After belting a two-run homer into the upper deck in his first at bat, David Ortiz tapped a single through the right side of the infield with two outs in the top of the third. Had the infield been positioned normally, it would have been an easy out, but Ortiz, who has been slumping of late, generally finds a way when playing at the Stadium (he went 4-4 on the night, yet he only hit the ball hard twice…”just” two times, oy). When Ortiz reached first he shared a smile with Yankee first baseman Jason Giambi, who also sees an extreme shift employed when he bats (Giambi would crank a two-run homer of his own in the bottom of the inning). The scene was notable only because it demonstrates that, with a few exceptions, the players on the Yankees and Red Sox are not engaged in the same kind of rivalry that you see and hear in the stands. Yes, I’m sure the players feed off the intensity of the fans, and the hype in the papers, but this isn’t 1977 and for the most part, you don’t get the feeling that the participants hate one another too tough.
The rivalry has become more about the fans than anything else, and often it brings out the worst in us. The electricity in the crowd–at either Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park–is palpable and that brings an acute tension to almost every pitch, every at bat. I think this is great as you just don’t see the same kind of excitement elsewhere around the majors for a regular season in game. But the downside is that the crowd entertains itself with lewd chants that have nothing to do with the action on the field. The so-called class acts in the Bronx last night spent a good portion of the game riffing how much the Red Sox suck. C’mon now. I just find it pathetic.
But nobody heard boos last night like Alex Rodriguez did after his second at bat. Rodriguez struck out looking (on three pitches) in the first inning, and then popped out weakly to first base the next time up. The boos showered down on the reigning AL MVP. As Mike Lupica notes in a refreshingly sharp column today, “Sometimes the place isn’t nearly as cool as we make it out to be, or want it to be.”
Rodriguez turned the jeers into cheers in his third at bat. With the score tied at three, Curt Schilling struck out Derek Jeter and Giambi to start the bottom of the fifth. Both Schilling and Mike Mussina threw a lot of pitches early on. Home plate umpire Larry Vanover wasn’t giving either pitcher the outside part of the plate which didn’t help them. After escaping a bases loaded jam in the third, Mussina, who was without a good change up last night, began to settle down. Now, Schilling started to roll. He struck out Giambi on a high fastball way out of the zone, a pitch we haven’t seen Giambi chase much this year. Down 2-1 to Rodriguez, Schilling shook off a sign from his catcher Jason Varitek and then threw another high fastball. It wasn’t as high as the one to Giambi but even so, the high heater is a pitch that Rodriguez has trouble with. However, he locked onto this one, which was centered right over the plate, and crushed it deep into the left field seats.
Rodriguez’s dinger put the Bombers ahead for good as the crowd exploded. Hideki Matsui followed and worked Schilling for a walk, running the count full and fouling off several pitches in the process, and then Jorge Posada–who already doubled and has hit Schilling well in the past–popped a hanging change up into the upper deck in right field.
The Red Sox offense didn’t help their cause by going down on six pitches in the next inning (the first three batters swung at Mussina’s first offering). Boston did put runners on the corners with two out in the seventh for Manny Ramirez though. Scott Proctor came in to pitch to Ramirez, who had a double and a fortunate (re: Happy Birthday), run-saving catch earlier in the game. The 2-1 one pitch was a hanging curve ball. Ramirez fouled it off and then cursed like he generally does when he just misses a pitch. Proctor, who was torched for a three-run dinger not so long ago on a hanging breaking pitch, came back with a high fastball. Ramirez laid off, but then swung through another high heater to end the inning.
After the game, Proctor, who pitched a perfect eighth inning as well, told reporters:
“I’m going to go after him with my strength,” said Proctor, who used a 96-mile-an-hour fastball for the strikeout. “In that situation, you don’t want to get beat with your second- or third-best pitch. It was big on big.”
Nevermind that he got away with hanging a curve ball. Proctor pitched well and has effectively replaced Tanyon Sturtze as the bridge to Farnsworth. Mariano Rivera set the Sox down in order in the ninth and the Yankees bounced back after Tuesday’s drubbing. The final score: Yanks 7, Sox 3. Mike Mussina earned his sixth win, Derek Jeter made a fine over the shoulder catch, and Jason Giambi continues to look strong. But it was Rodriguez who was the hero last night (he lined a single to center in his last at bat). He went from goat to hero in a New York minute. It’s be nice to seem him more appreciated in the Bronx, but hey, New Yorkers have a long tradition of booing great Yankees–from Ruth to DiMaggio to Mantle (and even Jeter and Rivera). He’s in good company.