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.