees' rookie third baseman drove in the go-ahead run with his first career hit in the seventh inning, and the New York bullpen patched together six stellar innings in a 9-5 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Saturday.
Nunez got the start in place of Alex Rodriguez, who was placed on the disabled list with a lingering left calf injury — not that it has mattered much this season. The Yankees improved to 11-0 when the slugger doesn't play, according to STATS LLC.
"We're going to play it safe," manager Joe Girardi said of his star third baseman. "He's not any worse than he was before, we're just going to play it safe."
Ichiro Suzuki hit a pair of homers and Russell Branyan belted one of the longest ever at the new Yankee Stadium, but it wasn't enough for Jason Vargas (9-6), who packaged two shaky innings around a string of 15 consecutive outs.
Jorge Posada hit a two-run homer and Robinson Cano added a pair of RBIs against the young left-hander, who allowed all seven runs in 6 1-3 innings. Vargas had won three in a row.
As if the loss wasn't bad enough, Seattle first baseman Casey Kotchman committed an error in the eighth inning to end his streak of perfect games in the field at 274. It had been the longest stretch at that position in major league history.
Things started promising for the Mariners.
Suzuki gave them a 1-0 lead before the Bleacher Creatures at Yankee Stadium could finish their traditional roll call of players, his line drive just skimming over the right-field fence.
Two batters later, Branyan hit a homer for Seattle that left no doubt. The big DH turned on a floating 3-1 pitch and sent it sailing into the second row of the third deck in right field, his third homer of the series and fourth in 10 career at-bats against Javier Vazquez. It was believed to be the first drive to reach the 300-level of seats at New York's 1½-year-old ballpark.
The Yankees answered in the bottom half, when Mark Teixeira's RBI double and Cano's single tied the game. Posada followed moments later with his 14th homer, a two-run shot that landed in the left-field seats and gave New York a 4-2 lead.
Vazquez couldn't keep the advantage, though.
Suzuki led off the third with a nearly identical shot as the first inning for his first multihomer game of the season and the fifth of his career. The Mariners then put together three straight two-out hits, with Kotchman's single tying it at 4.
Austin Kearns began the Yankees' go-ahead push in the seventh with a one-out single. Curtis Granderson also singled before Nunez's go-ahead hit and Derek Jeter's RBI single, and Nunez trotted home on Teixeira's sacrifice fly with an insurance run.
The Yankees added two more runs in the ninth inning.
NOTES: Vazquez was gone after allowing eight hits in 3-plus innings, his shortest start this season. ... The Mariners are in the midst of a 12-game, four-city tour, their longest trip since 2004.