The opening game of the Florida State League Championship Series featured a surprise guest.
Ian Kennedy tossed two scoreless innings for Tampa, making his first appearance since surgery in May to remove an aneurysm from below his right biceps.
"[Saturday's start] kind of came up last-minute," said Kennedy, who was slated to throw in the Yankees' instructional league before he was informed of the new plan Thursday morning. "There weren't many guys to throw to building up to mini-camp [because] they sent a lot of guys home before the two-week break."
Instead, fans at George M. Steinbrenner Field were treated to a solid return from the former first-round pick as Kennedy allowed one hit over two frames in the Yankees' 5-2 triumph over the Charlotte Stone Crabs in Game 1 of the best-of-5 series.
"When you got a guy coming back after [missing most of the year], you just hope things go good for him and there are no injuries," Tampa manager Luis Sojo said of Kennedy, who was routinely hit 90-91 mph on the radar gun. "He only pitched two innings, but he looked great."
Kennedy, who last toed the mound for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on April 27, fought off the butterflies and retired the Stone Crabs in order in a five-pitch first inning.
"The first inning, I was hoping I wasn't going to get to nervous or pumped up," he said. "But as soon as I got out there, it was my first game in five months, so my adrenaline kind of got too high. [I had] the first-game jitters."
By the second inning, Kennedy felt normal again and, after allowing a leadoff double, retired the next three Stone Crabs.
Prior to Saturday's start, Kennedy had thrown two batting practice sessions and a simulated game in the first steps back from a procedure that has left no lingering effects.
"I've been throwing since July and pretty much through this whole process I haven't had any symptoms or soreness to my arm," said Kennedy, who exited that start on April 27 with numbness in his pitching hand before the aneurysm was diagnosed. "Because they didn't cut into any muscle, my arm has been feeling pretty much back to normal."
Kennedy also credits an early-August talk with his surgeon, Dr. George Todd, in helping him cope with some initial reservations.
"That was when pretty much all the doubt or any type of doubt that something might happen again went out the window," he said. "I haven't had any symptoms since surgery, so now I'm just focusing on pitching."
While he's not sure of his immediate plans, Kennedy is scheduled to start throwing in the Arizona Fall League on Nov. 21 and expects to be ready for Spring Training.
Only 24 years old, Kennedy went 1-4 with a 6.14 ERA in 13 Major League games (12 starts) from 2007-08.
While they won't have Kennedy on the hill for the rest of the Championship Series, the Tampa Yankees are hoping to ride their hot streak to a league title.
"It's amazing, we've been playing good for the last month and a half," Sojo said. "They have a lot of confidence in themselves right now and when that happens, [as a manager] you got to sit down and enjoy the game."
Tampa was buoyed by hot-hitting Brandon Laird, who went 2-for-4 with an RBI to raise his postseason average to .636. Dan Brewer drove in a pair of runs on a three-hit night for the North Division champions.
"[The Minor League title] is going to be great for them," Sojo said. "That's how you develop a winning attitude. This team can win and eventually they can start to move up to other levels."