"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: April 2005

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Plug Choosin’

Let me take this opportunity to piggy-back Steve Lombardi’s post today about Ceclia Tan’s new book, “The 50 Greatest Yankee Games.” Tan is an eclectic author who has written extensively about the Yankees for some time now; she was able to interview Yankee greats like Yogi Berra, Jerry Coleman, Roy White, Reggie Jackson and Don Mattingly and Paul O’Neill for her book (if you want a complete listing of Tan’s interviews, including ones with Elliott Maddux and Jim Kaat, click here). This book is choice beach/bathroom/bedtime reading material for the die-hard Yankee fan. Lots of fun. And just to be balanced for you Yankee haters out there, may I suggest “Yankees Suck!” by Jim Gerard. This one should be right up your alley. The title says it all.

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Burn (ed)

Some baseball fans have been predicting, and anticipating the Yankees’ fall for four or five years now. The critics have been louder than ever this spring considering the team’s mediocre start. The years 1965 and 1982 have been invoked as reminders of what could happen to the current team. Yesterday, veteran New York scribe, Vic Zeigel wrote a piece in the Daily News, making the 1965 comparison:

The Nothing Lasts Forever Club, the Bronx chapter, is about to meet for the first time since 1965. Warning: the last meeting came a year too late and was no help at all.

…The Yankees keep telling us it’s early, way early. That there’s plenty of time, plenty. (“Just you wait, ‘Enry ‘Iggins, just you wait.”) But what if these April problems aren’t solved? October doesn’t come with a guarantee. Early can get late, and time isn’t always on your side. Could it be that this team has the disease of 1965?

When George Steinbrenner hired a motivational coach last week, memories of the 1982 team came rushing back. That was the year Steinbrenner made the mistake of trying to build a team around speed. (The local press eventually dubbed the team “The Bronx Burners.”) After the Yankees lost the 1981 World Serious to the Dodgers, and the Boss apologized to the fans on behalf of his team, he allowed Reggie Jackson to walk away as a free agent. Steinbrenner ostensibly replaced Jackson’s power with Ken Griffey in right, and Oscar Gamble at DH. Davey Collins was signed as a free agent, and Jerry Mumphrey, Lou Piniella, and Bobby Murcer, all competed for playing time in the outfield (Dave Winfield, of course, was the left fielder).

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Betterer

Wednesday night’s 11-2 victory behind Meat Pavano’s best Yankee outing was nice, but last night’s 4-3 victory, which required clutch hits, manufactured runs, tight defense and, above all else, an unyielding bullpen, was the sort of victory that really could turn this team around.

The one disappointing aspect of last night’s game was that Mike Mussina is still pitching like the rapidly aging veteran of April through August of last year rather than the days-of-old ace of September. Through the first four innings he alternated pitching out of jams (the worst a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the third which he ended by turning a comebacker into a rapid-fire 1-2-3 double play) and setting the side down in order (which he actually only did once, requiring a double play to keep it to three batters in the fourth). In the fifth he gave up five singles, which lead to three Blue Jay runs. Then in the sixth he gave up a single and a walk to the first two batters, got the first out via a sac bunt, and was pulled from the game by Joe Torre, who could have yanked him an inning earlier without argument from me.

The Yankee bats, meanwhile, were silent through three, the only baserunners being Rey Sanchez (starting for Womack against a lefty) who was hit by a pitch and Alex Rodriguez, who walked in the second only to get picked off, yet another unnecessary out on the bases.

The opposing starter was Gustavo Chacin (prounounced SHA-seen), who had intrigued me as he had pitched seven strong innings in the Bronx last September to beat the Yankees his major league debut and entered last night’s game with a 1.42 ERA and a 3-0 record in three starts. Chacin is an interesting cat to watch. A lefty from Venezuela, he makes an odd pause prior to his delivery. He also wears Oakleys on the mound, but unlike the prescription lenses of Eric Gagne or Francisco Rodriguez, Chacin’s are tinted and hide his eyes. Chacin also has a strangely drawn mouth with thin, rather bluish lips that turn down at the corners at sharp angles. Combined with the shades, his poor complexion, and the Blue Jays’ gray caps, this gives him a creepy, robotic look. It’s as if he were some sort of evil android from the future. (Strangest of all, he wore the shades for his MLB mugshot. Maybe he really is a robot from the future!)

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Better

Carl Pavano earned his first win as a Yankee last night, as the Bombers breezed past Ted Lilly and the Jays, 11-2. Pavano worked quickly and pitched efficiently. In an e-mail exchange this morning, Cliff and I talked about how Pavano reminds us of Andy Pettitte. For me, it’s a physical thing. Pavano is a big boy like Pettitte, with a big ass and strong legs. Curiously, he has narrow shoulders and his uniform top hangs in a funny, schlubby way. He’s also got strong facial features, a sturdy chin, and a fine Roman nose. Pavano would look just fine in a toga. Cliff noted that he is a good, but not great pitcher, who has fine control and who may share Pettitte’s ability to pitch well when the team really needs a win. We aren’t alone in making the comparision–which to be honest, isn’t such a stretch. Steve Lombardi, who has just launched his own Yankee blog, “Was Watching” is on to it too:

Carl Pavano is starting to remind me of a right-handed version of Andy Pettitte. Both of them have that Betty Davis eyes thing going at times. Both of them are big body pitchers that you would expect to throw harder than they really do chuck. Their uni numbers are close – 45 now for Carl, 46 then for Andy. And, it seems like they be alike in the sense that they’re capable of throwing a great game or a hosting Tee-ball session. I know many were down on the signing of Pavano based on the “one-year wonder” theory. But, I think I’m going to like him–as I did Pettitte.

Lombardi’s site should prove to be a must-read for Yankee fans as the season unfolds. I especially like how he came up with the name of his blog:

Talking about some long-term baseball announcer, someone once said (and I think it was Bob Costas but I could be wrong) that the announcer’s voice was the male voice that was most heard in their house after his father. Listening to Phil for nearly a quarter-century, it was something like that for myself as well.

Phil was always entertaining to me. And, one of the items (with respect to his coverage) that always stayed with me was his habit of scrawling “WW” on his scorecard for plate appearances where he “wasn’t watching.”

As a result, when I decided to start a Yankees-focused Weblog, almost out of the chute, I thought that WasWatching.com would be an appropriate handle. After all, my intent for this blog is to provide running commentary, personal musings, and the like, on the Yankees. In order to do this, I will have to do the opposite of “WW”–-meaning that I have to watch what is going on.

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Good

With the Yankees providing no much joy in Mudville these days, I’ve had to find pleasure in other places. Fortunately, the spring is in full bloom here in New York. (Today, it’s plain hot.) Some trees are sporting great big flowers, others already have little green leaves begining to sprout. The ladies are wearing skirts, strutting (or even strolling now) with purpose, while the guys are cranking their necks around to catch a look. Hey, things are beautiful in New York.

When I entered the subway station on 50th street and Broadway last night, I saw two young Spanish police officers comparing batting stances. I don’t know if they were copying their favorite player or giving each other tips, but they looked just like Sweet Lou did on Monday night in the middle of the game, holding his hands up as if he was holding a bat, talking with one of his coaches about hitting, as his team was getting pounded. I spoke with the token booth clerk, a big Yankee fan, for a couple of minutes before the train rumbled into the station.

At 86th street, a group of kids buffaloed their way on the train, full of laughter. I had my earphones on so I didn’t catch what they were up to, but when I saw several seated passengers smile, I stopped my music to see what was going on. The kids must have been in junior high, maybe freshmen in high school. There were six of them, and they were scattered around the car. They weren’t rowdy or aggresive. There was nothing cutting or harsh about them. One boy laughed so innocently that I was actually taken aback. It was a pure, high-pitched giggle, very clean, and genuine. What is cracking them up, man? Well, it turns out one of them had a whoopee cushion. Need I say more? It’s funny, cause I was thinking about whoopee cushions a few weeks ago, remembering how honest and inexpensive a laugh they can provide.

I wish I would have had one to keep me entertained later in the evening.

Oh, and one last thing that I think is good is the Red Sox signing Tim Wakefield to an extension. He’s been a great Red Sox, and it’s cool to see them show him some appreciation.

Bad

That’s it. I’m fed up. Maybe I’m a couple of days late, but as Alex will tell you, I tend to be both level-headed and optimistic when it comes to my favorite ballclub. Still, after attending last night’s 6-2 loss to the Devil Rays, I want my $5 (actually $13 and change thanks to Ticketmaster) back and an apology, not from the Boss or the skipper, but from the team.

The Yankees have now completed five series on the young season and won just five games. They are tied with the Devil Rays and Royals for the worst record in the American League, and have not recorded consecutive wins since the first two games of the season (which had an off day between them).

On the whole, the problem remains the pitching, the Yankees have the third worst ERA in the majors (only the D-Rays and Rockies are worse, and that’s according to the stats before last night’s 6-2 loss to the Rays). Their team ERA (prior to last night’s game) was 5.65, but they’ve allowed a staggering 6.5 runs per game (including last night) thanks to some very costly errors and their pitchers’ inability to pitch around them.

Last night, despite a noble effort from Randy Johnson, was the 2005 Yankees at their worst. Worse even, in my opinion, than Saturday’s brutal 7-6 loss in a game they lead 6-2 in the seventh inning.

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Not Bad

If George hollars…well, as Joel Sherman suggests, playing the Devil Rays sure can help a slumping team too. As for the early-season slump, Mike Mussina tells Sherman:

“This team right now is the same as a veteran player starting slowly and people not sure if he is off to a slow start or he has lost his skills,” Mussina said. “If a 38-year-old starts badly, the tendency is to think he is done. If a 28-year-old starts poorly, the tendency is to say he is off to a bad start. We are an older team, so there are doubts.”

John Harper elaborates:

Usually the easiest way to dismiss a Steinbrenner rant about his team, especially an April rant, is to find an American League scout at the ballpark and listen to him tick off the reasons why the Yankees will win 100 games with their eyes closed.

Last night, however, one such scout didn’t offer the usual roll of the eyes at the mention of Steinbrenner’s headline-making criticism. Instead he raised his eyebrows and said he wonders if maybe, just maybe, the Yankees’ sluggish play so far is not merely an early-season aberration.

The scout then listed those potential problems, in what he considered the order of priority, from the “geezer bullpen” to the offensive inconsistency, to the age and lack of depth in the starting rotation.

Last night was a good start. Let’s hope Randy Johnson gets his ya ya’s out tonight.

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Is that enough?

Walk. Homer. Double. Ground out. Single. Single. Single. Single. Single. Single. Double. Walk. Single. Grand Slam. Ground out. Walk. Fly out.

17 batters, 59 pitches, 11 hits, 3 walks, 13 runs.

That’s what the Yankees did in the bottom of the second inning last night, not only getting off the schnide, but doing so with a historic offensive outburst. The Yankees 13-run second inning tied the record for the most runs scored in the second inning of a game (accomplished four other times, just once before in the AL), fell one short of the franchise record for runs in any single inning (14 on 7/6/20 in Wash), and was the most ever scored in one inning by the Yankees at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees have scored 13 runs in one inning just three times, including last night, the most recent coming on June 21, 1945 in Boston.

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The Devil Rays

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

2004 Record: 70-91 (.435)
2004 Pythagorean Record: 68-93 (.422)

Manager: Lou Piniella
General Manager: Chuck LaMar

Ballpark (2004 park factors): Tropicana Field (96/96)

Who’s replacing whom?

Travis Lee replaces Tino Martinez
Josh Phelps replaces Jose Cruz Jr.
Jorge Cantu inherits playing time from Rey Sanchez
Alex S. Gonzalez replaces Geoff Blum
Nick Green replaces B.J. Upton (minors)
Alex Sanchez replaces half a season of Rocco Baldelli
Eduardo Perez inherits playing time from Robert Fick
Charles Johnson replaces Brook Fordyce
Chris Singleton replaces Damian Rolls
Scott Kazmir inherits Victor Zambrano’s starts
Hideo Nomo replaces John Halama
Seth McClung replaces Jorge Sosa
Casey Fossum replaces Jeremy Gonzalez, Paul Abbott and Chad Gaudin

Current Roster:

1B – Travis Lee
2B – Jorge Cantu
SS – Julio Lugo
3B – Alex S. Gonzalez
C – Toby Hall
RF – Aubrey Huff
CF – Alex Sanchez
LF – Carl Crawford
DH – Josh Phelps

Bench:

R – Eduardo Perez (corners)
R – Nick Green (IF)
R – Charles Johnson (C)
L – Chris Singleton (OF)

Rotation:

R – Dewon Brazelton
L – Scott Kazmir
R – Rob Bell
L – Mark Hendrickson
R – Hideo Nomo

Bullpen:

R – Danys Baez
R – Lance Carter
R – Travis Harper
L – Trever Miller
L – Casey Fossom
R – Seth McClung
R – Doug Waechter

DL:

R – Rocco Baldelli (OF)
R – Jesus Colome
R – Kevin Cash (C)
R – Franklin Nunez

Typical Line-up

L – Carl Crawford (LF)
R – Julio Lugo (SS)
L – Alex Sanchez (CF)
L – Aubrey Huff (RF)
R – Josh Phelps (DH)
L – Travis Lee (1B)
R – Jorge Cantu (2B)
R – Toby Hall (C)
R – Alex Gonzalez (3B)

[commentary to come]

The House that George Will Build

This weekend, the Daily News reported that the Yankees’ plan for a new stadium is coming along nicely. The new park will be a few blocks away from where the stadium is now. If all goes according to plan, the new stadium could open in 2009.

Hey, so long as they stay in the Bronx…

Panic!

Enough is enough. I am bitterly disappointed, as I’m sure all Yankee fans are, by the lack of performance by our team. It is unbelievable to me that the highest-paid team in baseball would start the season in such a deep funk. They are not playing like true Yankees. They have the talent to win and they are not winning. I expect Joe Torre, his complete coaching staff and the team to turn this around.

The above words were issued by George Steinbrenner immediately after today’s 8-4 Yankee loss to the Orioles dropped his team to 4-8 on the season, their .333 winning percentage better than only the triple-A squad in Colorado and equal to that of Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and Tampa Bay, three teams with a combined 3 winning seasons since 1992 (all by the Royals).

The Yankees 4-8 record is their worst this “late” in the season since 1991, Stump Merrill’s last season as Yankee manager, when the team opened 4-8 and finished fifth in the east at 71-91.

After this afternoon’s loss, Joe Torre held a closed-door team meeting. The panic button has been pressed. The shit has hit the fan(s). So what’s gone wrong? I have no idea.

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Chicken Little Anyone?

Coming Sunday to a New York newspaper near you: How the Yankees stink, let us count the ways. Meet the Mets, folks, the boys out in Queens are exciting, and vibrant, while the Yanks are old, flat and dull. Or words to that effect. You know the routine.

Yo, Saturday’s game was truly awful. It was the first time all year that I’ve been truly upset. I mean, it didn’t last too long, I didn’t let it ruin my evening (it is still April), but when Flash Gordon gave up the three-run dinger to Roberts, man, it felt like getting punched in the gut.

The Indians and White Sox played an entire game in the time it took the Yanks and O’s to get through four innings. To be honest, even if the Yanks had pulled it out, the game would have been a chore to sit through. But losing the way that they did was just depressing.

There are a lot of things that don’t look good about them right about now.

Kevin Brown makes his season debut tomorrow. Sorry if I’m not feeling overcome with confidence. But hey, we’ve got to hang with ‘em when they are down. Let’s hope they can salvage a “w” and move on. No use lookin after spilt milk now, is there?

Hey, Happy Boitday Twenty-Seven, Happy Boitday

Dear Bruce,
You’ll never pitch another big league game like the one you threw tonight.
Soak it in and enjoy it. You done good.
Yours truly,
Bitter Belth in the Bronx

To Baltimo Tumow Da O’s A Little Lamsy Divey

The Yanks kick off a three-game series in Baltmore tonight at 7:35 as Carl Pavano makes his first start since taking Melvin Mora line-drive off his right temple. Sunday, Kevin Brown is expected to return from the DL to make his 2005 debut against Daniel Cabrera. Brown’s return will, in all likelihood, return Andy Phillips to Columbus. Phillips remains the only Yankee hitter without a plate appearance, thus the Yankees have wasted this opportunity get a good look at the best hitter in their minor league stystem. Is it too much to ask that Torre start him at first against the lefty Chen tonight? That’s a rhetorical question.

Fri 4/15 7:35 YES (Pavano v. Chen)
Sat 4/16 4:35 YES (Mussina v. Lopez)
Sun 4/17 1:35 YES (Brown v. Cabrera)

Nothing Shocking

The Red Sox beat the Yanks in another wild one at the Fens. I thought Randy Johnson looked decent, in spite of giving up three dingers (Payton, Renteria, and Varitek). But it was not one of his best performances. Bronson Arroyo wasn’t as sharp and the Yankees squandered more than their fair share of scoring opportunities. In the ninth inning, representing the tying run, Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi both fouled back two pitches that they just missed. So close and yet…bubkus. Rodriguez had a bloop RBI single, but otherwise had a poor night at the plate. What Johnson and Arroyo (and both teams) had in common were their feelings about home plate umpire Greg Gibson’s strike zone. Gibson had an erratic night calling balls and strikes, but he was equally bad for both teams. Johnson glared in at him on several occasions while Ron Jackson and Terry Francona both got tossed arguing with Gibson.

With the game tied at five, Tom Gordon gave up the lead in the eighth inning. The Sox scored three times and survived a shaky ninth-inning performance from Keith Foulke to secure the victory. But the most talked-about play of the game came in the bottom of the eighth when Jason Varitek’s triple skipped along the right field warning track. Gary Sheffield went to field the ball and was inadvertantly slapped in the face by a fan. It appeared as if the fan was going for the ball, although he didn’t bend down nearly low enough to grab it. It certainly didn’t look as if the fan was intentionally trying to hit Sheffield. He only grazed the Yankee right fielder, but, caught by surprise, Sheffield immediately extended his glove hand into the fan’s face, throwing a punch with his right hand into his mitt. He held himself back after that. Sheffield didn’t jump into the stands. Later on, he said that he immediately thought about the infamous Pacers-Pistons brawl, and that’s exactly what came to my mind as well. As a matter of fact, when that basketball fight went down last fall, all I could think about was that this kind of thing is so ripe to happen at a Yankee-Sox game.

Fortunately, it didn’t escalate. I don’t blame Sheffield for reacting, though he will most likely be fined for lunging at the fan. I can understand that too. (For what it’s worth, the Red Sox thought Sheffield showed restraint.) Again, I don’t think the fan was trying to hit Sheffield. However, he was in the field of play, interrupting a play, and there is no question in my mind that the fan was in the wrong. The incident will overshadow the rest of the game, which is too bad.

I think the Yankees and Red Sox have brought out the best in each other on the field (with a few notable exceptions) during the past two seasons. However, the rivalry has also brought out the worst in Red Sox and Yankee fans. After watching highlights of the soccer match in Italy last week, I just hope that something tragic doesn’t happen one of these days.

I’m Easy

Was Bernie Williams was of the most unlikely clean up hitters in Yankee history? He sure didn’t seem born for the part even though he was the Bomber’s best hitter from 1996-01. Now, that he’s well past his prime, is he one of the most over-qualified ninth-place hitters in team history? Maybe. But he handled batting last in stride on Wednesday night, going 3-4. He didn’t give his manager any trouble about the “demotion” either. According to the Times:

“Bernie is unlike any player I have ever met,” Torre said after the Yankees’ 5-2 victory Wednesday night. “He never changes. I’ve been here 10 years now and he’s the same person, personality-wise and respect-wise. It’s refreshing. You hurt for him because you know he’s struggling and he has his pride and is taking a beating. But he keeps coming back and that’s what makes him special.”

…”I’m not making this up – it doesn’t really matter to me,” Williams said before the game. “You have to wait a little longer. But it’s kind of an advantage, because you see the guy pitch to everyone. Other than that, it doesn’t matter.”

Some guys would take the high road just to save face. But I take Bernie at his word. Regardless of how this year pans out for him, Torre’s quote reminded me why Bernie is one of my all-time favorites.

Made To Order

Last night, the Yankees won a gem of a ballgame in Fenway that pressed all the right buttons for a Yankee team that seemed to be on the verge of a slump.

With Curt Schilling coming off the disabled list, Jaret Wright coming off a disaster start against Baltimore, and the Red Sox coming off an 8-1 win over the Yankees in their celebratory home opener on Monday, everything seemed to be leaning the Red Sox way.

In the early going it stayed that way. Schilling looked dominant, while Wright appeared to be hanging on by his teeth. Schilling struck out four while allowing just two hits in the first three innings. Then Wright–who stranded runners at the corners in the first, and pitched around a lead-off single in the second–got himself into an awful mess in the bottom of the third.

He went to a full count on the first two batters, getting Ramon Vazquez (starting at second for Mark Bellhorn) to groundout before yielding a double to Johnny Damon. He then walked Trot Nixon and Manny Ramirez on five pitches each to load the bases. That brought David Ortiz to the plate with one out. Wright promptly fell behind Ortiz 3-1, who was 5 for 10 lifetime against him coming into the game. Miraculously, Wright got Ortiz to lift a mere sac fly to left. He then walked Kevin Millar to re-load the bases and fell behind Edgar Renteria 2-0 only to get him to ground to short on the 2-1 pitch to end the inning.

Despite struggling through the heart of the Red Sox order, walking three men and allowing a double to another, Wright escaped down just 1-0. He then settled down in the fourth, pitching around another lead-off single by racking up his only two strikeouts of the game.

In the fifth, the Yankees finally got to Schilling. After Jason Giambi reached on an infield single into the shift, Tino Martinez followed with a booming ground rule double that bounded into the Boston bullpen, pushing Giambi to third. After a Bernie fly out to shallow left, Tony Womack drew his third walk of the season (more on this later)–after falling behind Schilling 0-2, no less. That loaded the bases. Jeter then singled Giambi home, keeping the bags juiced, and Gary Sheffield followed with a sac fly to center that put the Yankees ahead 2-1.

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Remember When?

Like most Yankee fans, I have a special feeling for the Joe Torre teams of 96-01. But I’m not one to constantly compare every subsequent Yankee team to those squads. It just doesn’t interest me. However, I was reminded of how winning they were when I wandered across Roger Angell’s 1996 piece, “One for the Good Guys,” last night:

The burden of [the] relentless and irrelevant P.R. during the Yankees’ long struggles to regain their October form can at last be thrown aside–what a load it was!–and we are free to celebrate the new champions not for what they represented but for what they were: a competent though far from overpowering amalgam of engaging young stars and gritty hired guns who absolutely enjoyed themselves and each other during a succession of hairbreadth escapes in the late going, and were almost as entranced as the rest of us when they won. The Yankees–who’d have thought it–had become lovable.

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Banner Day in Beantown

“They won…For the respect of baseball and for the respect of the Red Sox organization, you’ve got to be there. After 86 years, I think they deserved to win one. And why not celebrate it as (much) as they could? That’s okay. I have no problem with that.” Mariano Rivera (N.Y.Daily News)

As good as Opening Day in the Bronx felt for Yankee fans, yesterday’s home opener at Fenway Park was even sweeter for Red Sox Nation. The Sox received their World Serious rings before the game and then proceeded to knock the stuffing out of the Yanks. Mike Mussina was not sharp, Alex Rodriguez made a key error, and Tim Wakefield baffled New York once again.

For their part, the Yankees watched the pre-game ceremonies from their dugout, applauding at times. The gesture didn’t go unnoticed by the Red Sox. The Bombers clapped when Johnny Pesky was given a ring. According to Mike Lupica:

The Yankees were all class yesterday, led by their classy manager, right there on the top step for every minute of the ring ceremony yesterday, and the raising of the flag. When Terry Francona came out first to get his ring, he stood near first base and the first thing he did was point across the field at the Yankees. “We were curious,” Torre said. And maybe, just maybe, for this one day, everybody on the field, both sides of it, both uniforms, knew what Pesky has known his baseball life, long before the sides were even, about why this rivalry has always mattered the way it has.

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It’s a Ring Thing

Today is the Red Sox home opener. Yankee-killer Tim Wakefield goes against Mike Mussina. Red Sox Nation will be loud and proud this afternoon (Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi should get the worst of it). They deserve to feel good about themselves. While there is nothing the Yankees can do to ruin the ring ceremony, hopefully they can spoil the rest of the day and pull out a win.

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