"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Bug a Boo

Where to begin? How about that the Yankees are down 0-2 and one loss away from an early playoff exist for the third straight year? How about that their season rests in the hands of the legend Rocket Clemens, who has pitched exactly twice (10 innings) in the last month, and who could conceivably be pitching the final game of his career? Or how about that Game 2 of the ALDS was a magnificently tense game that featured two memorable starting performances from Andy Pettitte and Fausto Carmona, not to mention heroic relief outings from Rafael Perez and Mariano Rivera?

Or how about the game going down to the bottom of the 11th, bases loaded, two men out, full count, when Pronk Hafner singled home the winning run against Jose Vizcaino to give the Tribe a 2-1 win? I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt dubious about the Yankees’ chances of winning when Vizcaino walked Kenny Lofton—who killed the Yankees again—to start the 11th. When the count went full to Hafner, how many of you thought he was going to walk the winning run home? Raise your hands.

The game was highlighted by a swarm of tiny, black, flying ants. The ants infested the infield (and were most intense at the pitcher’s mound) and became a distraction by the seventh inning. The players and umpires doused themselves with bug repellent and an inning later, there was a frenzy. They shot into the players’ eyes and mouth. They crawled on their skin, sucking in their sweat on an unseasonably humid night at the Jake.

Who will ever forget the close-up shots of Joba Chamerlain looking like something out of David Lynch’s “Eraserhead,” his neck, face and entire head covered with a dozens little flying ants, as he unraveled and allowed the game-tying run to score?

The Yankee hitters were limited to three lousy hits. Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter, Bobby Abreu, Alex Rodriguez, Hideki Matsui, Jorge Posada and Robinson Cano were a combined 2-27. Posada hit the ball hard twice—Grady Sizemore made a smooth diving catch to rob him of extra bases. Rodriguez struck out three times against Carmona–sinkers in, in, in. He was both overmatched and jumpy and he’ll receive the most attention for the team’s offensive failures, but the truth of the matter is, all of the hitters were stymied. Carmona, and then Rafael Perez once again, were just that tough.

Carmona and Pettitte were a contrast in styles but they were both terrific. Carmona was efficient and his stuff was simply overwhelming. Pettitte, on the other hand, repeatedly pitched his way out of trouble, but was equally in control. Using four pitches—curve ball, slider, cutter and a four-seam fastball—Pettitte held the Indians down, in one of the best playoff performances of a career that already boasts more than a few gems. It was a sheer pleasure to watch.

Too bad it didn’t lead to a victory.

No, instead it was a long, harrowing night for Yankee fans. And anyone who stayed up late enough was treated to Manny Ramirez’s game-ending, three-run home run against the Angels. All around, an awful night to be a Yankee fan, and a great night to root for the Red Sox. I was surprised to learn that it was the first time Manny has hit a “walk-off” home run since he’s been in Boston. I have to admit, I smiled when he hit it. The standing at the plate for ten minutes was garbage, but not unusual. Maybe I was just thinking, “Tonight can’t get any worse.” But I was also pleased on a gut-level that K Rod blew the game. One hot dog deserves another, right?

Now, the Yankees are up against the wall, with nowhere to go but home. They’ll turn to Clemens on Sunday, and if he falters early, Mussina, Hughes and everything but the kitchen sink. Alex Rodriguez and the mighty Yankee offense need to wake-up, but fast. With all due respect to Jake Westbrook, he’s a far cry from the likes of Sabathia and Carmona. I should think the bats will break-out in a rather royal way come Sunday. If they don’t, it’ll be three-and-out again, with a host of off-season questions that’ll need to be answered.

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