On Tuesday morning I walked up 161st street, away from the two Yankee Stadiums, on my way to jury duty. Once you reach the Grand Concourse, up the hill and four blocks east of River Avenue, you can still look into the upper deck of the old stadium, the blue seats flaking away in the distance.
It was raining, a gray spring morning. I heard a woman curse. Sharply. (I always tense up when I see a parent getting on their kids in public.) She was not far in front of me and she was yelling at her son walking next to her. He could not have been older than five. Wearing a napsack, carrying her purse and holding an umbrella, he struggled to keep up with her. Just as he caught up, she’d pull ahead, he’d fall behind and again and he’d trot ahead.
“Don’t drop my f***ing purse.”
A smaller boy hung from around her neck. The mother adjusted her hands in a tight clasp behind her back to hold him up. I stood next to them as we waited for the light to change on the Concourse. I held my umbrella over her head. She looked up at me and smiled. She was young with a round face and dark, exotic, Spanish good looks, the kind that makes guys do dumb things. Mascara ran down her cheek. She smiled at me and asked if I would put her young son’s jacket hood over his head.
The small boy hanging around her neck smiled at me, his face splattered with rain drops. So did his brother who was holding the umbrella. It never ceases to amaze me how resilient kids are, I thought. Both boys were beautiful, their smiles without open and innocent. I told the older kid that he was a good man. The mother explained that the little one had lost his shoe as they were getting off the subway.
“Fell between the car and the platform, right on the tracks.”
I looked down at his wet sock then back up at his face. He was having a fine time. As we crossed the street she said she was headed for the dollar store to get him a pair of flip flops. The little one’s name is Cassius. The older one is Evander.
“Big boxing fan, huh?” I said.
“Well, when he was going to be born we couldn’t figure a name. I was in the hospital reading an Entertainment Weekly magazine and I see the name Evander and I ask my friends, and they liked it so he’s Evander. Then with the baby I figured to keep it like a theme so he’s Cassius.”
We went our separate ways without saying goodbye as we passed the Concourse Plaza, a block-long building on the east side of the Grand Concourse. It used to be a fancy hotel. Babe Ruth stayed there. Now it is an assisted-living facility. From the top floors, I’m sure there is still a clear view of the upper deck of the vacant Stadium. The thought of old people looking out at empty, paint-chipped seats, waiting for the wrecking ball, brought to mind the the loneliness of an Edward Hopper painting.
These days when the Yankees play the Red Sox it feels like they are losing even when the score is tied, feels like they are trailing before the game has begun. A 6-0 lead in Boston a few weeks back was a mirage. The two teams have played five games and Boston has won all five. It’s not as if the Yankees have been getting blown out; they have been competitive, they have shown some fight, but it’s hard to ignore the basic fact that the Yankees are now the team chasing the Red Sox.
Tuesday night in the rain was more of the same. It was slow and painful for the Yanks who dropped back to .500 at 13-13 (the Sox are 17-10).
Final Score: Red Sox 7, Yankees 3.
They have been ever since 2005, really. Jason Bay hit a three-run bomb off Joba Chamberlain in the first inning and the Yanks were in a hole again. Johnny Damon’s three-run homer against Josh Beckett in the third, a line drive into the second deck in right field, got the Bombers back in the game. And then Chamberlain went to work, striking out ten batters over the next four innings, eight looking. He featured a fastball in the mid-nineties, a curve ball, sharp slider and a nice change-up.
With two out in the fourth, Chamberlain thought he caught David Ortiz looking with a 1-2 fastball. Ortiz checked his swing on the next two pitches, sliders, and each time Chamberlain thought he had the K. Instead, Ortiz walked and Joba hit Bay with the first pitch. But he gathered himself and with wicked stuff, got Lowell looking. 97 pitches through five, and Chamberlain left the mound screaming and hollering, as is his wont.
Joba fell behind JD Drew 3-1 to start the sixth then struck him out looking. He whiffed the first baseman Jeff Bailey swinging. Chamberlain’s last eight outs were K’s. 12 in all. 108 pitches and then Joe Girardi replaced him with Jose Veras. The Yankee manager was showered with Bronx Cheer on his walk to the mound. Veras came in, the skies opened up, the seats directly behind home plate cleared, and Jason Variteck flew out to right to end the inning.
The rain fell harder. Nick Swisher earned a one-out walk and Melky Cabrera, who was thrown out trying to stretch a double into a triple in the fourth, sliced a ground rule double to left. It looked as if Beckett slipped on his follow-through to Cabrera, but it wasn’t until he fell behind Ramiro Pena 2-0 that the game was stopped and the grounds crew came out and patched up the mound with dry dirt. The crowd was getting wild. Chamberlain’s antics and his performance riled them up and they were making noise. Beckett, regrouped, got a call, and then struck Pena out on a pitch well out of the strike zone. A veteran pitcher making short work of a young hitter. Jose Molina grounded out to short and Beckett was out of trouble.
Veras and Phil Coke got the Yanks through the seventh and Jeter blooped a single to lead-off the bottom of the inning chasing Beckett. Jeter didn’t advance to second, however, as Hideki Okajima retired Johnny Damon on a check-swing pop-out, Mark Teixeira on a fly out to left, and Matsui too on a fly ball to Bay in left.
Young Pena made an error to start the eighth, and two runs scored against Jonathan Albaladejo. Okajima got the Yanks in order again in the bottom of the inning. Mark Melancon walked the bases loaded in the ninth, fell behind Lowell 2-0 and was pulled from the game. His replacement, David Robertson, got out of the inning, but not before walking in a run. Takashi Saito set the Yanks down in order, they went like lambs, to end it.
More rain tomorrow.