"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: October 2006

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Mornin’ Sunshine

Right on time, the Mets busted out in a rather royal way last night against the Cardinals, knotting the series at two. Nervous National League-rooting New Yorkers were finally able to get some sleep last night. In the end, I say the Metropolitans take it in seven.

Looks like Sweet Lou is about to land a new gig.

Many sympathetic observers feel that the Yankees need to trade Alex Rodriguez this off-season. But Benjamin Hoffman offers evidence that Rodriguez should stay in pinstripes.

M.I.A. (Well, Almost)

I may be in the minority here, but for sheer entertainment value, I really miss this guy.

Cards Blank Mets

The Mets lost 5-0 last night and I’m sure panic has started to set in for some Met fans, what with the prospects of Oliver Perez pitching for their team tonight in what will be the biggest game of the season to date. But it’s not like the Cards are throwing Bob Gibson out there either, and my feeling is that the Mets romp in Game 4 (with Perez throwing a gem) and find a way to even this series. Meanwhile, yes, I did sleep better knowing that the Yankees weren’t the only team to get stomped by the Tigers.

Gambler Rolls, Wagner Touched

The Mets lost a tough, but exciting game last night to the Cards while Kenny “The Animal” Rogers continues his improbable run as October playoff stud, bringing the Tigers within a game of the World Serious. More baseball this afternoon and tonight. Mm, mm good.

One Trick Pony?

Nice trick, Smiling Jack. But can The Gambler do it twice? Game 3 of the ALCS kicks off later this afternoon in a very chilly Motor City.

You Want to Hear the Specials?

I enjoy going to Artie’s Deli on the Upper West Side because the food is decent. Artie’s is a neo-old-sytle Jewish Deli (it’s only been around about a half-a-dozen years) without the neighborhood prices. I grew up on the Upper West Side, and Broadway is now littered with big chain stores–Staples, Circut City, Victoria’s Secret, Godiva. Artie’s stands out–not because the food is so terrific–but because it’s not outrageously over-priced. There is something synthetic about it, but if it doesn’t have the history of other classic Jewish deli’s like Katz’s or Ratner’s or the Carniege, it does have its heart in the right place, and it does provide some of the atmosphere you like to see in such an establishment.

I arrived early for a dinner date with a friend last night and saw that my favorite waitress was on duty. When the plump, black hostess greeted me, I pointed to the waitress, an squat, older woman who has the gruff disposition (not to mention charm) of a William Demarest character, and said, “I’m meeting a friend and want to sit in her section.” The hostess grabbed two menus and as she led me to a table said, “Are you sure you know what you are doing?” “Yeah, I know exactly what I’m doing.”

(more…)

Play Ball!

I don’t have much of vested interest in the ALCS playoffs but am rooting for the A’s. Man, Frank Thomas just missed hitting a game-winning grand slam in the ninth inning last night. Instead he popped-out to end the game. It reminded me that when I played baseball in high school, missing a fat pitch and popping it up felt much worse than striking out. Yo, did you guys see Rodney in the eighth inning? Christmas. His change-up/fastball combo was simply devastating. And though I’ll continue to pull for Oakland, I don’t really dislike the Tigers. Heck, I predicted that The Gambler wouldn’t win another game in the post-season, but up 2-0, at home, he’s got zero pressure on him. So let me revise that: Kenny Rogers will not win any kind of pressure game this October.

Here’s a thought: how much of a boost does Pudge Rodriguez’s reputation get should the Tigers win? Yeah, he’s already a Hall of Famer, but I mean, he was just killed a few years ago when he bolted Florida for the pathetic Tigers. While there has been more than a fare share of snickering when it comes to Pudge’s svelt figure over the past two years (he was one of the lucky ones who didn’t get caught, the thinking goes), he continues to be a dangerous defensive catcher and still has some life in his bat. He’s had a ton of talented pitchers to work with in Florida and now, in Detroit, but he certainly hasn’t screwed them up. How you like me now, indeed.

As for the NLCS, I’ll be honest, deep-down, I just don’t have it in me to actively root for the Mets. I’ve tried to do it, cause they are from New York and all, but I suppose it just goes against my nature. That said, I wouldn’t be upset if they won it all as they are an exceedingly likable bunch. Not only that, but I’ve got some very dear friends that are die-hard Met fans and I would just be thrilled for them should the boys from Queens pull it out. I interviewed “the voice of the Mets” Gary Cohen the other day for SI.com. Check it out. My hunch is that we’re going to see the Mets and Tigers in the Serious. As far as match-ups go, we could certainly do worse.

Lights, Camera, Action

ESPN is currently filming an 8-part TV movie version of Jonathan Mahler’s hugely entertaining book, “The Bronx is Burning.” Since ESPN has yet to make a credible movie, count me skeptical that this will be any different, even though gifted actors like John Turturro and Oliver Platt are featured in this one (imagine, Turturro playing both Billy Martin and Howard Cosell during his career, that’s some kind of feat). Roger Catlin, TV critic for the Hartford Courant, dropped by the film set a few days ago. Check out his write-up. The biggest sign of trouble?

The screenplay was vetted with Major League Baseball to avoid the kind of confrontation that led ESPN’s critically lauded series “Playmakers” to be canceled over objections by the NFL.

“One thing we were cognizant of was our relationship with our very valued partners,” Semiao says. But there’s nothing in “The Bronx Is Burning” that is injurious to baseball, all agreed.

Who wants to see a sanitized version of the Bronx Zoo? That’s like watching “Good Fellas” on broadcast TV. But we are talking about a Disney movie, after all. Who knows, maybe we’ll be surprised.

A Sad Night in New York

When the Yankees lost the 2001 World Series to the Diamondbacks there was a silver-lining to the defeat–it saved the life of utility infielder, Enrique Wilson. Had the Yankees won the Serious, Wilson would have been on the flight headed for the Dominican Republic that tragically crashed in Queens. From Buster Olney’s ‘The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty’ on the Belle Harbor crash:

The victory parade that would have taken the Yankees up New York City’s Canyon of Heroes for the fifth time in six years was canceled, so Enrique Wilson, the team’s utility infielder, decided to change his flight home. He was supposed to return to the Dominican Republic on Nov. 12, eight days after the end of the World Series, but moved up his departure a few days. He was at home when he heard that American Airlines Flight 587 – the plane he was supposed to be on – had crashed in Belle Harbor, a neighborhood in Queens. Two hundred and sixty-five people were killed in an accident that shook a city still reeling from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

When Wilson saw Mariano Rivera in spring training the next year, the reliever expressed great relief that Wilson was still alive. If Rivera had held the lead against Arizona, Wilson would likely have been on Flight 587. “I am glad we lost the World Series,” Rivera told Wilson, “because it means that I still have a friend.” For Rivera, this was further confirmation that they were all subject to God’s will.”
(thanks to joejoejoe for providing the excerpt)

Had the Yankees managed to beat the Tigers last weekend in the ALDS, Corey Lidle would still be alive. These are just some of the thoughts that ran through my mind tonight during an intermidable commute home from Manhattan to the Bronx. I could not concentrate on reading, I did not not want to listen to music. I wished I had someone I could talk to, and I looked around for anyone wearing a Yankee cap but found nobody. I was left to my thoughts and felt very alone. When I got off the subway on 231st street, I ran for the BX 7 bus in a driving rain and just missed the damn thing. I did not have an umbrella and so I waited for more than twenty minutes in the rain, the hollow pit in my stomach now climbing up to my chest, which became tighter by the moment. A crowd of people formed but hardly anybody spoke.

It’s so interesting to see how death affects people. Before I left work this evening, there was already a good dose of gallow’s humor floating around. “I bet A Rod is to blame for this,” said one co-worker, obviously joking. Another walked past my desk and said something about how Steinbrenner always manages to steal the Mets’ thunder. I shot him a dirty look and said, “Wow, that’s messed up.” He registered my reaction and said defensively, “If you can’t laugh at life, what have you got?” Rage shot through me. What kind of insensitive jerk, I thought. Then I remembered something callous a family member said to me about the Twin Towers on the afternoon of 9.11 and was reminded that in a time of death or existential crisis there is no “right” or “proper” way to act. Some people will instinctively use humor to avoid the pain of the situation. They may say things that strike others are completely inappropriate. Really, it’s unfair to judge anyone’s reactions in these moments.

As I stared into space on the subway, I wondered why I was feeling so empty, so sad. I’ve never had any special affection for Lidle, a mouthy pitcher who seemed to have burned his fair share of bridges in different clubhouses across the big leagues. Nevertheless, he was a familiar face. Though I didn’t know him personally, we all watched him on TV, lending the illusion of intimacy. This summer, I saw Lidle in the Yankee clubhouse on several occasions, walked up the runway to the dugout right behind him on one occasion, in fact.

I was sitting in the middle of the Yankee dugout, staking out a prime seat for Joe Torre’s pre-game press conference, one late Sunday morning in August when Lidle walked past me, down to the far end of the bench, to conduct a TV interview. A middle-aged woman interviewed him, and a young camera operator with a baseball cap turned backwards, stood next to her. Lidle, an altogether average-looking man, wore a Yankee cap and a warm-up suit and held a bottle of water in his right hand as he sat on the bench and looked into the camera. The smell of freshly-cut grass permeated the air, and though the Yankees would not take batting practice on this morning (it had rained the night before), the grounds grew were busy attending to the field as the organist played a medley of pop tunes–first “Sonny,” then “I’ve got you Under My Skin,” and then “I Feel Fine.” I overheard the woman asking Lidle about being a Yankee and him saying, “One month exact.” Had he seen any Broadway shows since he’d been in town? No, he had not. “I understand you are a big poker guy,” she said, hoping to engage him. Lidle had a blank look on his face and answered her questions in a bland manner, as if he was on automatic pilot. He told her about a Texas Hold ‘Em celebrity event he hosted in the off-season. Eric Chavez, Scott Erickson, and David Wells were just some of his friends who had shown up.

The interview did not last long. After Lidle walked away, the interviewer looked disappointed. She asked her cameraman, “Did he sound O.K.? He wasn’t very talkative.”

“He could just be tired like the rest of us,” he said.

The cameraman began packing up his equipment as the organist transitioned into “I Can See Cleary.”

The first time I remember seeing my father cry when I was a boy was the day after Thurman Munson died. When they had a ceremony for Munson at Yankee Stadium, my father sat in his chair in the living room and sobbed. I was nine at the time and just couldn’t understand why he was so upset. After all, he didn’t even like the Yankees. He explained to me that sometimes it is sad when a person dies, no matter who they are, even if they did play for the Yankees. When I got older, I understood what he was telling me. But it wasn’t until my trip home on a chilly, wet, October night, that I really felt what he meant.

Awful News

A small plane crashed into a high rise building on 72nd street on the east side on Manhattan this afternoon. According to reports, the plane not only belonged to Yankee pitcher Corey Lidle, but he was apparently on board and killed as well. Lidle’s passport has been recovered. There may have been another Yankee on the plane too but this is not official. (My first thought is that Lidle played high school ball with Jason Giambi.) Intial reaction here in my office brought back memories of 9.11. For Yankee fans, this tragedy also brings back thoughts of Thurman Munson who was killed in a plane crash in the summer of 1979. It is foggy, almost a bluish gray, in mid-town Manhattan and it is raining as night falls. This is absolutely stunning, terrible news.

Update

5:30 p.m. The Mayor is giving a press conference. He has not released any names. Bloomberg said that the two people on the plane were the instructor and a student with about 75 hours of flying experience. According to the Mayor, the plane was small and flimsy and that it pretty much burned-up. The crash does not seem to have caused major damage to the building. Apparently the plane took off from Teterborough airport in New Jersey, circled around the Statue of Liberty a few times and then headed up the East River. Radar lost contact with it around the 59th Street Bridge. They still do not know why it turned toward Manhattan Island at 72nd street.

Last month, Tyler Kepner wrote an article about Lidle’s interest in flying for the New York Times:

He earned his pilot’s license last off-season and bought a four-seat airplane for $187,000. It is a Cirrus SR20, built in 2002, with fewer than 400 hours in the air.

A player-pilot is still a sensitive topic for the Yankees, whose captain, Thurman Munson, was killed in the crash of a plane he was flying in 1979. Lidle, acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies on July 30, said his plane was safe.

“The whole plane has a parachute on it,” Lidle said. “Ninety-nine percent of pilots that go up never have engine failure, and the 1 percent that do usually land it. But if you’re up in the air and something goes wrong, you pull that parachute, and the whole plane goes down slowly.”

Tyler Stanger, Lidle’s flight instructor told Kepner:

“He was probably my best student,” Stanger said in a telephone interview. “He learned very, very quickly, and a lot of it is desire. He had huge desire.

“Really, anyone can learn how to fly. If you can drive a bus, you can fly an airplane. But to learn quickly takes money and time. Of course, Cory had plenty of money, and it was the off-season, so he had the time.”

…”On the mound, he has to hold in all the emotions and keep completely focused. It’s the same thing flying: If you’re in an emergency, you can’t waste any time worrying. You have to take command of the situation. A lot of people I fly with don’t have that mentality. Cory does.”

Chilling.

Sole Survivor

“You never complain about pressure because you understand it goes with what you do,” Torre said yesterday at a news conference at Yankee Stadium. “With the danger of failing is the elation of winning. You can’t get elated unless there’s a danger.”

Joe Torre was sharply dressed yesterday as he addressed the media at Yankee Stadium. His wife, Ali, was with him. After talking to several people about the situation, and then reading the papers this morning, it occurs to me that Torre needs the job as Yankee manager as much as they need him. Perhaps even more so. With two ex-wives, four kids, and more than a few houses to maintain, Torre was simply not going to walk away from $7 million. But it is more than that, of course. Torre will be paid handsomely (if not quite as handsomely) as a TV analyst and a regular on the lecture circut when he finally hangs up the spikes, but he’ll never have the prestige and glamour that he currently enjoys as the manager of the Yankees.

That is a lot to give up and Torre is obviously willing to allow himself to be left hung-out-to-dry for several days by the owner as the local media speculated wildly about his future. In the past he has put-up with being second-guessed by his owner, and allowed Steinbrenner to trash his coaches, stuff Buck Showalter would not put up with (you can see Lou Piniella telling George to take-this-job-and-shove-it if he had been in the same situation as Torre was this week). Of course, the Boss at 76 is different from the man who ran the team by fear and intimidation in the 70s and 80s, and Torre has achieved far more success than any manager George had before him. Still, I can’t help but feel how much the job matters to Torre, and am struck by how much he’ll deal with in order to keep the position.

The other thing that struck me was the following passage from Tyler Kepner’s coverage today in the Times:

“The interesting part is, when you say it’s been six years, if I’m not mistaken, it was 18 years when I got here,” Torre said. “And then in ’98, it was: ‘Hey, it’s been two years since you won. What happened?’ There’s a lot of luck involved.

“I don’t want you to think I’m backing off any accountability. I’m in charge here, it’s my responsibility to make sure we get the job done, and we didn’t get the job done. But there’s a lot of luck.”

For all the talk of the character and guts and will that the ’96-’01 Yankees had when compared with the ’02-’06 teams, some observers believe that the critical difference between the two is nothing more than pure luck. And here is Torre saying as much himself. He should know. Torre’s monumentally bad luck for most of his career as a player and as a manager has been well-documented. Then he enjoyed one of the most improbable runs of luck, good fortune, whatever you want to call it, that any manager in baseball has ever been blessed with (certainly in the free agent era). Now, he returns to the hot seat once again, hoping to roll a lucky seven one more time before the ride is finally over.

The Next Best Thing?

Eastward Ho, boys.

Meet the Press

Joe Torre is now meeting with the print media at Yankee Stadium. TV and radio are not there. Check with Pete Abraham’s Lo Hud blog all afternoon for updates. I’m listening to the feed on the FAN and the word is: Torre is staying.

Hello, Goodbye

According to George King in the New York Post, Joe Torre will not be fired as the skipper of the Bronx Bombers. Meanwhile, at the Daily News, Mike Lupica and Bill Madden continue to lead the charge in the campaign to see Joe go. From what I’m hearing the issue will be resolved one way or another by tomorrow (just in time to steal one more day of headlines from the Mets).

And just FYI, over at SI.com I’ve got a tribute to Buck O’Neil, who passed away a few days ago. We should all hope to lead lives that are half as full as the one Buck lived. He was simply a tremendous spirit. Baseball, nah, the world in general, needs more like him.

Say it Ain’t So

“The great thing about baseball is that there’s a crisis every day.” Gabe Paul

That goes double for the Yankees, especially after another crushing playoff defeat. Before a long winter of more A Rod mishegoss, of trade talk and free agent signings, the first order of business in Yankeeland is the future of manager Joe Torre. The belief is that George Steinbrenner will can Torre and replace him with one of his longtime favorites, Lou Piniella. If that happens, Torre’s run as Yankee manager, one of the more remarkable stories in the Steinbrenner Era, will finally come to an end. The Boss was in New York yesterday and issued a predictably terse statement.

According to an article by Joel Sherman and George King in the New York Post:

Steinbrenner was described by sources as trying to cool off yesterday from the Yankees’ ouster on Saturday as a way to assure that his decision about Torre is not rash. However, in a brief conversation with reporters at his midtown hotel yesterday, Steinbrenner clearly had not morphed into a Torre ally.

Steinbrenner said, “We will see what happens” when queried about Torre’s future. When asked about why he is waiting to make a decision, The Boss responded, “I am going to think it over.” Steinbrenner said, “No, I don’t have to” give Torre a vote of confidence.

The Yankees’ owner will return to Tampa today where he is expected to meet with executives to discuss what to do with Torre.

Reggie Jackson told the New York Times:

“It seems like the great job he was doing all year, all that’s forgotten,” Jackson said in a telephone interview.

“I imagine you could blame a guy for making bad moves, but I don’t know how you can blame a guy for the team going 20 innings in a row without scoring a run. I don’t know how you get to be a bum when those things happen. Like him or not, agree with his decisions or not, that’s what happened.”

Torre has enjoyed a terrific run of success with the Yankees, still there have been some fans who are ready to see him go (though I imagine if Torre gets the boot, there will be a great cry from other fans which will only help cement Torre’s legend). They are not alone. Some writers, like Mike Lupica, and Tim Machman, think it’s time for him to go as well. Over at SI.com, John Heyman writes:

There is no evidence Torre will survive this time. Some folks within the organization say they can see Brian Cashman, his longtime ally, fighting to save him. But even if Cashman, who himself has surely noticed Torre’s strategic failings this season, puts up a fight, it’s a losing fight now and can’t be based on anything beyond abject loyalty, nostalgia and a sense of debt.

Torre became a Hall-of-Fame manager here with a stunning four titles in five years. But he was always better with personalities than strategy. This year, he failed on both accounts. Club officials have noticed how Torre failed to get the best out of Rodriguez, and Torre’s frustration showed on his lineup cards in the playoffs, insulting the superstar player Cashman acquired by batting him sixth, then even moving him to eighth. By Game 4, when Rodriguez was in the No. 8 hole, it actually seemed like more of a message than a strategy. In any case, it was a desperate act.

Bob Klapisch talks about how Torre has lost touch with his players. Gary Sheffield was puzzeled by Torre’s decision to move Rodriguez to eighth in the batting order and bench Jason Giambi in what turned out to be the final game of the season, and could likely be the last game of Torre’s Yankee career.

The Sun Also Rises

Anyone feeling hungover this morning? I am and I didn’t even have anything to drink last night. The Yankees’ entertaining and highly enjoyable season ended prematurely yesterday, with a whimper then a thud, and we fans can’t help but feeling angry and sad–completely helpless. There will be plenty of blame to go around (if you think we’ve seen the peak of the A Rod bashing, hold onto your hats). Will they fire Joe Torre, How Could This Have Happened?!, etc, etc. Guys, I just don’t have it in me to dig into the dirt right now, so you’ll excuse the lack of links. The Yankees weren’t the only team to take it on the chin in the first round–look at the Twins, who also had a rewarding regular season. But that’s what makes baseball unpredictable, wonderful, and, at times, painful.

I think I’ll be pulling for the A’s in the ALCS. I don’t have anything against the Tigers, and I think they have the best home uniforms in the game next to the Yankees. But I have to admit that I was slighly put-off by their post-game celebration on the field after the game. I understand there has been bupkus to cheer about for Tiger fans, and I think the effusiveness expressed by the players were genuine and sincere. So it’s not like I was offended on principle or anything. But this was just the ALDS. What ever will they do for an encore? I felt they were gilding the lily some, but, what the hell do I know? The only thing I came away with watching Kenny Rogers lead the charge, standing on the dugout showering fans with champagne, was the thought that he will not win another game in October. Oh, but maybe that’s just the bitterness talking.

No matter. Like I mentioned, it is a beautiful, crisp, Sunday morning on the east coast. The sun is out and the leaves are turning. I want to thank all of the regulars–and semi-regulars–who make Bronx Banter the community it is. Again, you guys are the best. And for those who have been with us for more than a minute now, you know just cause the season is over for the Yanks, doesn’t mean we’re going anywhere. We’ll be here for ya through the long winter.

Keep coming back.

Flop

The Tigers handled the suddenly hapless Bronx Bombers with ease today, pounding New York 8-3 and ending the Yankees’ season. Jeremy Bonderman pitched well, while Jaret Wright made an early exit (he gave up two dingers in the second inning). The offense was completely flat. Jeter had a hit and Posada hit a late home run, but Alex Rodriguez, dropped to eighth in the order today, was horrid, and Gary Sheffield and Robinson Cano were not far behind. The end came swiftly and without mercy for the $200 million Yankees. They are sure to get decimated by the press in the coming days and weeks. Rodriguez may get so much abuse that the Yankees may consider trading him.

This was nothing short of a stunning way for an entertaining season to end. The Tigers deserve a good measure of credit–their pitching was especially strong. But after Game One, the Yankees played tighter than a tick’s ass and they are left with the bitter taste of defeat to ponder for the next four plus months. Or as everyone’s favorite whipping boy put it:

“You kind of get tired of giving the other team credit,” third baseman Alex Rodriguez said after another terrible October. “At some point you’ve got to look in the mirror and say, ‘I sucked.”‘

This one stings right now. But keep coming back and we’ll commiserate together. Hey, you guys are the best.

A Tight Spot

The Yankees have their backs against the wall today and their season hangs in the balance. Will the hard-throwing Jeremy Bonderman make like his teammate, The Gambler, and pitch the game of his life today? Is there any way that Jaret Wright can come through for the Bombers?

Talk about tight spots, dig my situation. I’m in Vermont for Emily’s sister’s wedding (she was married in Mexico last spring, this is the U.S. celebration). The ceremony isn’t until tomorrow but there is a family barbeque today. Guess what time it starts? 5:00, smack dab in the middle of the biggest game of the year for the Yanks.

My first thought when I learned the Saturday schedule was to tape the game and watch it later in the evening. But that’s when I thought the Yanks would win on Friday. Even if I prevent the other Yankee fans from watching it on the TV here, they’ve got cell phones, and scores will be floating around the party for sure. What to do? How to be a dutiful fiancee and make small talk when I’m sure to be distracted? Can you feel my pain?

I’ll just have to find a way to suck it up, just like the Yanks. I know I’ll be able to do it and I know they will too.

Go git ‘em, boys.

Let’s Go Yan-Kees!

Welcome to our Nightmare

The worst case scenerio reared its ugly head tonight for the Yankees as Kenny Rogers, the consumate October choke-artiste, came up aces for the Tigers, throwing the best money game of his career. It was nothing short of Ripley’s I tell you and I can’t recall being more livid watching a game all season. Rogers had a nasty curve ball that he used for a strike-out pitch, to go along with his normal assortment of slop. His control was excellent and he had the Yankees at his mercy. Did he make a deal with the Devil? This certainly wasn’t the Kenny Rogers we knew in New York.

The Yankees had a runner on base in each of the first eight innings but could not score a run. The team went 0-18 with runners on base, and as result lost Game 3 in humiliating fashion, 6-0. Rogers kept the Yankees off-balance, had them chasing a diving change-up out-of-the-zone, and frozen, looking at fastballs perfectly placed on the black. In all, Rogers had eight strike outs in 7 2/3 innings of work. Moreover, Rogers was increasingly animated and charged-up on the mound as the game progessed.

The Yankees, it seems, can not buy a break in this series. In the fifth inning, with the score 3-0, Bernie Williams narrowly missed a two-run home run. He chased ball four in the dirt and struck out instead. When Robinson Cano went down next, Rogers screamed at his catcher, “C’mon, godammit, give me the ball.” In the top of the sixth, Derek Jeter smoked a line up the middle. The ball caught Rogers–an excellent fielder–in the glove and he was able to pick it up and throw Jeter out. In the bottom of the inning, Carlos Guillen’s two-out line drive hit off Jeter’s glove for a hit, opening the door for the Tigers to score two more runs. And that’s the way the cookie crumbled for the Bombers who now look to Jaret Wright to stop the bleeding and salvage the season. Think about that for a moment and see if you can sleep well tonight. (Emily, always the voice of reason said to me, “Well, if Kenny Rogers can pitch a great game what makes you think Jaret Wright can’t do the same thing?”)

Randy Johnson allowed five runs but he wasn’t entirely awful. A three-run second inning featured an awful defensive throwing play by Jason Giambi. It was just not the Yankees night, pure and simple. Things happen fast in the first round. The Yankees and Twins were the hot teams going into October, but Minnie was swept by the Oakland A’s and the Yankees are hanging on for dear life. Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano have done bubkus in the series (though Cano got his first hit, a single, tonight). Damon, Giambi and Abreu did dick tonight. The entire team mustered just five hits.

But this is no time for pointing fingers. The entire team has got to suck it up and show-up in full-force tomorrow. Otherwise, what has been a fine and awfully enjoyable season will end prematurely and regrettably. Time to see what kind of fight these guys have in them.

Hang tough, guys. The Yanks’ll get ‘em tomorrow. Nobody said it was going to be easy.

All About the Benjamins

The notion of Alex Rodriguez as an over-priced flop has been the single largest media story around the Yankees in years. Rodriguez does not go 5-5 in playoff games like Derek Jeter–he hasn’t done much of anything substantial in his past two-and-a-half playoff series. Forget about what he has done in the past–his lifetime post-season numbers are far from embarassing–New York is a what-have-you-done-for-us-lately town. I hear Yankee fans everywhere hating on A Rod, and the papers fuel the flames. The back page of the Daily News today shows a close shot of A Rod after a strike out. He is looking down, a sullen expression on his face, as he lifts the helmet off his head in frustration. The headline reads “Awol.” The New York tabloids relish humiliating Rodriguez when he does not play well, especially in the playoffs.

Even far-minded critics like my man Jake Luft are harping on Rodriguez’s failure, which grows more glaring with each mediore game. Buster Olney has a great blog entry on the subject today over at ESPN. A Rod hit the ball well in Game One, but only had one hit to show for it. He whiffed three times in Game Two. The first and lasat K you have to give to Verlander and Zumaya, the other two at-bats are on Rodriguez.

But New York’s obsession with hating Rodiriguez says more about Nee Yorkers themselves, and the nature of the tabloid competition here, than it necessarily does about Rodriguez himself. (Just like ovation Torii Hunter got from Twins’ fans after mis-playing a ball into an inside-the-park home run said something about Minniesota fans. I know Hunter is different to them than A Rod is to Yankee fans, I’m just saying. ) Not that A Rod doesn’t contribute to the matter but the resentment that people express says more about what they demand from the highest-paid player: nothing short of being the absolute best in every way. They feel entitled to take the guy down if he doesn’t match their expectations.

It’s not that Yankee fans don’t want him to do well. They do want to see him succeed. He got a bonafide ovation as he walked to the plate in his first at bat of the series. But when he fails the fans turn on him quickly and without mercy. He reminds us of our own failures, our own inability to meet certain “clutch” situations all the time in our own lives. Not only that, he confirms our worst fears about ourselves–that we won’t do well. Watch a Rodriguez at-bat with a group of Yankee fans and most of them expect him to fail, and go so far as to root against him. It’s a weird kind of maschochistic thing, I don’t get it.

I heard two construction workers talking about the Yanks in the local deli this morning and their entire riff on A Rod was what a bum he was for making all that money. “If you or I performed like that in our jobs, Frankie, we’d be out of jobs, am I right?”

“And then he sits there and takes pitches. How do you take pitches.”

“They teach you in little league you gotta swing the bat, right?”

“I can’t believe a guy gets paid all that money to leave the bat on his shoulder.”

And so forth. You’ve heard it all. It’s not as if Rodriguez has not have some big hits as a Yankee–he has. But he has to have them in the playoffs. Now. He’s the only star player in baseball whose entire season is judged almost exclusively by how he does in the playoffs. 120 RBI? Should have been 148. Get bent. What have you done for me lately?

It is a very real media story and while we’re all sick of it but it could get the guy run out of town if he fails and the team bows out early. That would be a shame because headcase or not, after three years in New York, Rodriguez is probably the best third baseman in Yankee history, and that’s pretty awesome. He’s not Nettles with the glove by a long stretch, but he’s a much better hitter. Better base runner, better player. But a bigger mystery. When the game looks hard for a player, when he’s a scrappy guy like Wally Backman or David Eckstein, fans identify them with and give them a pass. It’s the Wayne Cherbet syndrome, you know what I mean? The game is hard for A Rod too, even though he’s supremely gifted. It’s just difficult in a different way, a way people can’t relate to or identify with. They just see that he’s good looking and very rich and he’s strikes out three times in a playoff game.

But now it’s time for Mr. Rodriguez to meet our old pal, the Gambler Kenny Rogers. If you don’t get at least two hits tonight, it’s only gunna get worse tomorrow, kid. So as Don Corelone said to Johnny Fontaine, “You can act like a MAN! (slap) What’s the matter with you?” Go get ‘em, bro, leave it all out on the field and kick some ass. Remember, the Gambler is a bigger headcase than you. Doubles in the gap, dude, doubles in the gap. The story won’t go away until you come through. Make it happen.

Let’s Go Yan-Kees!

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