DEEP IN THE HEART OF TEXAS
The Yankees won the opening game of a three-game series in Arlington last night, beating the Rangers 3-2. Mike Mussina improved to 5-0, struck out nine, and allowed one run in eight innings of work. Mussina seemed to get better, working quickly, as the game went on. After striking out the side in the eighth inning, I was a disapointed that he didn’t return for the ninth. Not only was Mussina spotting his fastball, and using his over-the-top knuckle-cuve effectively, but he added a three-quarter-arm breaking ball which had the mighty Texas bats stumped all night.
Juan Acevado pitched the ninth instead and made things interesting. With one out, Juan Gonzalez swung at a shoulder-high fastball and lofted the ball towards the seats down the third-base line. Robin Ventura followed the high pop fly, and carefully stepped onto the tarp, stood up, leaned over slightly and recorded the second out of the inning, before he fell gently over into the stands. Almost everything about Ventura appears laconic, and this play was no different. It was a sure-footed play, but it seemed as if it was happening in slow motion. YES broadcaster, Ken Singleton commented that Ventura, “Looks like one of those loggers, doesn’t he?”
Carl Everett then reached on what looked like Alfonso Soriano’s first error of the season (a difficult grounder to his left that he booted), and scored on Ruben Seirra’s double to right (Raul Mondesi, showing off his powerful arm, almost nabbed Sierra at second to end the game). The second baseman, Michael Young was next, and he smacked Acevado’s first pitch off the glove of first baseman Nick Johnson. The ball bounced to his right, and lil’ Sori scooped it up and flipped it under-hand to Acevado to end the game. It was a long way to toss a ball under-hand, and Acevado practically snow-coned it in his glove, and they narrowly beat the streaking Young by a half-a-step, to seal the win.
Boy, the Rangers are a strange team. They are a motely crew of muscle-headed sluggers, managed by one straight-laced strategist in Buck Showalter. This is the first time Buck has managed against the Yankees since he left the Bronx in the October of 1995. Orel Hirshiser is his pitching coach, and the two of them look prim and studious.
Showalter and Orel each have their own, sleek little table-stand in the dugout. Hirshiser dilligently charted each pitch thrown by his staff. He has just the kind of business-like efficiency that makes him a perfect fit with Buck.
YES broadcaster Michael Kay said that he had asked A Rod before the game how he liked Showalter, and A Rod looked at him in the eye and said, “I love him. You know wanna know why? Because I crave discipline and he provides it.”
It’s not often that you hear your superstar saying he craves more order, and structure and accountability. Kay reported that Showalter compared Rodriguez with Mattingly, in terms of his love for the game and his work ethic. According to Kay, that is not a comparison Buck throws around lightly.
But the Rangers roster isn’t just weird, it feels perverse. They have some youth of course, even though Mark Teixeira didn’t play. The kid Hank Blalock did, and boy is he milk-fed, bro. “Good-looking ballplayer,” as Buck O’Neil would say. He looks like a ballplayer. Or he looks like a jock, California-style, ala Shane Spencer. I would find it hard not to call him “meat.” Mussina duped him into grounding into a weak ground out his first time out by throwing him an offspeed pitch on a full count; the next time up, he wacked a hanging curve ball up the middle for an RBI single; the last two times up, Mussina set him down on three pitches.
It was good to see Mr. Universe himself, Alex Rodriguez, and although I’ve never cared for him too tough, it was nice to see the smooth fielding, sweet-swinging future Hall-of-Famer Rafie Palmero too. But in the second inning, when Mussina faced Juan Gonzalez, Carl Everett and Ruben Seirra, I felt like I was watching a bad reality-TV show where they get a group of former celebrities and force them to live together. Or some ill espisode of the Rikki Lake show.
What a collection of Bone-heads, man.
My favorite Martian, Alfonso Soriano had a mutliple hit game again. As Steve Goldman noted in his Pinstriped Bible column this week, Nick Johnson is serving as a terrific counter-point to Sori. He is as patient as Sori is aggresive. Johnson collected a base on balls for the tenth consectuctive game. He flew out deep to left in his first at-bat, and hit a two-run homer to left in the sixth.
Jason Giambi put together a solid at-bat in the third, and drove a full count pitch up the middle to drive in the Yankees first run. Colby Lewis started for Texas, and he pitched well, mixing a good curve ball in with mid-90s gas.