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December 23 2000 : Think Back to April 23rd…

Home runs in the Toronto SkyDome have become increasingly frequent in the “juiced ball” (and/or juiced player) era, with 58 round-trippers hit in just the first 14 games there in 2000. On Easter Sunday, 2000, when the New York Yankees took on their division rivals, the Blue Jays, eight balls would fly into the seats. What no one could have expected was that two men would notch another entry in the record books as a result.

The game began with Frank Castillo on the mound for the Jays and Chuck Knoblauch taking some bad hacks to strike out. But Derek Jeter followed with a walk, stole second and then moved to third on a fielder’s choice. He needn’t have bothered, as Bernie Williams promptly planted one over the wall on Castillo’s first pitch of the at bat. 2-0 Yanks.

Jose Cruz wasn’t going to stand for that. The Blue Jays were on a streak in which they had homered in each of the previous eleven games (Cruz himself 5 of the last 6 games), and had scored at least six runs in each of the ten previous games. Cruz hit a round-tripper in his leadoff at bat. Former Yankee Homer Bush then singled. El Duque struck out Raul Mondesi, but Carlos Delgado worked out a walk. DH Brad Fullmer hit a double to score Bush and moved Delgado to third. Tony Batista hit a ground ball to third to score Delgado, as rookie Alfonso Soriano, playing 3B, went for the sure out at first. El Duque induced another ground ball from Darren Fletcher, but he reached base on Derek Jeter’s fielding error. The number eight hitter, Marty Cordova, then flew out to end the inning, but now it was 3-2 Jays.

Well, Jorge Posada wasn’t going to let that stand long, either. Leading off the second, he slammed another homer, followed by Ricky Ledee and a ground rule double. Castillo got out of the inning when Knoblauch still couldn’t find his swing and struck out for the second time in two innings, but the pitcher would not return. Tied 3-3.

The Jays went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the second, and although the Yankees threatened with a Bernie single and a Tino double, they were unable to score in the third against new pitcher Clayton Andrews.

Knoblauch wasn’t the only player who couldn’t find his swing. Leading off the bottom of the third, Raul Mondesi struck out for the second time. Delgado then hit a hot shot which Knoblauch leaped high into the air to pull down. Knoblauch also made the next, and last, out of the inning, taking a grounder and serving it to Tino Martinez without seeming troubled.

Ricky Ledee wanted very much to get in on the home run hitting party with his Puerto Rican teammates, and gave it a good try in the fourth, but his ball was caught in left in a highlight-worthy play by Marty Cordova. Shane Spencer, in the DH role that day, struck out, but the Yankees were about to get to reliever Clayton Andrews. Alfonso Soriano, in the #9 hole where Brosius usually batted, worked a walk, and then Knoblauch finally made contact, singling him to second. Jeter followed with another single, scoring Soriano, and O’Neill slapped another, scoring Chuck.

Having batted left-handed against the righty Castillo, Bernie now turned around to face lefty Clayton. Different pitcher, same result: Bernie rocketed one out for three more runs. Tino Martinez then singled, and as switch-hitter Jorge Posada was preparing to also take his cuts from the right side, Bernie commented to him that it was Posada’s turn to do the same thing. Jorge didn’t wait long, taking the first pitch over the wall for two more runs.

It was the first time, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, that two switch-hitting teammates had both homered from both sides of the plate in one game. In fact, it was the first time any two switch-hitters had done it in the same game, even on opposing teams.

Then Ledee, up for the second time in the inning, may have tried too hard to join the fun, as he struck out to end the inning. He would later comment to broadcaster Michael Kay that the headlines back in Puerto Rico would undoubtedly read “Ledee Stinks.” And yet, 10-3 Yanks.

El Duque cruised through the fourth and fifth, and Knoblauch continued to make the routine plays. But Chuck came out of the game with a sore hand, and was replaced at second by Clay Bellinger. The wheels came off for El Duque in the sixth. The Blue Jays tried to even things up, in home runs if not in total score, hitting three home runs in the inning to bring the score up to 10-7. At four wallops per team, the difference in the game was Jeter and Tino being on base at the right time.

A bullpen battle then ensued, with the Yankee relievers Stanton, Nelson, and Rivera notching 4 K’s in 2 2/3 scoreless innings, and Jay’s pen men Painter, Quantrill, and Borbon striking out 5 in 5. Which meant for the rest of the game the score stayed 10-7 and the ball finally stayed in the park.

(Did you enjoy reading this blog entry? Please consider buying me a hot dog.)

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