"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: July 2004

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Yankees 6, Devil Rays 3

Welcome Back

It was Old Timer’s Day at Yankee Stadium yesterday, which is equal parts fun, nostalgic, sanctimonious and pathetic. Luis Sojo ended the game with a home run to left field off of Ron Guidry. Sojo styled his way around the bases like Reggie Jackson and everyone had a good laugh.

The Yankees were down 2-0 in the regular game when the slumping Alex Rodriguez tied the score with a monstrous blast that landed in the left field upper deck. Good grrruh, it a man-sized homer and Rodriguez knew it immediately. It must give a hitter the kind of feeling that Popeye felt when a spinach-fix hit him in the biceps. Good Lord. When Rodriguez got to home plate he let out an “Oh yeah!” rebel yell as he high-fived Jason Giambi.

The old Cardinals teams of the sixties were famous for keeping each other in line. If a rookie had a terrific day and started talking with his chest puffed out to reporters or teammates after the game, Bob Gibson or Dick Groat or Curt Flood would sharply remind them to keep it in perspective. What’s the old saying? Don’t get too high when you win or too low when you lose, right?

In his own way, Derek Jeter did something similar to Rodriguez yesterday. Just making sure A Rod’s head didn’t start to swell. Shortly after he hit the blast, Jeter strutted along the Yankee dugout mocking Rodriguez’s celebration at home plate. He finished his comedy routine by sitting next to a smiling Rodriguez. This is a role that Tim Raines once played for the Yankees. How many guys could get away with busting Rodriguez’s chops like that? (Rodriguez grounded into a double play and struck out in his last two at bats.)

The score remained tied at two until the seventh when, you guessed it, Derek Jeter broke the game open with a two-out double which scored three runs. (Jeter would advance to third and then score on an error.) Although Tom Gordon gave up a run in the eighth, Mariano Rivera worked a scoreless ninth for the Yankees’ third straight win. Jon Lieber pitched effectively again, scattering hits, throwing strikes and working out of trouble. The Bombers lead over Boston holds steady at six games after the Red Sox won their fifth straight yesterday.

Mike Mussina was scheduled to start this afternoon, but has been scratched due to a sore elbow. This makes way for the return of one of my favorite all-time Yankee pitchers, El Duque. Orlando Hernandez has been rehabbing with the Columbus Clippers of late. I have no idea if he’ll have anything today, but it sure will be fun to see the Yankees’ International Man of Mystery back in the pinstripes.

Yanks 5, Devil Rays 4

I spent yesterday afternoon into the evening in some far off place called Bergenfield, New Jersey, chilling with my old friend Steinski listening to records. In truth, Bergenfield is just about ten minutes away from the George Washington Bridge. Stein moved out there just about a year ago. He took me to a pond near his place that was littered with duck dung and, well, ducks. The place could have been called Shoe Polish Pond as the water was as black as the night.

Now, I was chased by a white swan one time when I was a kid, so I’ve never really been down with the duck posse. But Steven wasn’t ascared and we walked right through a school of them to a park bench. Some of the real schnorrer’s in the group came pretty close to us looking for food, looking at us all sideways, jerking their dopey necks around. That made me type skittish, but I held it together.

When Stien’s wife came home they took me to a barbeque joint in Hackensack called Cubby’s. The outside of the place looks similar to a Sizzler’s, and Cubby apparently is a cartoon pig who loves his barbeque. I had a b-bque chicken sammich and let me tell you, it was outstanding. Nothing like pigging out in Hackensack.

Afterwards, Stein was kind enough to drive me back home to the Bronx. All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I walked into the apartment and the Yankees were leading Tampa Bay 4-3 in the seventh inning. Emily informed me that it had been a good game. That Javey had another tough outing, walking the bases loaded, and committing a balk, something she had never seen before. But Quantrill saved the day, got out of the bases loaded jam and the Yanks had the lead.

I caught the last two-and-a-half innings. Just in time to see Sweet Lou throw a tantrum and get himself run from the game. He didn’t kick or throw or bite, but he was plenty pissed, which is always good for a laugh. Tom Gordon was great in the eighth and the Yanks tacked on a run in the bottom of the inning. However, Mariano Rivera had a rare off-night, and his pitches were up. He allowed a lead-off double to Julio Lugo who would eventually score on Tino Martinez’s pinch-hit, RBI single. With the score now 5-4, Rivera loaded the bases. Two outs, and Rocco B at the plate. Rivera goes to a full count before getting Rocco to pop up to Tony Clark in foul territory to end the game.

Whhheeeww. The Yankees remain six ahead of Boston who shut-out Texas at Fenway Park last night. Today gives Old-Timer’s Day in the Bronx. The geezers play at 2:00 and the regular game starts at 4:00. Em and I are headed down to Chinatown to eat and shop. She’s running full-steam ahead with operation Feng Shui, so we need to get chimes and colored paper and a whole host of nonsense. I’m easy, so I’m just playing the old “Yes, dear,” card, and everything is rosey. Hey, whatever floats your boat, right? A small trade-off for a woman who watches baseball with me (not to mention by herself).

Yankees 7, Devil Rays 1

Good thing I’m not a betting man, huh? Well, I should have known. How does Jose Contreras follow an awful performance? With a good one, of course. While nobody in his or her right mind will believe that the soporific Cuban has finally worked out the kinks in his game, or that he’s the answer to the Yankees’ pitching problems, Contreras had his forkball and fastball working for him last night, and encountered only one difficult inning, in the fourth. But he came back brilliantly in the fifth and sixth. He left with two men on and two out in the seventh, thanks in part to an error by Alex Rodriguez. Paul Quantrill got the Bombers out of the inning, and Mariano Rivera got a five-out save.

On the other side, Victor Zambrano was his usual wild self. Zambrano stands with his legs wide apart when he’s in the set position; he looks like a wishbone ready to be snapped. The guy struggles with his control, but his pitches are incredibly nasty, and they move a lot. He walked the bases loaded in the first, and the Yankees scored a run on Jason Giambi’s sac fly to left. Derek Jeter drove in the next two runs, and Hideki Matsui drove in two more when he hit a grounds rule double with the bases loaded. Gary Sheffield yanked a slider into the left field seats in the ninth for the final two runs of the game.

In all, it was a good night for the Yankees, who remain six games ahead of Boston, who beat Oakland in extra innings at Fenway Park. After a rough time against New York and Atlanta, give the Sox credit for sweeping the A’s at home.

Slumpin’

The Yankees lead over Boston was reduced to six games last night. What are the odds that it’ll be five after tonight? Jose Contreras goes against Yankee-killer Victor Zambrano while Curt Schilling will face Rich Harden. Hmmm. Glad I’m not a betting man. (How amped is Lou Piniella to come into New York with his surging Devil Rays?) However, the Yankees have Vazquez, Lieber and Mussina lined up for the weekend. Hopefully, they can help stop the bleeding as the Yankees have lost their last two series.

After another awful performance by Yankee pitching yesterday, Newsday is reporting that both Brad Halsey and Brett Prinz will be shipped off to Columbus today. The duo will apparently be replaced by two right-handers, Juan Padilla and Sam Marsonek.

I’ve been way too upset about how the Yankees have played over the past week. I called Cub fan Alex Ciepley to complain yesterday and he essentially laughed in my face. But the Yankees have dropped five of six I moaned. “Well, the Cubs have lost for 92 years…” That shut me up right quick. What did I expect? A Yankee fan calling a Cub fan for sympathy. Doh. Cliff Corcoran, a level-headed Yankee observer, calmed me down when he e-mailed me after the game:

I’m actually pretty pleased that the [Yankees] scored those five runs in the seventh and made a game out of it. I’m also a tough-love guy. I figure they could use a run like this (and it’s just five of six) to emphasize that Sturtze and company are not a champion caliber staff. It’s good for them to lose a few. With the break coming up to wipe the slate clean, it couldn’t come at a better time.

Of course, trade rumors are flying about. Tony Massarotti of the Boston Herald writes how the Red Sox are in the thick of the so-called Randy Johnson sweepstakes, while Boston’s GM Theo Epstein denied any such doings in the Boston Globe. Meanwhile, Joel Sherman wonders if Roger Clemens could find his way back to the Bronx before all is said and done. Actually, Sherman make a strong case for southpaw reliever Eddie Guardado, a move I’ve been dreaming about for a few months now.

Finally, Hideki Matsui is the seventh Yankee to make the All-Star team. While Matsui is having a fine season, it would have been nice to see a non-Yankee fill out the AL roster, like future Hall-of-Famer Frank Thomas for one.

Tattoo Youse

The Yankes are getting whipped by the Tigers at the Stadium this afternoon. Mt. Saint George is just about ready to erupt. The Yankees’ pitching has been nothing short of horrendous of late. Fury at eleven.

Tigers 9, Yanks 1

Spanked

Everything started so well for Mike Mussina. Working on three days rest, Mussina was sharp through the first four innings last night, striking out five of the first six batters he faced. After brushing back Bobby Higgenson with a fastball, Mussina caught him looking on a beautiful curve ball. But in his second at bat, Higgenson crushed an 0-2 delivery for a two-run homer, and that was the begining of the end of Mussina and the Yanks. That Higgenson flipped his bat and hot-dogged it around the bases didn’t help my digestion any. Jason Johnson, who pitched a terrific game, allowed the Yanks to score a run before the Tigers put up five in the sixth.

There wasn’t much to remember from this one. The Yankees put some good swings on the ball but didn’t have much to show for it. Also, Bernie Williams badly misplayed a ball during the Tigers sixth inning. And Taynon Sturtze plunked Pudge Rodriguez in the ninth. Rodriguez left the game and Ugie Urbina returned the favor by throwing behind Gary Sheffield in the bottom half of the inning. Sturtze was not run from the game like Esteban Yan had been the previous night. Both teams were warned after Urbina threw at Sheffield.

The Yankees lead over the Red Sox is down to seven games. Thank you very much, Mr. Zito. There were many writers in the New York and Boston media who believed the Yankees won the AL East last week. I’m not one of them. Not only do I think the Red Sox are alive and well in the wild-card race, I don’t think it’s beyond them to win the East either. (Ed Cossette however, remains cautious…)

For more Yankee news, check out the latest work from Dan McCourt, Derek Jacques, Jay Jaffe, Cliff Corcoran, and Rich Lederer.

Yanks 10, Tigers 3

Ahhh, just what the Yankees needed: an easy, blow-out win. On a stifling hot night in the Bronx, the Yankees jumped all over the Tigers early and Jon Lieber had a good outing as they cruised 10-3. Over 52,000 saw Alex Rodriguez hit a three-run homer in the second inning. After Gary Sheffield hit a solo shot later on, Rodriguez was knocked down by Estaben Yan’s first pitch. The ball sailed over Rodriguez’s head and Yan was tossed from the contest. The Yankees did not retaliate. Bernie Williams and Ruben Sierra added solo homers of their own; Jason Giambi had two hits. The Yankees are now eight games ahead of Boston, who was idle last night.

Mets 6, Yankees 5

How Sweep It Ain’t: Happy Birthday George!

“They probably wanted it more than we did,” said Yankees reliever Tom Gordon, who allowed the game winner. “They played harder. We played good baseball. Don’t get me wrong; we played hard. But they didn’t quit. They absolutely did not quit, and they played winning baseball. That’s a good ball club over there.”

“You don’t enjoy it when you lose,” Torre said. “But I was proud, as I’m sure Artie was, with how hard the players played. That’s all you can ask. The results aren’t always going to be what you want them to be. We’ve been spoiled, because we’ve won a lot of those games where we’ve come back and come from behind. They bent a lot but they didn’t break. You really have to give them credit.” (N.Y. Times)

The Yankees needed a solid effort from Javier Vazquez yesterday and didn’t even come close to getting it. While Vazquez wasn’t as awful as Jose Contreras had been on Saturday, he was far from impressive as the Mets took it to the Yankees once again. Horrific pitching, and cockamamie base-running did the Yankees in on Sunday as the Mets swept the Yankees for the first time since Inter-league play began in 1997. In addition, the Metropolitans beat the Yankees in the season series for the first time as well.

Vazquez struggled with his control from the begining. He looked gassed, his body lanugage tense, and he ostensibly had nothing. It was painful to watch. But I was impressed that he hung in there and didn’t spit the bit completely. Felix Heredia was useless and Flash Gordon looked fatigued as well. I don’t think the Yankees will miss Richard Hidalgo much, huh?

The Yankees didn’t lie down. The offense chipped away. Bernie Williams went 4 for 5, but made a crucial mistake on the bases, limiting a Yankee rally. Jorge Posada later pulled his own numb-nuts move (that the Yankees filed a protest on the Posada play speaks to their level of frustration more than anything else). Williams’ solo home run off Jay Seo was the highlight of the day for the Yankees. Seo left a pitch up and over plate which Williams smacked high and deep to right. As soon as he hit it, Williams dropped his head and shoulders comically. It wasn’t a David Ortiz, let-me-admire-this, hot dog move. It was a “Oh, man, did I ever kill that,” reaction. At the same instant, Seo swiped at the air with his right arm, “Drat!” Head bowed, Williams paused for a moment and then went into a home run trot.

Alex Rodriguez continues to struggle offensively. He is not performing well with men on base at all. But the Yankees offense wasn’t the problem this weekend, it was pitching, pitching, and more pitching. 11 runs, 10 runs, 6 runs: ’nuff said. The only silver-lining for New York was that Derek Lowe and the Red Sox were torched in Atlanta. For the Yankees to get swept and only lose a game in the standings is a lucky break if I’ve ever seen one. Of course, it doesn’t get any easier this week, with the improved Tigers in town for three, and then the D-Rays here for four to finish out the first half. The Yankees dragged their way through the weekend; they need to stay sharp this week before they can exhale and get a break during the All-Star festivities.

Jason Giambi, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez will be starters in the All-Star game; Gary Sheffield, Flash Gordon and Mariano Rivera were elected as reserves.

Mets 10, Yanks 9

I’m ashamed to admit that a two-game losing streak to the Mets is enough to get my blood boiling. But there it is: today’s loss had me rampaging like a four-year-old. The Yankees and Mets played an exciting game with the Mets coming out on top by a single run. Tony Clark had four hits, including two homers. Jason Giambi had a pinch-hit double. But I’m more fixated on what went wrong. Jose Contreras was nothing short of putrid (I have no idea why Torre had him out there to start the sixth inning), and Alex Rodriguez was a bust offensively. I don’t even want to re-live Posada’s at-bat against John Franco in the eighth. It wasn’t an exciting game, it was garbage. And Schilling is pitching tonight for the Sox. Bah-fuggin-humbug.

Anyhow, while I cope with my anger management issues, it was a terrific win for the Metroplitans. Luckily, Javier Vazquez is going for the Bombers tomorrow, who will try to avoid being swept, and losing a season series to the Mets for the first time since Inter-league play began in 1997. However, erstwhile Yankee, Shane Spencer is thinking big:

“To sweep ‘em would be pretty sweet.”

You said it superstar. But hey, no matter how immature and furious I am, at least I can take comfort knowing that George Steinbrenner is even more immature and more furious than me. And that’s the truth: tttthhhppppt.

Mets 11, Yanks 3

“The Bambino’s kicking our ass right now, but we’re going to get that ass back,” David Ortiz, “The Cookie Monster.” (Boston Herald)

The Yankees came into Shea Stadium last night as not-ready-for-prime-time-players after their draining three-game series vs. the Red Sox. Derek Jeter was in the starting line-up though. He had a bandage on his chin and a nice shiner under his right eye and was greeted by a mix of boos and a standing ovation during his first trip to the plate. Jeter’s right eye was blinking steadily all night, but it didn’t keep him from playing. With one out in the first, he made a nice back-hand stab and with some help from Tony Clark, threw out the speedster Kaz Matsui. That was as good as it would get for the visiting Bombers. Mike Piazza followed with a ground ball that took a funny hop and skipped past Alex Rodriguez for a single. Then Hideki Matsui dropped a long fly ball by Cliff Floyd for an error; Bernie Williams followed by taking a poor route to a fly ball by Richard Hidalgo and the Mets quickly led 2-0.

With two out in the second, Miguel Cairo apparently robbed Jose Reyes of a hit to end the inning, but Reyes was called safe, the ump blew the call and Kaz Matsui followed with a three-run shot, his first of two homers on the night. That was the kind of night it was going to be. But while the Yankees were half-asleep, give credit to the Mets, who were in good form.

Steve Trachsel had a nasty splitter going and he continues to be an excellent pitcher at Shea Stadium. Richard Hidalgo added another dinger off of Mike Mussina–who is no doubt pleased that he won’t have to face Hidalgo again this season.

Just like last Friday, the Mets opened with a bang vs. the Yankees. Fortunately for the Bombers, the Red Sox lost another heartbreaker in extra innings; this time, 6-3 in Atlanta. The Bombers remain eight-and-a-half ahead of Boston. Curt Schilling goes for the Sox this afternoon.

Dan Shaughnessy thinks it is time for the Sox to trade Nomar Garciaparra:

In every way, the Nomar Problem has reached a critical mass. The Red Sox know they can’t sign him at the end of the season. He’s already turned down boatloads of money ($60 million over four years before the 2003 season), and is admittedly (and rightfully) wounded by the offseason attempt to replace him with Alex Rodriguez. Garciaparra says he wants to stay here, but virtually no one believes him and his demeanor suggests he’d rather stick needles in his eyes than sign on for another tour of duty at Fenway.

… This is hardly a groundbreaking idea, but for the first time, management can make a Nomar deal that might improve the ball club and won’t be universally deplored by the Nation. A whopping 70 percent of 6,893 reponses to a Boston.com survey Thursday said Nomar should be traded. Stunning. And that was before Garciaparra took the night off in the most important game of the season.

One has to wonder why it always ends like this for Boston’s star baseball players. Go back through time. Mo Vaughn. Roger Clemens. Mike Greenwell. Jim Rice. Bob Stanley. Wade Boggs. Bruce Hurst. Carlton Fisk. Fred Lynn. Rick Burleson. All home-grown stars who left the franchise spitting nails at the front office. Nomar Garciaparra played harder and was more popular than any of them. Ted Williams compared Nomar with Joe DiMaggio. Now this. Everybody’s favorite Red Sox appears to have become a wildly unhappy ballplayer, struggling to return from an injury, resentful of the front office, and determined to walk at the end of the season.

Over at the Herald, Tony Massarotti thinks Garciaparra should stay:

Thursday in New York? Garciaparra deserves the benefit of the doubt, just as Pedro Martinez deserved it last summer, when it was suggested in some places that Martinez might have been ducking the Oakland A’s when he was, in fact, suffering from an infamous case of pharyngitis. Martinez took such assertions personally, just as Garciaparra is taking them now, eight years into a Red Sox career during which Garciaparra has routinely played with a familiar bounce.

…Earlier this week, amid escalating rumors that Garciaparra might be on the trade market, Red Sox officials privately denied they have any such interest. The Red Sox are better with a healthy and focused Garciaparra than they are without him, and the trick now is to get him healthy and focused. When those things have happened, after all, Garciaparra has demonstrated a unique and uncanny ability to play the game of baseball.

As Jack Nicholson asked himself in Prizzi’s Honor: “Do I ice her, do I marry her? Which one of dese?”

Meanwhile, Jack Curry gives props to the Bronx Bombers:

There are endless reasons for hating the Yankees. They have won more World Series titles than any team. They have a $180 million payroll that is at least double that of all but a few clubs. They have a principal owner in Steinbrenner who can be a bully and who often thinks others are plotting against him. To so many teams and fans, the Yankees really are the Evil Empire.

But for today and maybe a lot longer, it could be difficult for even the most ardent Red Sox or Mets fans to hate the Yankees. Anyone who saw Jeter risk a serious injury for a catch that could have maybe been the difference between the Yankees being a whopping eight and a half or a still comfortable six and a half games ahead of Boston had to appreciate the brilliance, had to acknowledge the desire to see their favorite player care that much.

“That’s who he is,” Rodriguez said. “He sets the tone for the team. You see something like that, you say, ‘O.K., we have to win now.’ ”

Jose Contreras will face Matt Ginter this afternoon in Flushing.

Christmas in July

“We played a great game, and we take more from this game than we lose. I bet we’ll capitalize on the things we did tonight.”

Yanks 5, Red Sox 4

Oh, My

“If you lose, it’s an ugly game, and if you win, it’s the best game ever,” said Yankees catcher Jorge Posada, who homered and doubled. “You’ve just got to find a way of winning.” (N.Y. Times)

Sleep must not have come easily for either Yankee or Red Sox fans last night. As I lay in bed, still feverish, my adreneline throbbing, I stopped worrying about how tired I would be for work this morning, and concentrated on just how fortunate Yankee fans have been for the past ten years. The state of exhaustion and joy, which borders of nausia, is not an unfamilar sensation. The Yankees had just won another thrilling game in dramatic fashion. That is came at the expense of the Red Sox made it even sweeter. This won’t last forever, this kind of success. I try to appreciate every ennervating, wonderful moment of it.

Emily thought I was a crazy man. She didn’t know what was going to get broken first–a piece of furniture or my hand. My face was red for most of the second half of the game, and I was cursing up a blue streak. “I thought you said this game didn’t matter since we already won the series,” she asked innocently. “You don’t understaaaaaand,” I replied. “This is the Red Sox. Everything is different. Aaargh.”

It was one of those games that was hard to piece back together; so many memorable moments stand out. I am not lucid enough to write a logical summary. Here are some of the images that made up this one…Gary Sheffield stepping out of the batter’s box twice in his first at bat vs Pedro Martinez, then Martinez promptly drilling him in the shoulder. Sheffield walked to first, glared at Pedro and said, “Not me.” Tony Clark hitting a two-run homer off Martinez, and then Jorge Posada, long Martinez’s whipping boy, smashing a solo shot into the upper deck in right field. David Ortiz blooping a double just beyond the reach of Hideki Matsui, followed by Manny Ramirez’s homer off of Brad Halsey. The Yankee rookie pitching more than admirably. Kenny Lofton’s error in center field. Pokey Reese making a sensational basket catch before tumbling into the stands along the third base side; Alex Rodriguez making a great diving play on a liner hit by Reese in the fifth. Later, Rodriguez snaring a liner off the bat of the Greek God of Walks. Sheffield almost blowing a routine fly ball in right field.

Then the drama…Ruben Sierra’s terrible pinch-hit at bat with the bases loaded. Later, Sierra allowing a fly ball to drop in front of him for a single. Jason Giambi striking out weakly. Alex Rodriguez’s brilliant double play, robbing Kevin Millar of a double and nailing Gabe Kapler at the plate, with the bases loaded an nobody out vs. Mariano Rivera. “Triple play, a triple play,” I yelled, echoing Michael Kay on the YES network. No, calm down, chill, it’s a double play, dude.

Derek Jeter’s courageous catch, taking a hit away from Trot Nixon, sacrificing his body, and adding to his legend in the process. Gary Sheffield getting hit for a second time, then later playing third base. Manny’s blast–Pie-yah!–off of Tanyon Sturtze. Nomar Garciaparra–who did not play–sitting alone, sullen, apart from his teammates. How did that make Red Sox fans feel? Then Ruben Sierra’s single, Miguel Cairo’s double (on a 1-2 pitch), and finally, John Flaherty’s game-winning single.

Gary Sheffield told the New York Times:

“The message is clear,” Sheffield said. “We’re not laying down for no one. We’re trying to take it all. We’re trying to send a message to everyone we play. Everyone was jacked up for this series. We wanted to sweep, and we did.”

Still, Joe Torre was upset when Gary Sheffield was plunked for the second time, and Curt Leskanic wasn’t tossed. Earlier, both teams had been warned. According to Newsday:

“The situation is a runner on third base in an extra-inning game,” Torre said. “I’m not going to tell Terry [Francona] how to manage, for sure. That’s certainly his business. But you hit Sheffield with the first pitch and then walk the next guy. That makes it a little suspicious, especially when the next hitter is an inexperienced kid named Bubba Crosby.”

…”I don’t understand why you would want to pitch to our hottest hitter with the winning run at third base,” Torre said. “That doesn’t make sense to me. It’s a travesty. An absolute travesty.”

Regardless, the Yankees swept Boston and are now eight-and-a-half games in first place. Both teams played their guts out last night. It was a crushing loss for the Sox and another elating one for the Yankees.

Cliff Corcoran was at the Stadium. He should have an incredible post up later in the day. For a coherent and articulate account of the game, head over to The Hardball Times and read Larry Mahken’s excellent write up. Expect another stellar report from Joe Sheehan later today at Baseball Prospectus.

What’s Next?

Cruising around the Net during my lunch hour, I’m getting a mixed-vibe out of Red Sox Nation. The usually up-beat Edward Cossette just isn’t feelin’ this year’s version of the Home Towne Team, no matter how much positive visualization he employs. Others, like my pal Sully, think there is still plenty of time for the Sox to turn things around. Sully reminds us how far back the ’78 Yankees were before they came to life. Sure, they were the defending world champs, but this Boston team is still mad talented. OK, it’s not likely that the Yankees will blow a huge lead. Why? Cause it hasn’t happened before. But for skeptics like me–and Larry Mahnken–that isn’t a good enough answer. After all, it has to happen some time. Why not now? (The glass is half what?)

One thing seems sure: Theo Epstein is on the spot to make something happen. Rumors have it that Nomar Garciaparra will be moved. Previously, this would have been unfathomable, but right now, it makes sense, especially if Garciaparra is firm about not returning to Boston next year. Epstein has performed admirably thus far as GM of the Sox. It will be interesting to see what he can cook up. Obviously, Red Sox fans fear that Randy Johnson could wind up in pinstripes. I’ll counter that by worrying that he could join his pal Schilling in Boston. However, Peter Gammons is saying that Anahiem is a more likely scenerio for the Big Unit if he moves at all.

Meanwhile in New York, there is a growing perception that Jason Giambi isn’t a gamer. OK, those who have thought that Giambi was soft have thought so for more than a minute now, but in light of Gary Sheffield playing through obvious pain, Giambi looks bad being disabled with a bizarre stomach condition. This isn’t fair, but Sheffield plays baseball like a linebacker, just the kind of spirit that the football maven George Steinbrenner covets. Meanwhile, Giambi is becoming a fallen star in New York. fair or unfair. Was Sheffield calling his teammate out last night when he told reporters, “”They’re paying me a lot of money to play and not sit and watch.” I don’t know. But I’m holding out hope that Giambi can get healthy and start enjoying the game once again. I know I’m rooting for him. If he continues to falter, he could become George’s whipping boy and a target of the boo boids in da BX; worse, he could become the second-coming of Mo Vaughn. Or he could be the best hitter in the line up. Which one of these?…

Yanks 4, Red Sox 2

Bring the Pain

“I’m just going out there and grinding it out. I just want the guy who plays next to me to know that I’m accountable.” Gary Sheffield

We are prone to hyperbole in New York and Boston when it comes to our baseball teams, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to call last night’s game an agonizing affair for Red Sox Nation. Boston received a brilliant performance from Tim Wakefield, but the offense was unable to hit with men on base, and the Sox were ultimately undone by poor fielding for the second-consecutive night. The Yankees swiped this game, one of the most satisfying victories of the year according to this observer. The Yankees now lead Boston by seven-and-a-half games.

Jon Lieber left several pitches up in the zone early in the game and the Sox pounced all over him. The first three Red Sox hitters reached base. With a 1-0 lead, two men on and nobody out, the Red Sox could not score another run in the first. The first two men of the second reached as well, but again Boston could not score. Lieber was aided by two key double plays and then he settled down and pitched well. Wakefield dominated the Yankees, scattering a few harmless singles. Bother pitchers worked quickly, and the game breezed along.

David Ortiz connnected for a solo homer–a blast–and Lieber allowed two men to reach in the seventh before he was yanked. Brett Prinz came on to get one batter, and he walked him. The bases were loaded with nobody out. Enter Felix Heredia. This was not a welcome sight for Yankee fans, especially with the top of the order due up for the Red Sox. Johnny Damon hit a ground ball to Tony Clark, who came home for the force, one out. Then Mark Bellhorn lofted a fly ball to left field for the second out. It was not deep enough to score Mirabelli from third. Finally, David Ortiz was called out on strikes. It was a close call, but Heredia earned his pinstripes for the year by getting out of the jam:

“This was Heredia’s game,” Manager Joe Torre said. (N.Y.Times)

The Stadium, which had been subdued for a night-and-a-half, was now rocking. Wakefield plunked Gary Sheffield to start the bottom of the seventh. With one out, he walked Godziller Matsui, the last batter he would face. Scott Williamson replaced him and struck out Bernie Williams. Then Jorge Posada walked to load the bases. Williamson came up lame and was replaced by the hard-throwing Mike Timlin. Tony Clark hit a bullet on one-hop to Ortiz at first and the ball scooted through Ortiz’s glove into the outfield. Two runs scored and the game was tied.

Ortiz examined his glove much like a tennis player inspects his racket after making an error. The glove was not broken, but it the pocket was so loose that the ball simply scooted through it. Unbelievable. A freak play if there ever was one.

Gordon worked a perfect eighth, striking out two, including Manny Ramirez to start the inning (another close call that went the Yankees way). Kenny Lofton led-off the bottom of the frame with a ground ball to Nomar Garciaparra’s right. Garciaparra rounded the ball and hurried his throw. Ortiz could not pick it and suddenly the go-ahead run was on second base. It was scored as a single and an error but it could have just been a straight error. Regardless, Jeter sacrificed Lofton to third and then Gary Sheffield had one of the most memorable at bats of the year.

Timlin pounded fastballs inside and Sheffield fouled off eight pitches. On two occasions, Mirabelli stood up, looking for the high cheese; Sheffield swung, fouling the pitches straight back up in the air foul. He also got ahead of two pitches and pounded shots foul into the upperdeck; he also hit a rocket line drive into the third base seats as well. According to the New York Times:

Luis Sojo, the third-base coach who stands well behind the coaching box when Sheffield hits, told Lofton to be careful while leading off third.

“I’m scared I’m going to get my head knocked off,” Lofton said. “One went over my head, one went in front of me. Sojo said, ‘Watch yourself.’ I said, ‘What do you think I’m doing?’ “

On the tenth pitch of the at bat, Mirabelli pointed outside, but Timlin shook him off. At home I couldn’t believe that Timlin wanted to challenge him inside again. Maybe it was a macho thing. Sheffield later told reporters:

“I’m just glad [Timlin] threw me strikes. If he had thrown them in the dirt, he probably would have made me look bad. He made good pitches. He kept pounding me inside with the sinker. After about the third pitch, I could see the ball coming out of his hand pretty well. I just wanted a ball I could get through the infield at that point.” (Boston Globe)

And that’s just what he did, slapping the pitch past a diving Mark Bellhorn down the third-base line for a double. The Stadium erupted and the Sox were all but cooked. Alan Embree replaced Timlin and gave up a run-scoring single to Matsui.

Mariano Rivera blew the bottom part of Boston’s order away in the ninth, striking-out the side. I don’t recall the last time he did that. Again, it was a tremendous win for the Yanks, and a painful loss for the Red Sox. Some pundits suggest that the AL East race is over, but I think it’s too early for that kind of thinking. Boston is in a slump, and will eventually awaken. They hope that Pedro Martinez can stop the bleeding tonight when he pitches against a rookie.

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