As some of the older Yankee players said during the postgame celebration last night, this just doesn’t get old. The Yankees blanked the White Sox, 7-0 and clinched the AL east for the sixth consecutive year. This was a volatile campaign for the Yankees, who will play the Twins starting next Tuesday in the first round of the playoffs, with shades of the ol’ Bronx Zoo strudel threatening to disrupt the harmony of the Joe Torre era.
For many Yankee fans this is only the begining. “Now, the real season starts,” is what some of the more thoughtless fans will bark today as if they were following basketball. As if the regular season was an afterthought. But regardless of what happens over the next couple of weeks, we should take a moment to appreciate another fine season.
I still pinch myself regularly to remind myself of how fortunate I am that a team I root for has been this succesful for so long (I root for the Jets and Knicks, after all). I don’t expect it to last. Why should we be so fortunate? I figure that one year, fate, or injuries or Boss George or the Red Sox will put an end to the current run. Maybe it will happen next year or the year after. But for now, the Yankees have made us proud once again.
One of the great pleasures of watching the Yanks win is getting to see Joe Torre get blubbery. I’m sure it must make Yankee-haters ill, but it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. It has to do with the fact that Torre is a native New Yorker, and an Italian man of a certain temperment and disposition. Go to Gravesend, or Carroll Gardens or Bensonhurst in Brooklyn and you can find men like Joe.
Torre is grave and paternal, firm but fair, and he manages the circus around the Yankees better than anyone before him. It is fitting that he gives it up for us in the end, the ol’ softy. He lets his guard down, his voice starts to tremble, and then come the water works. I’ve always had the sense that he appreciates how meaningful the Yankees’ success has been. It’s not just cliches with Torre, he’s not distant and removed, he’s like one of the family; that’s why he’s known as Saint Joe around these parts.
Jose Contreras was brilliant last night and will allow us to go into the off season thinking that he wasn’t a $32 bust after all. The Red Sox came from behind to beat the O’s in dramatic fashion at Fenway last night; later on, the Mariners lost, and now the wildcard race is all but done. The YES cameras caught Jeter checking out the scoreboard in the 8th inning last night. The O’s had taken a 5-2 lead in the top of the 9th, only to tie the game on a Todd Walker homer in the bottom of the frame. Jeter peeked at the scoreboard in center field, and then did a double take. He smirked, ala Robert DeNiro, as if to say, “Whaaat? Don’t those guys ever die?” Never a dull moment for the Yankee captain.
Jason Giambi hit a grand slam in the 9th inning for his 40th homer of the year. He also hit a double to left center field which is a positive sign indeed. Giambi is the first Yankee to record back-to-back 40 dinger seasons since Mickey Mantle. Not bad for a guy who has played with injuries all year. According to John Harper in The Daily News:
Giambi, meanwhile, admitted before the game there was reason he wasn’t using the whole field anymore.
“My back side’s collapsing,” was the way he put it before last night’s game. “Because of my knee.”
It’s a wear-and-tear injury of sorts that he has downplayed for most of the season, even as it has deteriorated over the last couple of months and caused him to limp noticeably at times.
But in trying to explain why he hadn’t been driving the ball to left-center anymore, Giambi said the state of his left knee is such that he can’t keep his weight on his back leg at the plate, wait on the pitch and drive the ball to all fields as he had done with such great success throughout his career.
In other words, the injury has wreaked havoc with the sweet swing responsible for batting averages of .314, .342, and .333 the last three seasons.
“It’s not an easy thing to swallow,” said Giambi, batting .251 after his 2-for-4 night, “when you’re a career .300 hitter, and you’ve never hit below .290, and you look up there and see your average at two-forty-something.
“It’s tough. But that’s the risk you take when you play hurt.”
Giambi doesn’t need to apologize to anyone. With Jeter, Nick Johnson, and Bernie Williams all missing significant time, Giambi couldn’t afford to get healthy. As a result, his numbers dropped, but he still put together a fine season. His effort has not gone unappreciated.