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Monthly Archives: April 2004

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Yanks 7, A’s 5

Derek Jeter blasted the first pitch (a fastball) he saw from Barry Zito last night out near the monuments in left center field and ended his hitless streak at 0-32. Oakland’s third baseman Eric Chavez connected for a two-run shot off of Kevin Brown in the top of the first, and Jeter stabbed Scott Hatteburg’s liner to end the frame (nice play). Then he homered and there was relief in the Bronx.

Barry Zito pitched a strange game, alternating filthy curve balls with flat change-ups and mediocre fastballs. His hook is a beautiful pitch to watch, and seemingly impossible to hit. But it wasn’t enough. Alex Rodriguez hit a solo homer to left off a fastball in the third, and Bernie Williams hit his first home run of the year–a solo shot–off a hanging change up in the fifth to give the Bombers a 3-2 lead.

Jermaine Dye collected his first hit of the series–an RBI double–in the sixth which tied the game. However, the biggest shot of the night came in the bottom of the frame, when Mr. Magoo, Miguel Cairo smacked a horseshit cut-fastball for a three-run homer, putting the Yankees ahead for good. It was the first time Zito had ever given up four dingers in a game.

Kevin Brown wasn’t terrific either. He left some sinkers up in the zone, and after giving up a lead-off single to start the seventh, pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre visited the mound to give the bullpen some time to ready itself. Brown’s face looks very much like a cartoon. He’s got a sharp nose, and a seemingly permanent frown. His chin sticks out and he’s got a buldging adam’s apple. Nasty McNasty himself, Brown isn’t the sort of pitcher who takes kindly to visits from any coach, no matter how esteemed. When Stottlemyre reached the mound, Brown turned his back and walked away. Stottlemyre was left there with Giambi and Posada. He must have appreciated Brown’s old-school disposition because he laughed out loud.

Brown couldn’t put the next batter, Bobby Crosby away on a 3-2 pitch, and the rookie doubled to left. Brown’s night was over. Paul Quantrill relieved him and got out of the inning only allowing one run to score. The A’s put another run on the board in the eighth, and Mariano Rivera replaced Flash Gordon with runners on the corners and two outs. He threw one pitch to Crosby, who grounded out to second.

Bubba Crosby had an RBI infield single in the ninth, and the Sandman retired Oakland 1-2-3 to seal the three-game sweep for the Yankees. While Jeter’s home run was the highlight of the night for the Yankees, my favorite moment of the game came in the bottom of the seventh. Bernie Williams lead off against erstwhile Yankee reliever Chris Hammond. Hammond’s best pitch is a Bugs Bunny change up. With two strikes, you could see that Williams was fighting to remain patient, and keep his hands and weight back. Hammonds floated an Eddie Lopat special that tailed inside and Williams almost dropped his right knee to the ground and made a desperate stab at the pitch to foul it off. At the last possible moment, he chopped it foul toward the Yankee dugout. It looked as if a bumble bee suddenly zipped towards his face, and Bernie tried to karate-chop it away.

You could see a sheepish smile on Williams’ face as he looked toward the dugout. He stepped back in the batter’s box and swiftly struck out. When he returned to the bench, Williams sat next to Jeter, who was holding his stomach he was laughing so hard. The YES cameras showed Jeter immitating the chop swing several times, cracking up. It was a hearty, full-bodied laugh. Javier Vasquez was chuckling next to Bernie. Panning the rest of the bench, you could see the entire team joining in on the fun. Mattingly was dying, as was Torre. Finally, Bernie threw up his arms in mock fury and stood up in protest, going along with it. Godziller Matsui passed by and the joke was not lost in translation; he was smiling too.

It was great to see the Yankees loose and smiling again. Funny what winning does to a team. As removed as modern athletes often feel from us in interviews, we are still invited to observe the intimacy and spirit of the dugout, when men light up like boys. Last night, the Yanks had a good reason to feel good about themselves. Really, how often do you go up against Hudson-Mulder-Zito and come away with a sweep? Not often, that’s for sure. The A’s have now lost six straight, but they will have another shot at the Yankees next week in Oakland.

Elsewhere, the Red Sox continued to roll, as they swept a double-header at home against the Devil Rays. Andy Pettitte collected his 150th career victory in his second start of the year, and the Mets beat the Dodgers, 6-1. Jeff Weaver started for the L.A., and pitched relatively well. I have to say his shaggy blond hair looks much better suited in Dodger blue than it ever did in the Bronx.

Yankees 5, A’s 1

Jose Contreras pitched his best game of the year, and the Yankees beat the A’s on a beautiful spring night in New York. It was a relatively tension-free game and it was a relief to see Contreras pitch with more confidence. The A’s have some good hitters, but they swing at far more pitches than the Red Sox do. Jason Giambi made a nice, diving grab to rob Eric Chavez of a hit with two men on in the third, and that’s as good a scoring opportunity as Oakland would get. Tyler Kepner and John Harper have good reports on how Jorge Posada guided Contreras to a strong outing. Posada added a solo home run, and so did Jason Giambi (who hit a seed off of Arhur Rhodes in the ninth). Giambi had three hits on the night, and Gary Sheffield had two.

I was at the game with a group of guys. We didn’t reach our seats until the bottom of the first, as the Yankees were putting three runs up against Mark Mulder. To be honest, I was too caught up in conversation to remember much of the game. The most memorable part of the night was the standing ovations that Derek Jeter received in his final two or three at-bats. Unfortunatley for the Yankee captain, the cheers didn’t help him get a hit. Jeter is now 0-for his last 32. While Jeter continues to be humbled, at least his team has won a couple of games.

It was a good, if not terribly exciting night for the Yankees. In fact, there wasn’t any bad news until I read the morning papers. Bernie Williams was not in the line-up after he strained his left knee on Tuesday night. Though Williams will not go on the DL yet, the news is troubling:

“I am concerned,” Torre said of the 35-year-old outfielder who will wear a brace or sleeve when he returns. “It’s frustrating for him and I decided to give him a blow. We will give it a day and take it day to day.”

“You know what’s interesting about Bernie, during this whole time I’ve been here, it’s been one problem or another,” Torre said. “He’s been disabled a couple of times. I don’t think he’s ever been 100 percent when he’s played. He really hasn’t.”

Not so long ago I wondered if Williams would be able to make it to the Hall of Fame. Now, who knows if he’ll play out his contract (2005) with New York. As much as it pains him to admit, Steve Bonner thinks it’s time for the Yankees to trade Bernie. Maybe Rob Neyer isn’t just crying wolf when he insists that Carlos Beltran will be playing center field in the Bronx by August. Travis Lee is also hurting, and it appears as if he’s going to have surgery on his left shoulder, which means Tony Clark is here to stay for now.

Meanwhile, Curt Schilling and the Red Sox shut out the Devil Rays, 6-0.

Oh, and for the latest on Barry Bonds and the steroids story, head on over to John Perricone’s Only Baseball Matters, forthwith.

Yazzie!

Congrats to Mr. Met Mike Piazza who went yard last night and tied Carlton Fisk for the most homers ever hit by a catcher (351). It is only fitting that the home run came at Dodger Stadium, where Yazzie began his career. Mr. Piazza is the best-hitting catcher of all-time, but is he the best catcher of all-time? Labelmate Rich Lederer takes a look. Check it out.

Reversal of Fortune: Yanks 10, A’s 8

Oh, what a relief it is

Down 8-4, the Yankees staged a dramatic comeback in the eighth inning, scoring six runs, giving New York its most compelling victory of the season. Mike Mussina, who allowed five runs in six innings of work said after the game that he hasn’t seen the Yankees this excited since the playoffs last year. It sure was good to see them smiling again.

Mussina said that he felt good about his performance, though it wasn’t especially sharp. Eric Chavez proved why he is the goods in the top of 3rd when he pounded a solo home run to left. Ooof, that man has a sweet swing, and boy is he ever strong. After the Yankees jumped on an equally shaky Tim Hudson for four runs in the bottom of the frame, Mussina gave it all back in the fourth. The Yankee defense didn’t help, as Miguel Cairo couldn’t field a ball, and Mussina had another grounder deflect off of his glove. Mussina was smiling by the end of the inning, as if to say, “It can’t get any worse than this.”

Tim Hudson, who is a dead-rinder for Ray Liotta for the nostrils down, left several pitches up in the zone during his seven innnings of work (he got away with a hanging splitter to Clark in the fourth, which the big man swung over), but the Yankees couldn’t take advantage. But in the third, Matsui lead off with a single and advanced to third on a double by Tony Clark. Migeul Cairo then double them home. Derek Jeter, who grounded out in his first at-bat, laid down a sacrifice bunt which moved Cairo to third. Bernie walked and Rodriguez grounded out to Chavez, scoring Cairo. Next Jason Giambi singled through the Boudreaux-shift for an RBI single. A sign of life! A two-out hit. Hey, I remember what those look like.

However, the Yankees would not get another base hit until the seventh inning. Meanwhile, the A’s continued to add to their lead. Mussina left a pitch up to Frankie Menechino in the fifth, who smacked an RBI single to center. Gabe White relieved Moose in the seventh and recorded two quick outs. Then Scott Hatteberg dumped a double into center field just beyond the reach of Bernie Williams. The play must have left Yankee fans shaking their heads, “Jeez, that was a play Bernie used to make, right?” (I doubt that Larry Mahnken was that kind.) After Durazo doubled to make the Oakland lead 6-4, Paul Quantrill came in and Marco Scutaro skied a high fly ball to left center.

You can run but you can’t hide. The winds were swirling last night, and Bernie Williams took a poor route to the ball. He dove but the ball knocked out of his glove, and the A’s had another run. Williams looked old. My girlfriend Emily tried to console me, but I shook my head and cursed my favorite player anyway.

Paul Quantrill tweaked his sore right knee on the final play of the seventh, so Mark Kotsay bunted for a base hit in the eighth. Next, Bobby Kielty hit a liner to right which popped out of Gary Sheffield’s glove. The ball floated in the air like a football that tipped off a reciever’s fingertips. Sheffield tried to recover and snag it, to no avail. It was scored an error and helped lead to another Oakland run, 8-4.

It looked like another night of bad breaks for the Yankees. Jeter’s third-inning sacrifice was admirable or desperate, depending on how you look at it. Regardless, it was a contribution. He stung the first pitch he saw from Hudson in the fifth, but it was right at the shortstop. And so it goes when you are slumping. Credit the stadium crowd for giving Jeter a standing ovation when he came to bat in the seventh. It was a rousing moment. Jeter missed a 1-2 fastball that was up, fouling it straight back. On the next pitch, Jeter grounded out, and his hitless streak would reach 0-28 by the end of the game.

Hudson was replaced by Jim Mercir in the eighth, and Bernie Williams hit a solid single through the right side to start the inning. Alex Rodriguez followed with a seeing-eye single through the left side. Then, Jason Giambi walked on a close full-count pitch. At this point, I was hoping for a home run, but expecting a double-play. Gary Sheffield cued a ball off of the end of his bat that squibbed towards the right side. It went for an infield single, and an RBI.

Jorge Posada spoiled a good pitch (outside fastball or splitter) and lined a single through the left side, and now the Yanks were down 8-6. The southpaw Ricardo Rincon came in for Mercir, and quickly got ahead of Matsui 0-2. But the next four pitches were out of the strike zone, Matsui walked, and the Yankees were within a run. Clutch at-bats from the Bombers here. Ruben Sierra pinch-hit for Cairo. I was cursing the move at home, loudly predicting that Sierra was going to hit into a double play. Instead, the bulky bench player smacked the 3-1 pitch into left for a double. Two runs scored and the Yankees had the lead for good. Sierra’s ball landed smack dab on the foul line. It was the luck the Yankees needed. Bernie Williams added an RBI on a fielder’s cherce, Mariano Rivera pitched the ninth, and the Yankees won, 10-8.

Another frustrating game turned into an improbable win, and like I said, it was great to see the Yankees smiling. What a sight for sore eyes. That they rallied in the nickel-and-dime tradition of the 1998 Yankees made is especially rewarding. With Jose Contreras pitching tonight, it was close to a must-win for New York. Now, if they can swipe one of the next two games, they should feel good about themselves. For Oakland, it was a vexing loss, considering that they blew a four-run lead on a night when Tim Hudson was not on his A-game.

Cooperstown Confidential

By Bruce Markusen

Regular Season Edition

April 22, 2004

Card Corner: Hair Here, There, And Everywhere

Call him the “Unfrozen Caveman.” Call him “The Hippy.” Call him the “Mountain Man.” Call him whatever you like, but no nickname can entirely capture the untamed image that Johnny Damon has created by not cutting his hair for nearly a year and not shaving his face since the latter stages of 2003. Damonís “biblical” appearance has become such a sidebar of attention that it motivated ESPN.com to come up with an all-time, all-hair team featuring some of the longest and most unusual hairdos in the gameís history. ESPN included some worthy candidates on its list, including Oscar Gamble and Ross Grimsley (owner of the white-man afro, as ESPN puts it), but somehow left off the man who sported baseballís longest hair during the frenetic decade of the 1970s.

Until Damon and Pittsburghís Craig Wilson, whose flowing blond locks arenít far behind Damon in length but havenít received nearly the attention, no one had longer hair than former major league catcher Dave Duncan, now the pitching coach for the St. Louis Cardinals. Based on how he looks today, with short hair and a clean shave every day, you might not have recognized the wild-looking Duncan during the latter stages of a journeyman career that saw him play for the Oakland Aís, Cleveland Indians, and Baltimore Orioles from 1964 to 1976. In his formative years with Oakland, Duncan still featured a close-cropped hairdo, as did most players of the 1960s. (There were two primary reasons for the short-hair preference of that era. Most teams had unwritten policies that outlawed the wearing of long hair, along with mustaches and beards. Also, a number of players served in the military reserves during the Vietnam War, necessitating that they maintain their hair in the brush-cut look.) That all started to change in 1972, when Reggie Jackson showed up to spring training with a fully-grown mustache, eventually prompting owner Charlie Finley to offer $300 bonuses to each Aís player who followed suit. Duncan complied with the ownerís “request” and then pushed the trend two steps further by growing a beard and letting his blond hair grow out. By the end of the í72 season, Duncan sported both a full beard and lengthening hair that stretched beyond the collar of his neck, making him look like an extra during the filming of Deliverance.

The following spring, the Aís traded Duncan, not because of his new mountain man appearance, but because of a salary dispute that saw the catcher engage in a spring training holdout while asking the penurious Finley for more money. The spring training trade landed Duncan in Cleveland, allowing him to bring the long-hair look to the Midwest. Duncan shaved off his blonde mustache and beard but continued to let his hair lengthen, well beyond the lower reaches of his helmet and cap, to the point that his tresses draped onto his shoulders. Whenever Duncan ran, his long mane of hair flapped as if stirred by a stiff breeze, creating a memorable impression for those who had become used to major league players who looked more like soldiers than flower children.

Sometimes derided with catcalls of “Goldilocks” and “Prince Valiant,” Duncan drew raised eyebrows from many in the baseball establishment. Some critics used Duncanís unusual hair style as an excuse for questioning his smarts and hustle, portraying him like a caricature of Cheech and Chong proportions. Yet, those close to Duncan realized that such characterizations were all stereotype and little truth. “With that long hair, he looked kind of goofy as a player,” said former slick-fielding shortstop Eddie Brinkman, who coached with Duncan during a stint with the Chicago White Sox. “But once you get to know him, you realize heís one of the kindest, smartest men youíll ever meet.” Few would question Duncanís baseball intelligence, given his success as a pitching guru with the Cleveland Indians, Seattle Mariners, White Sox, Aís, and Cardinals. Heís sometimes criticized for being too blunt with young pitchers, but his triumphs with veteran hurlers and the overall success of his pitching staffs remain his hallmark.

Most of Duncanís baseball cards donít do his “Mod Squad” head of hair full justice, but his 1975 Topps card (No. 238 in the set) probably offers the most emblematic view of his blond bombshell appearance. Duncan is also featured in an intriguing 1977 Topps card (No. 338) wearing the air-brushed colors of those awful White Sox throwback uniforms, yet he never actually played for Chicago, instead drawing his release just before the start of the 1977 season and prompting him to call it quits. By the time of Duncanís retirement, a number of other players had also “let down their hair,” as baseballís conservative approach toward grooming quickly crumbled and gave way to a more liberal hygiene. And perhaps weíre headed toward that same trend again, at a time when almost every fashion statement is allowed on the field, from goatees to earrings to tattoos. Yes, let the hair flow freely.

All-Hair All The Time

ESPN presented its own All-Hair Team, so why canít I? Letís give it a try, position-by-position:

Catcher: Dave Duncan (backed up by Ted “Simba” Simmons and curly-haired Rick Sweet)

First Base: Don Mattingly (long hair prompted a fine and a benching)

Second Base: Pete Rose (enough said there)

Shortstop: Teddy Martinez (a full but well-manicured beard)

Third Base: Buddy Bell (flowing blond locks)

Left Field: Craig Wilson (a Duncan-Bell look-alike)

Center Field: Johnny Damon (backed up by Jose Cardenal and his mini-Gamble afro)

Right Field: Reggie Jackson (first mustache since Wally Schang in 1914)

Backup Outfielder: Tarzan Joe Wallis (Mountain Man III, pre-Damon, post-Duncan)

Designated Hitter: Oscar Gamble (the largest afro this side of Darnell Hillman)

Starting Pitcher: Randy Johnson (mullet madness)

Starting Pitcher: Don Sutton (as Skip Caray once said, hair like cotton candy)

Starting Pitcher: Ross Grimsley (afro aside, he allegedly didnít wash his hair or bathe regularly)

Starting Pitcher: Mudcat Grant (somehow made mutton chops look good)

LH Reliever: Stan Wall (hair almost as long as Duncanís)

LH Reliever: Al Hrabosky (king of the Fu Manchus)

RH Reliever: Rod Beck (his long, ragged hair epitomized the wild and wooly look)

RH Reliever: Rollie Fingers (from handlebar mustache to Hair Club For Men)

Major League Morsels

The Kenny Lofton Era has started poorly in the Bronx, so much so that the Yankees are already shopping their free agent acquisition, who has already made a visit to the disabled list with a strained quad (the most fashionable injury of the last 15 years). A combination of factors have pushed Lofton to the trade block, in particular the play of backup outfielder Bubba Crosby (who deserves a spot on the 25-man roster), Loftonís chronic complaints about his roles with the team, and Joe Torreís unwillingness to remove Bernie Williams from center field on a fulltime basis. Two contending teams may be interested in Lofton: the Phillies, who are unhappy with the development of center fielder Marlon Byrd as a leadoff man, and the White Sox, who also need help in center field and at the tablesetting spots in the batting order

Aces

The Angels swept the A’s over the weekend, so Oakland has something in common with the Bronx Bummers. There are several articles in the New York papers this morning delineating the Yankees’ recent struggles. Things of course could get worse, what with Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito scheduled to pitch for the A’s this week.

I’m not going to be able to post tomorrow morning so make sure to read Cliff Corcoran, or any of the other fine Yankee-based sites listed on the right. For the Oakland perspective, make sure to check out Baysball, Athletics Nation, and our old friends over at Elephants in Oakland.

No Bull

Baseball culture is rich with sayings and phrases. Paul Dickson even wrote a baseball dictionary to document it all. Do you have a favorite baseball word or expression? I do. For me, there is no single word that is more flexible or evocative (or fun to say) than “horseshit.” I don’t know when baseball men started using it, but when you say the word, you can fantasize that you are connected with baseball history, from John McGraw, Sal Maglie, Gorman Thomas, and Nuke LaLoosh, to a craggy old bird-dog spitting tabacco into a cup in Florida.

In his excellent book about the world of baseball scouting, “Dollar Sign on the Muscle,” Kevin Kerrane gives us the following description:

Any baseball talent, body, body-part, effort, action, player, team, city, or scouting assignment can be horseshit. The term vovers everything but the world of words

And Anutha Thing

A few final thoughts on the Yanks-Sox series…

–I neglected to mention it this morning, but for the first time in a long while, I didn’t wear any gear to the game on Saturday. I usually have a Yankee cap, and sometimes I wear a Yankee t-shirt as well. But I lost my Yankee hat over the winter and haven’t yet replaced it. I have to admit it was interesting to be at the game sans team colors. When I looked at a Red Sox fan, they didn’t know how to look at me. Was I a friend? Same goes for the Yankee fans, although I think they assumed I was a foe if I wasn’t wearing any Yankee clothing.

–I wanted to call this morning’s post, “The Out of Towners,” because for the most part, that is who attends Yankee games.

–Watching Manny Ramirez and Javier Vasquez face off yesterday made for great baseball. Vasquez got ahead of Ramirez in the first with fastballs, and struck him out on a curve ball. The next time up, Ramirez was down 0-2. This time however, Vasquez’s curve hung in the zone; Manny paused, then pounced, knocking the bejesus out of the ball. In his third at bat, Vasquez showed no signs of backing down, and got ahead of Ramirez, throwing fastballs by him again. Vasquez had two strikes on Ramirez, but Manny knocked a flat (though not terrible) change up into center for a single. Watching Ramirez is like watching a hitting clinic. Vasquez was impressive too. He’s been a bright spot for the Yankees so far this year.

–For all of the pumped-up histrionics, there was some genuine moments of electricity at the stadium on Saturday as well. The crowd buzzed when Alex Rodriguez first appeared on the field during warm-ups. Also, you could hear a pin drop as the National Anthem played. When it ended, the crowd was united for the first and only time all day, letting out a huge ovation. The surge of unity felt surreal.

Late in the game, you could feel the tension in the stands as well. The game was tied, and the crowd was busy making lots of noise right until the instant that the pitcher went into his motion. Then, for a brief moment, everything was suspended, and still. Ah, if you could bottle that in time.

–My friend Johnny Red Sox spotted a middle-aged Yankee fan wearing a “Serpico, #8″ pinstriped jersey. Sign that man up.

–I’m not deeply concerned about the Yankees offense. Frustrated is more like it. Although he’s more likley to have a productive year, Jeter’s slump is more troubling than Bernie Williams’ simply because Bernie never hits well in April. (Okay, he did last year, and look what happened there.) It’s been strange to see Jeter so out-of-synch.

–I’m going to the Yankee-Oakland game on Wednesday and I look forward to washing away the memory of Saturday’s ugliness. Things could be fugly on the field though, as Jose Contreras will pitch against Mark Mulder. Talk about a contrast in styles, not to mention results. Oy.

–The Yankees need somebody to go Paulie O Postal on a water-cooler. Hell, even if it doesn’t help them hit, it’d make me feel better.

Curtains: Red Sox take Act One

The Red Sox capped off the first leg of their reunion tour versus the Yankees by beating New York 3-2 on Saturday and 2-0 on Sunday, for a clean-sweep of the three-game series in the Bronx. Where’s ya Moses now? indeed. According to the YES network, Boston has taken six of their first seven games against the Bronx Bombers since 1913. They did it in convincing fashion, with superior pitching (their bullpen allowed one hit in nine innings of work), brisk defense and timely hitting (see: Manny Ramirez).

I went to the game Saturday afternoon. Although I live in the Bronx, there isn’t a clear-cut, direct route to get to the stadium from my house, so I end up taking three subway trains to get there (in all, the trip is no longer than 40 minutes). When I got to the 145th street station to catch the D train, there were smatterings of Yankee fans grouped on the platform. All of them looked like they were from out-of-town, mostly from the suburbs. Plenty of them were drinking already. The ugliness starts early.

When the D train pulled up, it was packed with more baseball fans, Yankee and Red Sox rooters alike, who all looked like they were from out of town too. Stepping onto the train was a treat. The car was alive with conversation. You could practically feel the anticipation. Instead of engaging in the banter like I usually do, I just sat back and let it wash over me. I wished that every fanbase could experience something similiar.

Of course, exiting the train and subsequently trying to navigate exiting the train station, let alone the streets, is an endeavor for suburbanities. You can feel the rush of adreneline, of xenophobic tension, as they made their way to the Bronx street above.

It was a fine day in New York. The sun was out, yet the air was still crisp and cool. As I made my way to meet my companion, I saw a Spanish teenager walking along with what I guessed was his brother, a skinny kid on cruches. The little guy couldn’t have been more than eleven years old. He had a big cast on his right foot, and he was moving along as quickly as he could.

As I passed them, I said, “Now, here is a real baseball fan. Coming out the game on crutches and everything. You are the real deal, kid. That’s beautiful.” The older kid nodded at me. I continued, “That’s a beautiful thing, and worth the trip because the Yankees are going to win.” With that, I moved passed them, when I heard the young kid say, “Are you sure? Are you sure?”

I turned around and looked at him in the face for the first time. He had a great head of black hair, and big brown eyes. You should have seen this boy’s face; it was all lit up. “Are you sure? Are you sure?” Of course, I wasn’t sure, but looked at him and said, “Of course, I’m sure. 7-2, final. You wait and see. The Yanks’ll win.”

My friend Johnny Red Sox and I sat in the lower part of the upper deck in the right field. We got to our seats by a quarter past noon, so we had plenty of time to watch the Yankee players warm up. I’m not sure what happened to Eddie Layton, the long-time organist at Yankee Stadium, but he has been replaced by a guy named Ed Alstrom. We watched Kevin Brown run sprints, and then start his soft toss catch in the outfield as Alstrom played “Pretty Baby,” then vamped into “You Shook Me All Night Long,” before finishing with “Hot, Hot, Hot.”

Like always, there were plenty of Sox fans at the game, especially in the upper deck. We saw a sweet young girl on crutches who must have been 13 or 14 wearing a Red Sox jersey, and bravely hopping down the steps to her seat with her friend and her father. Hadn’t I promised that the Yankees would win to the first kid on crutches I saw? Well, what about this girl?

As luck would have it, we were in the sun all afternoon. The game was far more entertaining than Friday night’s drubbing, but ultimately, it was a long, frustrating day for the Yankees and their fans. The Red Sox scored two early runs off of Kevin Brown, who despite not having his best stuff, pitched reasonably well. B. Arroyo was even better for the Sox, allowing just one hit

Beat Down in the Boogie Down: Red Sox 11, Yanks 2

Call it what you want: throttled, bashed, mashed, scorched, whipped, spanked, humiliated, smacked down, whatever. I prefer to look at it like Popeye the sailor: “It was embarraskin.” (Errors by Bubba Crosby and Gary Sheffield were the icing on the gravy.) The bottom line is that the Red Sox beat the Yankees about the mouth and face at the Stadium last night. After a much-improved “looking” first inning, Jose Contreras quickly returned to his tentative ways against Boston. They stole bases at will

White Sox 4, Yankees 3

Drat

The Yankees lost a game they should have, could have won last night. However, they still return home to the Bronx having won their first series of the year. Mike Mussina was touched for three first-inning runs (again), but he pitched well after than. I was thinking, “Here we go again,” during the first, but Mussina improved as the game moved along. He did hang a breaking ball to Joe Crede, who popped a solo homer in the sixth, but overall, Mussina looked good enough by the end of the night for Yankee fans to let out a sigh of relief. As YES analyst Jim Kaat noted, by the eighth inning Mussina was “throwing his pitches with more conviction.” His breaking balls were sharp, though his fastball was still only clocked in the high-eighties.

The Yankee offense sputtered again. After scoring a couple in the third, Alex Rodriguez was robbed of a game-tying RBI single by Timo Perez in center field. Gary Sheffield ended the eighth by grounding into a double play, and Travis Lee ended the game by doing the same. The most frustrating part of Lee’s double play was that he hit the ball slowly enough to allow the tying run to score from third. He simply couldn’t truckulate his wide-load down to first in time and was thrown out by a step.

The top half of the Yankee line up didn’t do anything; the bottom-half kept them in the game. Tony Clark started at first base and drew three walks, as Jason Giambi was given the night off. Jorge Posada collected a couple of hits, and Miguel Cairo looked decent as well. (When Cairo used to play for the Devil Rays, I called him the Bizzaro Jeter, because he looked like an fugly, compressed version of the Yanke shortstop. Now, I think he looks like a combination of Jeter and Oliver Stone.) Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter continue to struggle. Williams looks especially lost at the plate.

The Yanks face the Red Sox in the Boogie Down tonight. Jose Contreras goes against Derek Lowe. Yankee pitching coach Mel Stotlemyre feels good about the work Contreras has put in since he was bombed in Beantown last weekend. According to the New York Times:

“He’s changed a couple of things,” Stottlemyre said. “I’m not going to tell you what they are, but you’ll probably see them. We’re trying to eliminate some things. We’re trying to eliminate their getting pitches, which we think they’ve done before. He feels really good right now about himself.”

…”I finally got something back from him,” Stottlemyre said. “Rather than just hearing me talk, I got some conversation back. He and I both are on the same page now, and that’s very important.

“I told him it’s very important I get some feedback on and off, during the start and between the starts. So I’ve got high hopes.”

I expect that Contreras will be better tonight (how could he be worse?), but I also think that Lowe will be much improved as well. The Blue Jays finally won a game at home, beating the Sox last night. I’m going to tomorrow afternoon’s game at the stadium (my first game of the season). Hopefully, the Yanks can win two of three. I’m as curious as the next guy to see how Rodriguez and Sheffield will perform.

Yankees 3, White Sox 1

Luckiest Man in the Bronx

Two nights ago my girlfriend Emily started clapping when she got home and I told her the Yankee game was about to begin. I think she even surprised herself with how much she was looking forward to watching the game. Em never followed baseball until we started going out a little over two years ago. Now that we live together, it’s become a welcome part of her life. We watch a lot of games together. Em dubbed herself “the Big O,” the big optimist, last week. She helps balance my most base, defeatist tendencies.

I never intended to subject Emily to watching baseball on a regular basis. I’ve always kept sports and relationships with women apart like the seperation of Church and State. But believe me, it has been a real treat that she not only tolerates my fanaticism, but actually appreciates the game on her own. I remember telling Will Carroll about this last year and he sent me an e-mail that read: “Marry her.”

Last night, after Emily’s favorite player Jorge Posada whiffed to end the fourth inning, Em says to me in a soft voice, “I love baseball.” I turned down the volume on the commercials and asked her why. She said, “I like it because I enjoy seeing how much you get into it. I like that it brings you so much joy. I also like it because it’s food for conversation and learning for me.”

Emily often asks questions, and naturally, I love to give her answers if I can.
She calls me Rainman because I know that Joe Dimaggio struck out 13 times in 1941 as well as I remember my mother’s birthday. However, Emily takes special pleasure in stumping me with trivia (which, truth be told, I’m not so great with). Regardless, baseball initiates conversation, which often leads to things that have nothing to do with the game at all.

She continued, “I also like it because I can get up and dick around and when I come back the game is still on. It’s not like a movie where I have to pee and get everything together before the commercial is over. If something good happens I hear you yell and then I come running and watch the replay. I think they made the replay for people like me. It’s like they knew I wasn’t there the first time, so they can show it again.”

Em and I watched the Yankees beat the White Sox 3-1 last night. It was a lean, efficient affair, a welcome change from Tuesday’s rain-soaked barner-burner. Jon Garland and Javier Vasquez both pitched very well. Vasquez, whose uniform is tight and form-fitting–unlike the rumpled, baggy look that Derek Lowe or Mike Mussina sport–didn’t have his best stuff early, but he worked out of trouble. He’s quickly becoming my favorite Yankee pitcher. He is all business on the mound, and pitches with confidence and purpose. The only mistake he made all night was a curveball he hung to Carlos Lee. Lee popped it over the left field wall for a homer and gave Chicago a 1-0 lead.

Garland was almost as good. But Alex Rodriguez lined a homer to right field in the sixth to tie the game, and Jorge Posada murdalized a pretty-good breaking ball for a two-run bomb in the seventh. Vasquez pitched eight innings and retired the last ten men he faced. Mariano Rivera got the save.

Rodriguez’s homer was memorable because he didn’t know where the ball went. On an 0-2 pitch, he put a good swing on an outside fastball. The ball scooted over the right-field wall, on a low-line, in a hurry. But Rodriguez didn’t pick the ball up. He looked up, then around, clearly having lost the ball. Surprise, big fella, you just tied the game. Rodriguez’s second homer of the season came on a similiar pitch that he hit his first homer on.

In his next at bat, against reliever Cliff Politte, Rodriguez had a beautiful swing on a 2-0 fastball that was out, over the plate. It was one of those swings that make you say, “oooohhh, man, he just missed it.” Looking for an inside pitch, Politte came back with the same exact pitch for a called strike. Then Rodriguez swung over an inside fastball to end the inning. Rodriguez was visibly upset, an encouraging sign. It didn’t look like he was frustrated, just pissed that he missed a couple of good pitches. He appears close to regaining his form.

Gary Sheffield had two singles, but along with a Javier Vasquez, Jorge Posada was the story of the night. Bubba Crosby started for Bernie Williams in center, lead off the game with a bunt-single, and was robbed of another hit by Magglio Ordonez in the ninth. Travis Lee played first, while Jason Giambi DH’d.

The Red Sox beat the slumping Blue Jays for the second-straight night.

Yanks 11, White Sox 8

A Rod Bunts! Garbo Smiles! News at Eleven

Ah, just what the doctor ordered. It wasn’t easy, or especially pretty, but it was a win. The Yankee offense broke out for seven runs in the top of the first, and they survived the big league debut’s of Alex Graman and Scott Proctor to beat the White Sox, 11-8 on a rainy night in Chicago. The big first inning featured just the kind of breaks the Yankees have been looking for: Derek Jeter hustled out an infield hit, Alex Rodriguez bunted for a base hit, Jorge Posada snuck a two-run single through the right side, Ruben Sierra scored when Sandy Alomar couldn’t handle a throw home. It was the shortest stint of Mark Buehrle’s career. In fairness, he didn’t pitch terribly, he simply didn’t have any luck.

Alex Graman, a broad-shouldered southpaw had plenty to work with. He even struck out the first batter he faced. But that was about as good as it got (though he escaped the first inning via the double play after allowing a run). Graman looks like a young Fred Gwynne (circa “On the Waterfront”). His eyes looked as if they were going to pop out of his head, and I don’t know if he closed his mouth once.

The score was 8-3 at the end of the second inning, when the game was delayed for almost an hour due to the rain. Graman returned when the game resumed but didn’t last long. I turned the game off with the score 8-5, on the count of I didn’t have the umph in me to watch the rest of this kind of high-scoring game on a school night.

Alex Rodriguez ended the night with three hits, as did Jorge Posada, who hit his team-leading 6th homer of the season. Jason Giambi had two hits. Hideki Matsui smacked his chin pretty good chasing a fly ball, but seems as if he’s OK.

I Amuse You?

In his latest column, Peter Gammons has this to say about Boston fans:

The inferiority obsession of a small group of Red Sox “fans” when it comes to the Yankees hit a new low this weekend when several saw Jeter and A-Rod eating at The Capital Grille on Newbury Street and hurled vocal and demonstrative obscenities at the pair…The current ownership’s attention to security kept problems in the park at a minimum, and the chants of “you used steroids” with every Jason Giambi at-bat were amusing.

Why were the chants amusing to Gammons if he was offended by what Jeter and Rodriguez experienced? Because they happened at the ballpark? Unless of course, Gammons is saying that Giambi did use performance-enhancing drugs and therefore deserved to be knocked. His very next bullet point reads:

However, while one can debate the rights and wrongs of using supplements that were legal — from andro to human growth hormones — there are too many rumors that at least one of the players on the BALCO list did not tell the truth to the grand jury to think this is just going to fade away.

It sounds to me like Gammons is insinuating that Giambi was indeed a steroid-user–if not a liar–without flat-out saying it. What gives?

Red Sox 5, Yanks 4

Sox it to me?

Finally, there was a good game to be had in Boston between the Sox and Yanks. But New York could not hold a 4-1 lead, and defensive mistakes by Alex Rodriguez and Hideki Matsui helped give the Sox the victory.

Rodriguez continues to struggle, though he did line a solid single to left—his first hit of the series–in his final at bat. John Harper has a sympathetic look at the slugger’s early-season slump in the News today. In all, it was a weekend to forget for the Yankees and their fans. But the resident Yankee-crank at the New York Times, George Vecsey reminds us why yesterday was a great day if you root for the Red Sox. Gee, thanks professor.

The Yanks move to Chicago tonight for a three-game series versus the White Sox before returning home to face Boston this weekend. Lefty-handed rookie pitcher, Alex Graman makes his big league debut tonight for the Yanks. This would be a good time for the Yankee offense to lend a helping hand, huh?

Baseball for Breakfast

The Yanks and Sox cap their first meeting of the year later this morning at the Fens. Kevin Brown goes against Bronson Arroyo. If anyone out there is lucky to enough to be home watching the game, feel free to leave observations and updates in the “comments” section below. Thanks.

Yankees 7, Red Sox 3

The Yankees finally got the big inning they’ve been looking for and it was enough to help them earn a win in Boston. New York scored six runs in the top of the third. It was encouraging to see that four of their six hits in the inning went to the opposite field (Giambi, Matsui, Posada, Williams). In the bottom of the third, the Yankees found themselves on the lucky side of two close calls, and they wriggled out of a jam. Manny Ramirez was called out on a bang-bang play at the plate, and then Jason Varitek was robbed of an extra-base hit by Travis Lee–who was making his first start as a Yankee. Lee flipped the ball to Paul Quantrill, and it looked as if the pitcher caught the ball off the bag.

But the Yanks got the call, and their bullpen shut Boston down for the rest of the afternoon. Derek Jeter had two hits and Gary Sheffield added two doubles. Alex Rodriguez went 0-4 and left seven men on base. Rodriguez is 0-12 in the series, although he did walk twice yesterday (in his third at-bat, Rodriguez hit the ball well, but right at Johnny Damon).

Neither starting pitcher looked good. And they didn’t pitch well either. Derek Lowe was roughed up, but Jose Contreras couldn’t make it out of the third inning either. Jack Curry, Joel Sherman and Mike Lupica all weigh in on the Yankee pitcher this morning.

You be Illin’

Kenny Lofton is headed to the 15-day DL with a sore quad, and Jorge DePaula could be lost for the season with an elbow injury. I’ll be eager to see what Will Carroll has to say about the latest Yankee injuries.

Red Sox 5, Yankees 2

I was at my mom’s house in Weschester county yesterday afternoon to celebrate her big birthday. I made it a point not to check the score until after 3:30. (I actually wanted to enjoy the party, and no matter who was winning, if I looked at the game, I would be distracted.) When I did peep in, the Sox were leading 4-1 in the seventh. A bit later I caught the end of the ninth. Curt Schilling pitched well, and the Yanks put forth another uninspired performance.

The Sox must be licking their chops today, with Jose Contreras taking the mound for New York. Contreras has electric stuff, but he is an erratic pitcher, and it’s hard to know what to expect from him on any given outing. The Sox handled him just fine last year. Derek Lowe goes for Boston.

The Yankee offense is going to have to wake up sometime soon. Maybe it’ll be today.

Red Sox 6, Yanks 2

Friday Night at the Fights

The Fenway Faithful had been waiting all winter to let out some much-needed steam in the general direction of the New York Yankees, and last night, in the first meeting of the year between Boston and New York, they had their chance. The Yankees continued to play sloppy baseball, trailed from the first inning on, and never really made it a game, falling to the Sox by the score of 6-2. Tim Wakefield’s knuckler was operating in fine form, as he shut down the Yankee offense, while Javier Vasquez wasn’t particularly sharp at all.

Things started off poorly for the Yanks and stayed that way for the duration of the game. In the first, Jason Giambi muffed an easy ground ball off of the bat of Johnny Damon to start the game. Next, Bill Mueller lined a high fastball into the right field seats to give Boston a 2-0 lead. Vasquez came back to strike out the Cookie Monster, David Ortiz, and for Yankee fans used to the struggles of Jeff Weaver, it was a relief to see that Vasquez hadn’t lost his composure. He pitched Ortiz aggresively, and blew the fastball by him for the third strike. He blazed a fastball past Manny Ramirez for a first-pitch strike too. But on the 0-2 pitch, Ramirez sliced a ball into the short right field corner. The ball bounced off of the top of the wall, but the umpire called it a home run.

And that’s just the way things have been going for New York. What should have been a triple became a homer. Manny smiles! and the Sox lead, 3-0. Kevin Millar followed and blasted a single off of the Green Monster. It was the hardest hit ball of the inning; a true Fenway Park single. Vasquez couldn’t get his pitches down, and the Sox were making him pay. He threw two good splitters past the next hitter, Ellis Burks, and then Burks slapped one to the left side.

Derek Jeter moved to his right, dove and stabbed the ball. He rolled over onto his right knee (his left leg extended) and fired the ball side-arm to second base. Ha! Take that Jeter-haters of the world. A nifty play from the World’s Worst Shortstop. But Vasquez walked Mark Bellhorn, and then Doug Mirabelli tapped an easy grounder to short, but Ho! it bounced off of Jeter’s glove, and through his legs. Burks scored Boston’s fourth run and the Jeter-haters were rolling, “Right back at you!”

Once again, the Yankee offense had their opportunities. With runners on first (Alex Rodriguez) and second (Jason Giambi) and one out in the sixth, Gary Sheffield was ahead in the count, 3-1. Joe Torre put the hit-and-run on and after Sheffield took strike two, Rodriguez was thrown out at third. The announcers assumed that Rodriguez was stealing on his own–a big no-no in that situation–but after the game, Joe Torre said that he had put a play on. Down 5-2, Tim Wakefield threw a magic knuckler on the next pitch to strike Sheffield out looking.

In the next inning, the Yankees had two runners on again, and just one out. But pinch-hitter Tony Clark struck out and Kenny Lofton grounded out to first. And in the eighth, with two out, Manny Ramirez muffed an easy pop-up. Jason Giambi, who hit what looked like a routine out, was so discouraged that he didn’t run hard at all. He sulked with his head down. Instead of winding up on second, he was on first. It was truly a horrible play on Ramirez’s part, and an awful one on Giambi’s part as well. The next two batters walked, and the Yankees, down 6-2, brought the tying run to the plate.

Alan Embree came in to face Hideki Matsui and struck him out on three pitches. And so it goes. I don’t think there is anything to be alarmed about. If the Yankees keep putting men on base, eventually, they will start knocking them in.

Alex Rodriguez played poorly and the Fenway Faithful were all over him. The crowd chanted “Bal-Co” and “Ster-iods” at Giambi and Sheffield each time they came to bat. Every time the Sox squashed a Yankee rally, the crowd erupted. It wasn’t so much joy that was coming from them, but the “In-Your-Face: USA, USA,” Homer Simpson brand of adreneline.

As I mentioned, they are entitled. After another long, uncomfortable winter, this was just the kind of game to help Red Sox fans feel a little bit better about themselves. Not all of the crowd was acting like this was a playoff game. There are plenty–nay, a majority?–of Sox fans who are way too cautious to go in for that kind of celebrating. After Ramirez’s error, when the Yankees loaded the bases, you could feel the crowd bracing themselves for the worst.

I didn’t find the game upsetting. (What was upsetting was the pathetic “kids-friendly” computer graphic that Fox showed off.) Frankly, it’s always easy for me to rationalize early-season losses to Boston. I almost invite them. Let Red Sox fans be happy now. Let them kick the Yankees around and feel good about themselves in April, May, June, and July. Come August, things will start to change. Happens every year, like the seasons.

Now, I’m not saying it’s going to happen like this every year forever, but so far, that’s what happens. The happier Sox fans are now, the more miserable they will be later. I’m just going on what I know. Last night a good time was had by (almost) all at the Fens, but remember the saying about those who laugh first.

I don’t mean to be downer here, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of the same from the Yankees today. I expect Schilling to be terrific this afternoon. Hopefully, Mussina can build on his last start, and continue to regain his form.

Don’t Believe the Hype (It’s a Sequel)

There are plenty of articles in the New York and Boston papers today about the white-hot rivalry between the Yankees and the Red Sox. Quite frankly, none of it is either new nor terribly interesting. I have to admit that I haven’t been eagerly anticipating watching these two teams play again either; it brings out the worst in me. My stomach starts to turn, my fists clench, I begin to yell, and soon, I want to start throwing things. Everything goes out of whack, and the feelings of pleasure and dispair are heightened all out of proportion. I feel like David Banner, a mild-mannered baseball fan going about my own business; then I see the Yanks vs. Sox I want to say, “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

Hell, I don’t like me when I’m angry. Not this early in the season at any rate. I’m still hung-over from last year’s ALCS, and all the mishigoss that went on this winter. This feels like waking up with a hangover and cracking a beer to start the day. But I’m just moaning here. I’m exaggerating of course; no matter what happens, it still is early. However, shortly after eight tonight, I’ll be as excited as anyone and ready to see what unfolds. Of course, I can’t wait to see how Rodriguez does, but if Boston fans are looking for a Yankee that personifies the image of the Evil Empire, I think Gary Sheffield is their man. We are having a 60th birthday party for my mom tomorrow, so I will miss the majority of the game, but I assume Schilling will be great.

The funny thing is, as ennervating as it may be for sensitive fans like me to watch, I suspect that this series will bring out the best in both teams. Sox fans will be in a sour mood after Pedro Martinez was roughed up yesterday in a 12-7, extra-inning loss to the Orioles. Fortunately, as a collective, they are not shy about expressing their hostility. Hey Rodriguez: Welcome to the Terrordome. (Y’all come back now, ya hear?)

For a comprehensive take on the series, check out the Red Sox and Yankee blogs listed under the “Local Color” links to the right.

Too Good to be True?

Newsday is reporting that the Yankees are considering moving Kenny Lofton as a way to resolve their roster once Travis Lee returns to the team. Man, it would be great if they could get rid of him and have Bubba Crosby back up Bernie instead. But I don’t want to get too excited; it sounds too good to be true.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver