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October 3, 2006: ALDS Game 1

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.

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

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