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Archive for October, 2006

October 12, 2006: Twisted Fate

October 12, 2006 By: ctan Category: Baseball Musings, Yankee Fan Memories

I saw the news about the plane crash while doing errands with a good friend yesterday. We were walking through Davis Square in Somerville, just as it was starting to drizzle, feeling good about ourselves for having visited the post office and farmer’s market before heavy rain started to fall. As we were passing Mike’s, a pizza joint that recently installed giant plasma screen TVs, the image on the screen of a building on fire caught my eye.

I pressed against the glass, recognizing New York City the way a child recognizes her mother’s face in a sea of strangers. What I couldn’t tell was whether it was the west side or the east side, couldn’t make out which bridge was in the background. We hopped in the car and turned on newsradio, breathing a sigh of relief when the words “not terrorism” were spoken.

After all, it was October 11th, a day I will always associate closely with terrorism and September 11th, because of my trip to Yankee Stadium on that day in 2001. (Read the entry) The one-month anniversary. Game 2 of the ALDS. A friend of mine (who is a Red Sox fan) and I drove down to the game together, had our pocket knives confiscated by overzealous stadium security (knives were not on the list of newly-prohibited items posted outside the Stadium and on the web site), watched Bush’s speech on the Diamondvision while they delayed the start of the game, and so on.

We hadn’t gone a mile in the car, though, when the word came over the radio that the plane had belonged to Cory Lidle. Now things were simply surreal.

Just the day before, I’d interrupted my workday to take notes and file a story on Joe Torre’s press conference. (The one where he announced that nothing was changing.) It was as if, having been bumped in the first round of the playoffs, the Yankees still had to be in the headlines. At least that’s the way Charley Steiner bitterly put it on his XM Radio show when his phone-in interview with a guest was interrupted for the Torre presser. (Gee, Charley, have some sour grapes?)

I’d wager he had no such callous things to say once it was confirmed that Lidle had been on the plane. News trickled in bit by bit once we got back to the office. Lidle’s passport had been found on the ground outside the building that the plane had hit. At first they were reporting four fatalities, but as it turned out, everyone in the building was okay. Two bodies were found on the ground, though.

A while later, it was the Yankees themselves who confirmed that Lidle had been in the plane. His wife and son were also on a plane at the time, flying cross country, and so did not hear the news until hours after everyone else. I assume they were headed to California, where Lidle hailed from. Lidle and Jason Giambi had been teammates in high school in SoCal, and had played together in the majors in Oakland. Lidle was also a replacement player, one of those like Shane Spencer and Kevin Millar, who crossed the line during the 1994 strike and so were barred from joining the players’ union.

By dinner time, when my significant other came home, the fire was out, firefighters and NTSB investigators were picking through the rubble, and the news that a mayday call about a fuel problem had been made shortly before the crash. Taking off from Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, they had flown past the Statue of Liberty and were headed up the East River when, it appears, they might have tried to make toward LaGuardia for an emergency landing. Instead, they veered and struck the north-facing side of a condo building around 71st Street, a building where one of the Mets coaches lives.

As we ate dinner, I told corwin I felt bad that I didn’t feel worse about Lidle. “I just don’t feel anything,” I said. “And I feel bad about that. I mean, I feel generally bad that a terrible thing happened. But I dunno.”

He pointed out that I never met Lidle, unlike many of the players, I had no personal connection to him, had hardly seen him play.

A terrible thought occurred to me. “Do you think I’d feel differently if either he’d pitched better or the Yankees had won?” Could my bitterness over the Yankees’ loss in the ALDS have dampened my feelings about this?

Get a grip, I told myself. Life and death goes on a different scale from “baseball.” Which is why I thought I really ought to have felt something other than the general apathy I felt then.

It hit me in the middle of the night. I woke just before dawn with the thought “…flying up the East River.” How much do you want to bet that Lidle planned to fly over Yankee Stadium? He was a free agent, probably going to land with another team by February. He had cleared out his locker on Sunday. Did he want to take one more look, a bird’s eye view, of the place, a view few players have had? (They’re going to tear the place down, you know.)

And then I lay there thinking, about Lidle’s six-year-old son, who must have surely thought he had the greatest dad in the world, who played Major League Baseball. And about how if the bodies were found on the ground, was it the crash that killed them, or the fall? And all the sadness and terror that I have learned to suppress automatically whenever we talk about terrorism suddenly came flooding out.

I’m crying as I type this. I didn’t cry on this past anniversary of September 11th. I kept a lid on it.

And come to think of it, I didn’t cry when the Yankees lost the 2001 World Series. I went to bed that night subdued, but not heartbroken.

Heartbreak didn’t set in until the next day.

This feels much the same.

I didn’t know Cory Lidle. I never stood at his locker waiting for a postgame quote. I’m not even sure I would recognize his voice. But now I’m finding it fitting that about an hour after the crash it started to rain in New York. It rained so hard, it washed out the opener of the NLCS at Shea. When an accident claims two people’s lives, it’s a tragedy, whether any of them played Major League Baseball or not. But given the way baseball, New York, and planes flying into buildings are forever linked–not to mention the fact that the last baseball player to die in his own plane was also a Yankee, captain and catcher Thurman Munson in 1979–Lidle’s death seems like a sign of the times.

And I’m sad. So sad.

October, 6 2006: ALDS Game Three

October 06, 2006 By: ctan Category: Baseball Fans and Fandom, Yankee Fan Memories

Well, I tried my best. Joe Torre always says that game three of a five-game series is the pivotal one, so I broke out the heavy artillery tonight.

First, we switched bars, heading off to the Sports Depot in Allston to watch the game. The Sports Depot used to be a train station, and it’s this huge place with a vaulted roof and dozens of huge plasma TVs. We’ve never been too badly harassed there for being Yankees fans, and they have a decent menu, too.

Second, I wore the as-yet-untested New York Black Yankees flannel reproduction jersey, size 3XXXL, in honor of the Big Unit. Yeah, it looks like a dress on me, but it’s warm, which makes it especially good for October baseball.

Third, I wore the blue and white hair stick in my bun. Not the black one, not the silver one, and certainly not he red one. The blue and white one I bought specifically to match my Yankee gear.

Fourth, I broke out the bears. Several years ago I won a Derek Jeter “Bamm-Beano” bear at the Jersey shore. (in August 2000, to be exact) and the Jeter bear has come with us to watch many playoff games. This little beanbag fella stands (well, sits) about 8″ tall, has pinstripes and a #2 and “’98 Champs” stitched on his chest. He has accompanied me to watch several playoff games before at various bars and homes over the years.

I also have a Roger Clemens, a Roger Maris, and some other bears. But on my recent trip to Cooperstown I found a bin of the Bamm-Beanos on sale for two bucks a pop, and pulled a Tino Martinez and a Scott Brosius out of the pile. All three–Tino, Brosius and Jeter–came along to the bar tonight.

To no avail. For the second game in a row the Yankees offense was utterly stymied by great pitching.

Why, oh why? did this have to be the night that Kenny Rogers finally figured out how to pitch in the postseason? Prior to tonight, in 9 postseason starts, Rogers hadn’t recorded a win. Some of you might remember how he was with the Yankees in October 1996. Or how he walked in the run that ended the Mets’ season in ’99.

I had a feeling of foreboding as we approached the bar a few minutes before game time, though. Why? There on the chalkboard by the door were written the fateful words: “10 PM TONIGHT: KARAOKE.”

Yes, my friends, it seems we could not win. Despite the fact that Randy Johnson pitched decently and was hurt by several lucky hits in the third inning, despite the fact that the Yankees just could not get any decent breaks, I knew then beyond the shadow of a doubt that the late innings were going to be painful.

We ordered dessert in the seventh inning in a last ditch attempt to turn things around. My boyfriend and I often have what I call PFM when it comes to the Yankees: “positive food mojo.” This means that if I’m hungry, and the hot dog guy at the Stadium comes just before the Yankees bat, then they’ll rally. Our Double Fudge Delight was delivered just as the Yankees batted in the eighth, but all it got us was that Jeter walked when he should have been struck out looking (at least according to ESPN’s K-Zone).

By then, the karaoke had begun. As Ron Villone was pitching, with two men in scoring position and two out, the hapless drunkard at the microphone was wailing out the song “Don’t Let Me Down.”

By far the most appropriate song though, came next, as the tuneless boyfriend of the karaoke nite organizer got up to intone the Rolling Stones’ classic: “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

No indeed.

P.S. Will someone tell me what was up with the guy in the crowd holding up the sign that read “Billy Crystal Sucks”?? My only guess is that he used the old Tiger Stadium–just before it was demolished–as a stand-in for Yankee Stadium to film the movie “61*” but I’m thinking that might be a stretch?

P.P.S. I’m out of ideas for what to try. Anyone with any good luck charms, pre-game rituals, etc. I implore you, don’t forget them tomorrow.

October 5, 2006: ALDS Game 2

October 05, 2006 By: ctan Category: Yankee Fan Memories

Stifled!

I hate it when cliches are true. The baseball cliche that applied most strongly in the Bronx this afternoon was “good pitching beats good hitting.” The Tigers’ 4-3 win over the Yankees was eked out without benefit of a single big inning. They pecked away at Mike Mussina, scoring single runs in the second, fifth, sixth, and seventh innings. Moose stuck out the side in the first inning, and pitched well overall, but his few mistakes in the strike zone were hit hard. One pitch he left up and over the plate, Carlos Guillen tagged easily into the right field seats to account for one run. Marcus Thames, the former Yankee farmhand who loves hitting in Yankee Stadium (remember his debut when he hit a homer off Randy Johnson?), accounted for the remaining three. He went 3-for-4, plating a run in his first at bat, doubling and scoring in his second, and singling and eventually scoring in the seventh.

The Tigers’ pitching, which has been stellar all year and the only reason the Tigers contended, snuffed every attempt by the Yankees to get something going except for one. In the fourth, Johnny Damon got he one big two-out hit the Yankees needed, for a three run homer. But they left the bases loaded in the first, stranded two in the second despite having two on and no outs, and left pinch runner Melky Cabrera on first base in the ninth after Matsui had led off with a base hit.

Starter Justin Verlander was impressive, hitting 101 m.p.h. on the radar gun and never panicking. His wickedly-moving curve ball caught Alex Rodriguez looking twice, and flummoxed both Gary Sheffield and Jason Giambi. The real eye-opener, though, was reliever Joel Zumaya, who cracked 103 against both Giambi and A-rod in the eighth inning. Both men tried to catch up to 103 m.p.h. pitches on the outside corner and neither succeeded.

Even the Captain proved he’s not perfect. He not only struck out against Zumaya, in the first inning he popped up a bunt that Pudge Rodriguez caught. Given that they left the bases loaded that inning without scoring a run, and that the margin of loss was only one run, that might have been the play of the game right there.

Tomorrow’s game pits Randy Johnson against Kenny Rogers. Both of these men have been known to pitch dominating games (each has a perfect game under his belt), but both have also been known to melt down under certain circumstances. Johnson’s mechanics are known for getting easily out of whack, and with his recent herniated disk, one must wonder whether everything will be working for him. Rogers sometimes appears to have a mental block about the Yankees in particular, perhaps a vestige of his time as a Yankee when his postseason pitching left much to be desired.

Good pitching may beat good hitting, but if it comes down to bad pitching, the question becomes which lineup can pile up the runs faster? We’ll find out in Detroit.

October, 4 2006: Reign Delay?

October 04, 2006 By: ctan Category: Baseball Fans and Fandom, Yankee Fan Memories

There we were, at the bar, drinks in hand, scorecards ready, the HD TV splashing our faces with color, watching those dreaded words scrolling across the bottom of the screen: “Weather Delay.”

We passed the time playing Hangman and eating chicken wings. It will not surprise you to hear that the first word corwin attempted to stump me with was “grand slam.” I nearly got him with “mound ball,” and he eventually did trick me with “knuckle curve.” I had him almost hung with the word “championship,” and I think I would have finally gotten him on the next round when the game was called due to rain.

Our walk home from the bar takes us past our local video store, so we rented The Benchwarmers, since our hunger for baseball was so cruelly aroused, but not satisfied. corwin, as it turns out, had no idea what the movie was about, only that it had some vague baseball connection.

I loved it. We got to see Reggie Jackson in action (sort of), and in the fine tradition of the Bad News Bears, the nerds face up to the jocks on the baseball field.

But it’s not the same as ALDS Game 2, now, is it? My brother was at the game tonight, with our friend Ken, with the two tickets we were stingily awarded with our partial season ticket plan. The two of them plan to play hooky from work tomorrow, as the game has been rescheduled for 1pm. Ken joked on the phone that he and Julian were merely going to stay over in the Bronx. Not.

Ah well. In twelve hours, the wait will be over, and perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise. I never did have time today to wash my lucky Mike Mussina jersey. (Yes, I wore it slightly grungy to the bar…) Now maybe I’ll have a shot at running it through!

October 3, 2006: ALDS Game 1

October 03, 2006 By: ctan Category: Great Games, Yankee Fan Memories

Oh, it feels good to win in October, doesn’t it?

I watched ALDS Game One from the Forest Cafe in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The crowd in there absolutely loves baseball, but hates the Yankees. But they are used to me there, and we always talk baseball at the bar (even when it isn’t baseball season), so it’s my first choice of places to watch a big game in the Boston area.

I slept last night in my old ALCS T-shirt, wore my vintage New York black Yankees flannel all day, and then changed to a pristine white double-knit jersey for the evening’s festivities.

I was ready for the game at eight o’clock, my scorecard out and my first drink on the bar, having forgotten that Fox must have 20 minutes of bullshitting before the first pitch. But that hardly mattered, did it? My heart has been racing with adrenaline all day. I spoke to my brother yesterday and he had butterflies in his stomach.

Christmas is here, and the first gift we unwrapped tonight was a nice one.

CY WANG
Chien-Ming Wang did not have his best stuff tonight, but he was aided by the free-swinging ways of the Tigers. He was hitting 96 on the radar gun right from the first inning, but missing the strike zone more often than usual. The Tigers wouldn’t take a walk though (only one), and leadoff doubles in the second and third innings were both stranded. In the second, Magglio Ordonez was erased on a failed hit and run when Pudge Rodriguez swung and missed and Jorge Posada nailed Ordonez at third by a wide margin. In the third, Marcus Thames’ leadoff double was thwarted by a nifty 6-4-3 double play that required a very quick turn by Cano and a full out groin-ripper stretch by Gary Sheffield at first base.

SHEFF’S SPECIAL

Yes, Sheff managed to play a hot first base tonight, making the spectacular stretch to end the third, a really good stretch and scoop in the fifth, and with Wang on the mound you knew the infield was going to be busy. Eight putouts in 7 innings, not too shabby. Sheff also had a line shot in the third, ending the night 1-for-5. As corwin remarked upon seeing Sheff waggling his bat like crazy in the batter’s box: “I’ve missed seeing that.”

BIG INNING
After being unable to muster much in the first two innings, the Yankees jumped all over Nate Robertson in the third. He held lefties to a .181 average this season, but Johnny Damon scratched a single off him when Robertson himself stumbled off the mound trying to get a squibber in the infield. Jeter followed with a ringing double into left-center. Lefty-hitting Abreu followed with a double of his own, scoring both men. Sheffield’s line drive came next, scoring Abreu. And then lefty Jason Giambi came to the plate. Robertson had him down 0-2, both times nipping the outside corner for called strikes. his next pitch was further out and Giambi would not chase it. Robertson gave up only two homers to lefties all season, one to Jim Thome, and one to Justin Morneau. Jason worked the count full, and then Robertson tried to come inside.

Blam. Two run jack. Yankees up 5-0. A-rod followed with a single on the very next pitch. Sadly he was stranded, but the Yankees did send nine men to the plate and that ended up being the important runs of the game.

JETER JOLT
So, you may be wondering what Derek Jeter could possible do to top the many, many great moments he has had in postseason play. The jack off Pedro in 2003, when Pedro hadn’t given up a homer to a righthanded hitter all year. The leadoff homer against the Mets to swing momentum back in the Yankees’ favor after they had lost the night before. The shovel-pass to Posada. And on and on.

Well, how about having only the sixth five-hit game in postseason history? Two singles, two doubles and a home run, scoring three runs in the process. And how about the fact that he was pulling the ball instead of going the other way? Captain October.

AXELROD
Poor A-rod. He hit the ball hard three times tonight and got only one hit to show for it. After a standing ovation as he walked to the plate, he worked the count full in the second after Giambi had been hit by the first pitch of the inning, then smoked a ball toward right. But Placido Polanco leaped high in the air and snared it. He had a line shot in the seventh as well (again Giambi was on… in fact, Giambi was on all four times tonight, twice HBP, one walk, and a homer), but the ball hung up long enough for Magglio to spear it. You can’t say that A-rod didn’t do his job, but man is he unlucky. If the fans don’t embrace him, it’s because he doesn’t seem to have earned the Mandate of Heaven the way Jeter has. Luck counts too.

BULLPEN WHOAS
The Yankees come in to this postseason with the worst bullpen ERA of any of the eight teams. Yes, even with Mariano Rivera. Tonight the relievers seemed to have similar problems to Wang, a little hyper and lacking in control. Mike Myers relieved Wang with two out in the seventh, and made Curtis Granderson look downright silly… until he left a pitch up, a very hittable pitch. Granderson jacked it to right center. Oops. On came Scott Proctor, who gave up back to back singles before finally inducing a pop out from Magglio. Phew.

Kyle Farnsworth came on for the eighth, and the box score makes it look like he pitched well. One walk, one strikeout, no hits, no runs. Don’t believe it. What is doesn’t show is that the first six pitches he threw were balls, and then he went to 3-1 on Pudge before finally getting him to fly to left. Pudge just got under it, or it would have been a two-run shot. He started Monroe with a ball, and ended up going to 2-2 before getting a called third strike. And then he went to 3-0 on Marcus Thames. Thames fouled off the next two before finally popping up to short.

Even Mariano looked a little rusty, missing Posada’s target a few times, but after Granderson his a typical Mariano bloop to left, Mo got Placido Polanco to ground into a double play to end the game.

TOMORROW
I definitely noticed that the Yankees were extra clean-cut tonight. Even guys like Randy Johnson (shown sitting in the dugout at one point on TV) seemed super well-groomed. Jorge Posada kept his grungy batting helmet, but clearly just got his hair shaved in the back. Every chin and cheek was free of stubble.

I wonder if they’ll still be like that tomorrow or if some of the guys will let their stubble grow out.

I should point out, too, that in recent years the Yankees have had trouble winning the opening game of a series, so it was especially nice to start off with a low-anxiety win. Tomorrow Moose goes, and if his groin is right, he should be able to take advantage of the free-swinging Tigers. Justin Verlander is on the mound for Detroit. Jeter has never faced him (he was hurt at the time the Yankees did see Verlander this season) so we’ll have to see if Jeter’s next trick will be to knock down the postseason consecutive hits record or something like that.

I’d settle for a win. It would really be nice to be 2-0 when Randy Johnson and his herniated disc take the mound on Friday.

I’m wearing the lucky Mike Mussina jersey tomorrow, of course. Maybe I’ll wear the flannel for RJ on the theory that if my back is nice and toasty warm, his will be, too.

Go Yankees.

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