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Archive for April, 2007

April 29, 2007: Odds on Evens

April 29, 2007 By: ctan Category: Baseball Musings, Yankee Fan Memories

One of the baseball adages oft-repeated by grizzled third-base coaches and Little League parents alike is “it all evens out.” Those screaming liners that were caught, robbing a hit, even out by those soft dribblers that the infield can’t get to.

Well, Yankees fans and Red Sox fans alike know that the disparity between the two teams’ championships is unlikely to ever “even out.” A popular shirt in the Bronx reads “Got rings?” and points up the difference between 26 and 6. But this is little consolation to citizens of the pinstriped empire as their team as of this morning had lost seven in a row, including four meetings in a row now with these same Boston Red Sox.

In the opener of this three game set in the Bronx, the Yankees did everything wrong. Their one so-far reliable starter, a man with an ERA under two and what would have been a 3-0 record had the bullpen not blown two leads (one against These Same Boston Red Sox a week ago), was Andy Pettitte. Was. Pettitte spit the bit and did not make it through five innings. The bullpen was not much better, with Sean Henn being the only one to put in an effective performance.

The sight of Joe Torre going out to take the ball from Mariano Rivera was shocking for its rarity and demoralizing to the crowd, who–like Red Sox fans of the past–seemed determined to sit through every slow minute of the excruciating loss. The offense provided very little to cheer about, their only “rally” coming courtesy of Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka, who had a bout of wildness in the fourth and walked three men in a row.

In other words, although the rain stopped during the night, it was a very dark day for Yankees fans on the morning of the second game. Don’t forget Bobby Abreu’s slump, Johnny Damon’s balky back, and Derek Jeter’s sore leg from being hit by pitch in Tampa Bay. Alex Rodriguez had to come down from the stratosphere sometime. You know it’s bad when the one good thing the offense can talk about from the past few days is that Jason Giambi is taking the ball the other way.

The Yankee starter was slated to be youngster Jeff Karstens, coming off of arm stiffness that had kept him from the Opening Day Roster, against Sox veteran Tim Wakefield. Veteran may be a bit of an understatement in Wakefield’s case. He currently has won more games in a Red Sox uniform than anyone but two men: Roger Clemens and Cy Young. Karstens meanwhile still counts his major league service in innings (47). He faced These Same BRS last week, didn’t get out of the fifth, and earned seven runs for his trouble.

It was with all these clouds of doom and gloom, both metaphorical and literal as rain showers threatened, that Karstens took the mound for a nationally televised Saturday game. At least the temperature was pleasant, and any weekend day at the Stadium is a treat whether the team is winning or losing. The cheers were long and loud as the starting lineup was introduced. Ice cream and beer were served in copious quantities to Sox fans and Yankees fans alike as the stands filled up.

Given the overworked state of the bullpen–leading the American League in relief innings thus far–the Yankees hoped for a long start from Karstens. Unfortunately, on the very first pitch of the game, Julia Lugo hit a line drive back and Karstens, who took the shot off his leg and fell off the mound looking as though he had been shot. Infielders, team trainers, coaches and umpires gathered around. After a bit, Karstens stood up, threw a few test pitches, and was allowed to pitch to the next batter, Kevin Youkilis. Youkilis got a hit, and Torre came to take Karstens out. It was later revealed that Karstens had faced Youk with a broken leg. (For those of you who watch ER and love your medical jargon: cracked fibula.)

Embattled Japanese import Kei Igawa came on to relieve. It was only a few days before he had been told he was being demoted to the bullpen while Karstens, whose control had been better than Igawa’s, would be in the rotation. Fate, though, placed Igawa on the mound against the Sox anyway, but this time with a two-runner handicap.

Igawa was at his best. Although he did walk three in his first three innings, he held the Red Sox scoreless through six, departing in the seventh with the game in much the same state as it had been at this entrance. Two men on, no outs, and no score. He induced Big Papi to ground into two double plays and to pop to first. And he dealt out six strikeouts, three of which came on three pitches.

But no pitcher can win without offense. The Yankees had their usual spasticity against Wakefield, putting various men on by the walk and scratching some hits, but having trouble cashing them in as the ball fluttered unpredictably toward the plate again and again.

Leave it to Jorge Posada to make the difference. Even though Jeter reached base five times (three singles and two errors by Mike Lowell), Giambi and Abreu had four more walks between them, it was Jorge who finally squared up a Wakefield pitch, sending the ball into the upper deck in right field. Matsui was on at the time (also by base on balls), making it a two run shot. Jorge was responsible for the insurance run, as well, walking to lead off the sixth, moving to second on a comebacker to Wakefield that might have been a 1-6-3 double play if the pitcher had handled it cleanly. Melky Cabrera followed with a pop fly remarkably similar to one the Trot Nixon hit in an extra innings game at the Stadium in July 2004. That one Derek Jeter raced over to catch just shy of the foul line and then fly into the stands to save the game. This time, three Sox converged toward the ball, but it hit the grass untouched and bounded into the stands–a ground rule double. Jorge therefore scored, and Wakefield’s day was done.

The Sox got a run back off Kyle Farnsworth in the eighth, but although he put the first two men on, after a mound visit from Gator, Farnsworth threw strike one consistently and managed to escape the inning giving up only one, setting the stage for Mariano Rivera in the ninth.

Rivera is to the Red Sox as Pedro is to the Yankees, a dominating pitcher who has an outsize number of losses to the rival team for no explicable reason. The Sox have beaten Mo numerous times, including once just last week.

Not this time. Mariano returned to form, aided by one truly great defensive play from Alex Rodriguez. If the night before, they had done everything wrong, this afternoon the Yankees did everything right, including a terrific catch of a foul pop off the bat of Big Papi by Jason Giambi, who was only playing the field so that Johnny Damon could have a day at DH. Giambi reached into the seats to snare the ball, off balance but determined not to give Ortiz another swing.

It would turn out to be Mariano’s first save of the year. Igawa would be awarded the win and a spot in the rotation. The only person who went home unhappy was Jeff Karstens, whose broken leg will keep him on the shelf indefinitely.

Someone should tell him that it will all even out.

March 10, 2007: Simple Pleasures

March 10, 2007 By: ctan Category: Spring Training, Yankee Fan Memories

It was a tidy little game at Legends Field tonight. The Yankees scored four runs in the second, in a nine-man inning kicked off by Alex Rodriguez. Alex had a much better day than Wednesday, tonight playing flawlessly in every respect both offensively and defensively. Also, everyone in the audience–in my section anyway–noticed that tonight he played with his socks high.

I speculate that this is in solidarity with–or perhaps just symmetry to–Doug Mientkiewicz, A-rod’s high school buddy and Yankees first baseman, who wears his socks high as a matter of course.

Technically it isn’t a player’s “socks” that are high, it’s the hem of his pants, raised to show more sock. But “high socks” is still the name for that style. It’s a style associated with dirt dogs, speedsters and old school players who can bunt and execute the hit and run. In recent years many of the big sluggers have adopted the opposite style, the “pajama pants” look, in which the hem hangs down over one’s endorsement-contract shoes (see Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Jason Giambi, Barry Bonds, et. al.)

The pants/socks probably didn’t help or hurt. Alex led off the second inning with a single, moved up on a wild pitch, tagged and went to third on a fly to center, and then came home on a fielder’s choice. The Yankees went on to score three additional runs that inning. In the third, which he also led off since the Yankees had batted around, he hit a line drive but was robbed of a hit by a nice play from the Devil Rays’ shortstop, some kid named Ben Zobrist.

He also made two great plays in the fifth–he meaning Alex Rodriguez, not Zobrist–spearing a humback liner and then on the next play a great diving stop to his right, pegging the throw to Mientkiewicz, whom I shall call Minky from here on because that name is using up too many letters. Alex walked in the bottom of the inning and was replaced by a pinch runner.

On other news, Minky uses the Miami Vice them–the old one from the TV show–as his at bat music. Don’t know if he picked it or if the scoreboard department did. And someone must have read my column from the other day… several people updated their at bat music. Derek Jeter added Kanye West’s “Gold Digger,” which seems a truly weird choice for him but it’s got a cool riff.

Jorge Posada hit a home run off Rays righthander Jae Kuk Ryu. The amusing thing to note about this homer is that the first two swings he took, on the first two pitches, Jorge looked about as awful as a hitter can. He worked the count full though, and then tagged the next offering hard, just fair, and just hitting the top of the wall to go out for a dinger. I am guessing that once he had seen all the kid’s pitches, he picked up something that tipped him off to what was coming on the one he walloped. Jorge’s good like that.

And we got a look at Juan Miranda, the Cuban defector. he has a dangerous, slugger-like demeanor at the plate. Meaning that when he worked the count to 3-2 with the bases loaded and two out, everyone got excited. And that it was perfectly in character that he then struck out.

And then there were fireworks, paid for by the Yankees, for the simple fact that it was Friday night. The pleasures of the spring are simple ones.

March 7, 2007: Sprung!

March 07, 2007 By: ctan Category: Spring Training, Yankee Fan Memories

At Legends Field tonight, people were complaining of the cold. The temperatures were in the mid-sixties, the wind on the cool side. Speaking as someone who left Boston yesterday where it was eight–yes (8)–degrees with a wind chill of minus-thirty, all I can say is: hah! It’s lovely here in Tampa and don’t you forget it!

The game, like the temperatures, was not so hot, being scoreless for seven innings, but as any newcomer to Spring Training quickly learns, winning and scoring runs is not what its about.

The excitement began tonight long before the first pitch, when the buzz going through the savvy Yankee fan crowd was that the man in the faded orange hat sitting down by the Yankees’ dugout was Roger Clemens, in the house to see his best bud Pettitte toss a few frames. As Pettitte warmed up, it was time for many in the audience to get reacquainted with the lefty.

“Man, he’s got long legs,” the man sitting next to me remarked. “I had forgotten that.”

“Yeah, but his ass is fatter than it used to be,” was my irreverent reply. Actually, Pettitte’s hindquarters were pretty chunky the last time he wore pinstripes, too, ever since he and Clemens became workout buddies and Andy started building leg and lower-body strength like the Rocket’s. But we’ve collectively forgotten that, too. What we remember is that greyhound-skinny kid with the Texas twang taking the mound in Yankee Stadium with the snow falling during the Home Opener in the magical year of 1996.

The game’s first moment of excitement came on the second batter Pettitte faced. Pettitte, for those of you re-acquainting yourselves with him, is a ground ball pitcher who was known for his nasty cut fastball before Mariano Rivera was. Pettitte saws off righties the way Mo does lefties, and the bat of Cincinnati’s Chris Denorfia sheared off in his hand. The barrel of the bat helipcoptered straight at Pettitte, who hit the deck but managed to snag his hand on the bat as it went by, immediately shaking it in pain. The predictable conference on the mound then followed; Pettitte stayed in.

Pettitte isn’t the only one I re-acquainted myself with tonight. So many little things which fade from ones mind during the long cold winter return vividly on a night like tonight. I had forgotten the storm of flashbulbs that come on every Jeter at bat. The way Hideki Matsui paws at the ground in the batters box, his eyes on the horizon, as he prepares to hit. Giambi’s immense cuts.

And it seems like almost everyone is still using the same at-bat music from last year. There are so many songs I only know 15 seconds of.

Pettitte started to look shakey in the seconds, prompting nailbiting about the possible flying-bat injury, as he loaded the bases with no one out. The clichŽd thing to say in the dugout at a time like this is “Oh, a strikeout and double play and we’re out of it.” That is exactly what Pettitte then delivered, and he would have had a one-two-three third inning too, if not for a crummy throw by Alex Rodriguez.

Chalk this one up as “another tough day in the life of Alex Rodriguez.” How else do you explain that a scrub like Bubba Crosby, who is now with the Reds, got a bigger ovation upon entering the game in the eighth inning than A-rod did when coming to bat in the second? Everyone loves Bubba, a scrappy little player with a lot of heart, a guy for whom the expectations are low. With A-rod, the expectations just keep getting higher. But it wasn’t mere skewed perception on the part of the fans; tonight, it really seemed like that 13 on his back was a jinx.

He led off the second inning with a ringing double. But he was thrown out at home plate on the very next play when third-base-coach hesitation may have cost him his chance to score. He came up with two out and two on the very next inning, and struck out looking. Meanwhile, what would have been the third out of the third, he threw up the line, and his high school buddy Doug Mientkiewicz was unable to apply the tag to the runner. Pettitte walked the next batter but was able to escape unharmed. In the fourth he made a play where the out was made, but he looked absolutely wrong-footed while doing it. For any player, that counts as a bad day, but for A-rod, where everything he does is magnified, it simply looks worse.

Repeat after me: It’s only Spring Training.

You see, if Alex had not been thrown out at the plate, the Yankees would have won the game in dramatic fashion in the ninth inning, 2-1. Instead, they merely tied the game in dramatic fashion. You see, reliever Luis Vizcaino looked impressive in the eighth except when he faced Joey Votto, when he gave up a solo shot. Meanwhile, Elizardo Ramirez, the fifth Reds pitcher of the night, held the Yankees scoreless in the seventh and eighth, just as the four pitchers who preceded him had.

Elizardo, which looks like it ought to be Spanish for lizard but as far as I know isn’t, finally tired in the ninth. A passel of “Yankees” wearing numbers like 93 and 64 scratched a run off him and gave the crowd the most excitement they’d had all night. The “Let’s Go Yankees” chant went up. And when Brett Gardner, wearing number 91, worked the count full with the bases loaded, two outs, and the score tied at one, the entire crowd actually got to their feet cheering for him to take ball four (or get a hit, but really, we weren’t that optimistic).

It was the climax of the game, for sure. Unfortunately, it was also a called strike three, which sent the game to a very anti-climactic and uneventful tenth inning, after which the contest was called a draw.

All I can say is, it beats doing anything in a minus-thirty wind chill.

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.

September, 17 2006: Family Trip

September 17, 2006 By: ctan Category: Baseball Fans and Fandom, Yankee Fan Memories

Some years ago, my parents relocated from the New York area to Tampa, as those over 65 are wont to do. Fortunately for my Yankee-loving family, the move allows them to see plenty of their Yankees every spring, as well as several times a year at Tropicana Field. Last September, in fact, I flew to Florida for one particular Yankees’ series which happened to coincide with my father’s 70th birthday (My mom and I threw him a surprise birthday party in a luxury suite, and the Yankees also scored like 20 runs in the first two innings. It was a great party.). This September, though, my parents came the other direction, visiting friends and family throughout New Jersey and Massachusetts with an eye toward driving to Cooperstown.

My mother actually grew up about fifteen miles from Cooperstown, in a small town called Laurens. She had visited the Hall of Fame as a kid, and had come once with my younger brother around 1990. But even though I’ve been to Cooperstown twice, I’d never made it inside the museum, and my dad had never been at all. So they picked me up in Boston on a Wednesday afternoon and we headed for upstate New York.

We arrived around 6 pm, to a cheery lakeside resort called Belvedere Lake, which meant we had just enough time to settle into our two-bedroom cabin and then get back in the car for the 12 mile trip to Cooperstown. I knew from previous visits to the village that if we walked into the Doubleday CafŽ on Main Street at 7 o’clock, there would be food and a television showing the Yankee game.

Actually, all three TVs were showing ESPN when we walked in, but the staff cheerfully changed one to YES, and we sat down to enjoy the game and eat. We had absolutely delicious fresh whole trout, with extremely sweet fresh corn on the cob. Even Cory Lidle’s crummy first inning couldn’t ruin a meal like that, and the fact that he then got his act together and pitched well, and the Yankees hit well, and then Brian Bruney and Scott Proctor… yeah, oh, and did I mention they were playing the Devil Rays again? They won. We ate an absolutely delicious walnut pie (it’s like pecan pie, only with walnuts), and sat at the bar sipping tea, and enjoying the Yankees beating the Devil Rays. I don’t even remember the final score. (My father says it was 8-4, but I have no way to check. I’m typing this in the cabin right now, which has no Internet or phone. Even my cell phone doesn’t work here.)

In the morning we intended to get up early and hit the museum first thing. But it is so quiet and peaceful on Belvedere Lake, and it was so gloomy with rain, that even my pathologically early-rising mother slept until 9:30 in the morning. We finally hit the road about an hour later, and succeeded in tuning in Fox Sports Radio, though the scoreboard report I heard mysteriously omitted the results of the Red Sox game. We ended up returning to the Doubleday CafŽ at five minutes before 11am, just in time to get breakfast. We watched ESPN while we ate, awwed in sympathy over Francisco Liriano (done for the season with his elbow tweak), mused about Derek Jeter’s hitting streak (now at 22 games, though he’s still a scoche behind Joe Mauer in the batting race), and watched the previous night’s highlights. Somehow, though, we missed the results of the Boston-Baltimore game again.

We then spent the next five hours at the Hall of Fame. They sell a combination ticket, that includes the Hall of Fame and the other two museums in Cooperstown, the Farmer’s Museum and the James Fenimore Cooper Museum. Thank goodness we didn’t buy it–we never would have had time to see the other places, and as it was, we could have spent longer at the Hall of Fame except we were tired and hungry.

Describing many of the pieces in the Hall of Fame as “memorabilia” is like describing New York City as a municipality. I am not impressed easily. I’ve seen a lot of the historic places of baseball, and a lot of autographed jerseys and game-used balls and things. But nothing compares to artifacts like the actual ball that Jack Chesbro threw wildly in 1904, in the second to last game of the season, to throw away the pennant.

If you don’t know this story, it’s one of the first and best Yankees-Red Sox stories. (Or worst, depending on how you look at it.) Of course, back then, they were the Boston Americans and the New York Highlanders, but the rivalry had already started. In 1904, Chesbro had an unbelievable year, the likes which will never been seen in modern baseball. He pitched two or three times a week–started 51 games, appeared in 4 others, and finished with a 41-12 record. He pitched 48 complete games that year, racking up a total of 454 2/3 innings. Think of Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, and Sandy Koufax–Chesbro is the only one of them in the Hall of Fame who had a season like that.

But on the season’s final day, the Bostons played a doubleheader in New York, and needed to win only one of the two games to clinch the pennant. In the bottom of the eighth, with the score tied at 2-2. and the go-ahead run for Boston perched on third and two out, Chesbro threw a spitball so wide of the plate that newspaper accounts differed on whether it was high, low, wide, or what–it was so far away from where it should have been that the run scored easily. The Yankees were unable to muster an answer, and the pennant belonged to Boston.

There it was, in a glass case, it’s bi-colored stitches precise and vivid against the ball’s parchment-colored skin. The ball that Chesbro threw. The cursed ball, that his wife lobbied be changed from a wild pitch to a passed ball to the end of her days. It looked so innocuous there, and yet, that was the ball that had eluded the eyes of the press writers and the glove of Red Kleinow that hit the backstop and allowed Lou Criger to score from third. I felt as though I were looking at a bullet from the Kennedy assassination.

There is, of course, lots of stuff for Yankees fans at the museum. I was interested to see that there was a brisk and lively crowd at the museum and in Cooperstown today. It’s mid-September, you’d think that tourist season would be over, yet business on Main Street seemed busy and we had to look for a parking space. In the museum, I could not help but notice the preponderance of NY logos on customers, but then again, we ARE in New York state.

Babe Ruth gets his own room. There were several display cases of all Yankee artifacts, but only Ruth rated his own display room, with a video documentary, and lots of objects.

I was quite tickled and pleased to see the large section on Women In Baseball, and of course the fact that a “jersey” (actually a T-shirt) from the Pawtucket Slaterettes, the all female-baseball league I play in, is included in the artifacts! I don’t remember the text of the display exactly, but it did note that the Slaterettes are the oldest all-girl’s league in the USA.

Probably the other display that really knocked my socks off was the huge case that showed all the World Series rings in it. Man, the one that the Marlins made in 2003 is so huge, it dwarfs all the others in the case. Of all the Yankee ones we saw, my mother and I agree that the 1996 one is the most tasteful.

I never realized that the actual bronze plaques for the HOF inductees were as small as they are. I guess I figured they were the same size as the ones in Monument Park in Yankee Stadium, but they are actually much smaller than that. The hall where they are now displayed is bright and cathedral-like with a high ceiling and natural light. My mother noticed that the only guy who is wearing glasses in his bronze reproduction is Reggie Jackson.

After a quick stop in Augur’s Bookstore, we had lunch at 4pm in the bar at the T____ Inn. Really, it was dinner, which they started serving at four, and we got to watch Mike & the Mad Dog on YES while we ate. Did I mention that this is a really Yankee-obsessed family? We caught their check-in with Joe Torre, who informed us that he was pushing Chien-Ming Wang’s start to tomorrow because of the rain, and also shuffling the lineup.

We also learned that the magic number was 7. In other words, Baltimore must have beat Boston the night before. We did the math. That meant that if we won tonight, and then beat Boston the next three games, we could clinch. I have tickets to both games on Saturday, and if they clinched on Saturday night, that would just be too cool.

We then took a scenic drive to Laurens to see the house where my mother grew up and other landmarks from her childhood, and then it was back to–where else?–the Doubleday CafŽ, for our third meal there in 24 hours, to watch the Yankees and Devil Rays again.

Jeff Karstens seemed a bit out of sorts on the mound, but really he pitched well if you don’t count Rocco Baldelli’s two homers and a triple. Meanwhile, the fill-ins like Kevin Thompson really came through, and though the Yankees were down 4-1 when the rain was pouring hardest, they came back to tie it, and then thanks to great relief pitching by Darrell Rasner, who held them to four runs, and a clutch hit by A-rod, the Yankees won it 7-4. We heard the final few outs in the car on our way back to Belvedere Lake, as well as the news that Boston had lost again to the Orioles.

The magic number is now at 5, and oh, I would so love it if the Yankees would win the next three in a row against Boston to clinch while I am at the Stadium. But really, I’ve just had three solid days of excellent baseball indulgence, so perhaps that’s too much to ask for. But that won’t stop me from hoping.

P.S. In a strange aside, I spoke to corwin tonight as the game was ending. He went into one of our favorite Chinese restaurants in Boston with a friend, and they gave him my lost black-on-black Yankee hat! The one that I decided was a jinx, since the night I lost it was the night before the five game sweep of Boston? Yeah, that one. Now I’m conflicted as to whether I can wear it again or not. I think I had best retire that one. It occurs to me that the place to buy a new hat was probably Cooperstown but… oh well. Perhaps we’ll do a little shopping tomorrow before we leave the area.

P.P.S. Update as of mid-day Saturday. Last night’s game was rained out, and they lost the afternoon contest. It’s the hat. I’m sure of it. If they lose the nightcap, I may have to burn it when I get home.

September, 7 2006: California Dream

September 07, 2006 By: ctan Category: Great Ballparks, Yankee Fan Memories

The Yankees and Red Sox are both off tonight, so here’s something to fill the void: an account of my recent trip to Anaheim to see the Yankees play the Angels.

It’s really, really sunny in Anaheim. It’s so sunny that when corwin and I took in a beautiful day of baseball at the “Big A”–which they now call Angel Stadium–we got sunburned even though we sat in the shade all day. Perhaps it was just how scorching hot the Yankee bats are that left us reddened.

We came to in Anaheim for a business trip, but when we realized the Yankees would be in town at the same time we were, we decided to bag out of the conference a day early and take in a game. You’re never too old to play hooky for baseball. It wasn’t our first trip to The Big A; we went a few years ago to see an A’s/Angels game back when it was called Edison Field and owned by Disney. But this would be our first Yankee road trip since the day we took my Dad to Tropicana Field for his 70th birthday.

Although there have been the kerfuffle’s about nomenclature, not much about the field itself seems to have changed since Arte Moreno bought the Angels. We didn’t have a lot of time to walk around before the game, as it started at 12:35 for no apparent reason. Trained to 1:05 starts in the East, we were nearly late. Instead, we had just enough time to hop a cab from the hotel, get some barbecued chicken down at field level, and then find our seats way up on the 500 level.

Our normal preferred place to sit in any stadium is in the upper deck behind home plate. We couldn’t quite get behind the plate this time, and were a bit off to the third base side, but upon reaching the seats we discovered a distinct advantage to their location: our seats were shaded and would remain in the shade the entire game. (Did I mention the Southern California sun is much brighter and hotter than the weak rays we are used to in the northeast?)

I was disappointed to find that Jason Giambi was out of the lineup since the Angels were starting lefty rookie Joe Saunders, as I remain convinced that Giambi will hit a home run for me whenever I’m in the park. (I’m of course wrong about this, yet the delusion persists.) Instead, as Derek Jeter’s ball left the yard in the first inning corwin turned to me and said “I guess he told Jeter to hit one for you instead.”

“Well, then Bernie has to hit one for you,” I replied. Even though corwin had neglected to pack his Bernie Williams shirt.

Well, of course, Bernie hit one in the second. 3-0 Yankees. The embarrassment of riches continued in the third as the Yankees piled on five runs, capped by Bernie’s second home run in two innings. That knocked Saunders from the game, and destroyed any possibly tension we might have felt about the game. (The Angels have that knack of beating the Yankees…) Jeter hit a second shot himself in the eighth, so he and Bernie really paid us double.

It was Southern California, and we got to kick back and chill out. Dude. By the end of the day, Bernie had four hits and in the eighth inning a chance to hit for the cycle, something I’ve never seen. Sadly, he grounded out. It was also interesting–by which I mean like how it’s “interesting” to watch crocodiles at the zoo–to se Alex Rodriguez in the depths of his slump. Three strikeouts, two of them looking, and a pop-up–his swing simply looked terrible. But he was a little lucky, hit a grounder that got through the infield in the middle of the five-run rally… and as we now know, as soon as they got home, went on a tear.

The only really urge to scream like a New Yorker I had was in the bottom eight, when Kyle Farnsworth came on to pitch. He walked the first two men, gave up a single and a stolen base, then walked the number nine batter, and was removed summarily from the game. All I can say to that is… what the F***, Farnsworth? Three of the four men he put on scored, and the Angels even scratched a run off Mo in the ninth, thanks to defensive indifference. The final score on our lazy afternoon ended up 11-8, a little scary, but given where we were in the standings, we didn’t let it bother us.

Anaheim. Great place to see a game, especially when the Yankees win.

Notes on the Season as of September 7th:

Dmitri Young was released by the Tigers today. Does this mean the Boys and Girls Clubs won’t play his ad for them anymore?

Boston media today is crowing delusionally about how the Red Sox “almost swept the White Sox,” and did take two out of three. Excuse me guys, but you scored a total of five runs in three days, squeaking out the two wins 3-2 and 1-0. Football season starts tonight and it’s time to concentrate on the Patriots.

August 21, 2006: Can’t Top This

August 21, 2006 By: ctan Category: Yankee Fan Memories

I lost my hat sometime between 11pm Thursday night and 1pm Friday when the Yankees/Red Sox five-game-set began. This was my black-on-black New York Yankees hat, the one I bought on Opening Day a few years ago. Given what’s happened since then (the Sox won the World Series, for example, and the Yankees have not), I was sure it was not a lucky hat.

But I never dreamed it was an UNLUCKY hat. But I lost it right before the series began and, guess what? The Yankees swept all five games. Apparently I should have gotten rid of this hat long ago! Why couldn’t I have lost it in the hazy elation that followed the 19-8 win in Game Three in 2004 ALCS?

Anyway, the hat is gone, and so is hope from the breast of Red Sox Nation. The wailing and gnashing of the past several days has returned to pre-2004 levels here in Boston, meaning that many, many disappointed fans have been calling talk radio to bare their souls. It is the most entertaining sports radio in the country.

On Saturday, I went into the Forest CafŽ, which happens to not only have the best Mexican food in Cambridge but also to be two blocks from my house and an excellent place to watch the Sox and talk baseball. Everyone in that bar loves baseball (and if they don’t they hide it well). Cambridge is like a ghost town in mid-August, as the student population has yet to arrive and everyone else is at the Cape or out of town. So it was just me, Brian the bartender, and two or three other patrons.

I could not help but overhead the woman at the other end of the bar, to whom Brian was lending a sympathetic ear around the time the Yankees took the lead. The previous day, of course, had been the doubleheader smackdown.

“My boyfriend is a Yankees fan,” she told Brian. “And last night, I picked a fight with him.”

“About the Yankees?” Brian asked.

“No, just cuz. He wasn’t even doing anything, just sitting there minding his own business, but I was like, all over his ass, screaming and yelling. I told him, if you don’t quit liking the Yankees, I’m leaving you.”

“So, are you leaving him?”

“No, of course not. I was just pissed off.”

My own paramour of the past fifteen years unfortunately missed much of the game action in those first three glorious poundings, as he is of the same persuasion as me. He had flown to Florida for a family wedding, and was due to return near midnight on Sunday night.

I figured Sunday I would watch the game at the Forest Cafe, then hop in the car to pick him up at the airport. This plan was foiled by the fact that every game in this series has taken over four hours to play, plus there was a rain delay of almost an hour. So it was that the Red Sox were winning 4-3 when I left to retrieve him, up 5-3 by the time he got off the plane, and then the score was 5-4 by the time he got in the car.

We drove directly to Chinatown to get something to eat, and by the time we parked the car, the ninth inning was about to begin.

“If the Yankees tie the score, we should put on the MyFi and listen in the restaurant,” he said.

“Agreed.” He even had both sets of headphones and a splitter with him in his travel kit.

“If David Ortiz is Mr. Clutch for the Red Sox, then Derek Jeter is Captain Clutch for the Yankees,” said Jerry Trupiano. Jeter brought in the tying run with a bloop single off Papelbon.

We went into the restaurant with our XM Satellite radio plugged into our ears. XM carried the ESPN radio broadcast, so it was Dave Campbell who got to incredulously detail Giambi’s home run in the tenth, and the subsequent two-run shot that made it 8-5. Various people in the restaurant were staring at us–my MUSSINA jersey made us kind of conspicuous, as did the high-fives.

Mariano shut the door around the time we were getting our check (this Chinese restaurant is lightning fast: the Grand Chau Chow) and by 1:30 am we were back in the car and on the way home.

Then, today, I just knew the Yankees were going to sweep when poor Keith Foulke struck our Derek Jeter and retired all five men he faced, yet he let the insurance run score on a wild pitch on only the second or third pitch of his appearance. After both teams had scored all those runs in the previous four games, for the Yankees to win 2-1 just seemed like the ultimate coup de grace.

In the old days we would have called that a Curse. Now we know it’s that the jinx of Cecilia’s black hat has been lifted.*


*The only problem with this is that next weekend we’re flying to Anaheim and we’ll see the Yankees play there. But now I have no hat to wear…

August 19, 2006: Long Ball

August 19, 2006 By: ctan Category: Yankee Fan Memories

As often happens to me, I did not sleep well the night before a Yankees/Red Sox match-up. Because yes, it is EXACTLY like the night before Christmas and I am exactly like a sugared up ten-year-old on holiday when the Yankees come to town. But this time it was actually that I had to drive my dearest to the airport at the crack of dawn. Three and a half hours of sleep is not a lot. I thought perhaps I would take a nap in the late morning, but work interfered with that plan.

So it was that I kicked off the first day of the five-games-in-four-days Yankees at Fenway set utterly exhausted. Bad way to start a doubleheader. I suppose it was fitting though–I was about as worn out as both bullpens.

When the first game started at one in the afternoon, I was sitting at my desk trying to get some work done. Now, it’s no secret that I am co-writing a book with Anna Benson, the wife of Orioles’ pitcher Kris Benson (who won yesterday, by the way). There was a blurb about us in Sports Illustrated and the news has hit the PR entertainment newswires as well. So I may as well tell you that Anna and I are collaborating a lot by phone, since we’re in different cities.

Tired or no, I decided to multi-task, and watch the game on MLB.com’s GAMEDAY (the animated pitch-by-pitch screen with the play by play ticker), and talk to Anna at the same time. Anna and I got a lot done. We were on the phone for almost two hours and NO, I’m not going to tell you any of the juicy anecdotes she shared with me (you’ll have to buy the book for that). Since what I’m writing is a novel, you’ll never know what is wild stuff I made up and what really happened, but honestly, there is so much wild stuff going on behind the scenes in baseball (as with any entertainment industry) that I won’t have to invent much.

The upshot of it is, by the time Anna and I got off the phone, the Yankees were up on the Red Sox 5-3 and I was feeling pretty good about that. Two runs is not very many to the Red Sox, and I knew the bullpen was a question mark, but hey… are you supposed to feel bad when your team is winning? No!

Especially when some of the guys you were worried about choking were on base all the time. Johnny Damon went 0-for-4 on his first game back to Fenway, way back in the beginning of the season. Not this time. He started the game off with a triple, which probably could have been an inside-the-park-homer if third base coach Larry Bowa had not been cautious.

Speaking of which, can I say now what a great job Bowa seems to do at third base? I know folks were apprehensive that the combative, fiery Bowa wouldn’t fit in with the Torre Yankees when he came on board, but he has been great both on the field and in the clubhouse. I haven’t seen him make a bad call at third yet (though Giambi ran right through his stop sign the other day–entirely Jason’s fault), and he seems to be the life of the party among the younger players like Cano and Wang. Yeah, isn’t that interesting? It’s the young guys on the team who flock to him and joke around with him.

But back to our story. Bowa’s caution paid off fie pitches later when Jeter’s base hit brought Damon in. Damon went 3-for-6 on the day, with 4 RBI and 3 runs scored. As the vernacular around here goes, you could say Damon was “awn fiyah.”

Another guy who was on fire: Bobby Abreu. Okay, I admit it, I was a little emotional the other day when I posted that I was skeptical about him. Actually, as I said in that article, I was mostly upset that beloved Bernie Williams was going to ride the bench as a result of Abreu’s arrival. Abreu is not only the new David Justice, he’s actually better. His on-base percentage since coming to the Yankees is close to .500, and how about 4-for-5 with a walk in his first big Fenway test? Hawt.

And then there is Alex Rodriguez, the lightning rod for negativity. All I can say is anyone who expects A-rod to simply crumble in the face of booing, rabid press, or his own psyche’s twists, is in for a disappointment. 2-for-5, 2 RBI, scored a run, a very decent showing in what turned into a Yankee rout.

The final score did not come until 3 hours and 55 minutes after the first pitch, by which time I had packed my car and was headed to Pawtucket, RI to play in the final game of my on baseball season. (If you’re new to Why I Like Baseball, I play in the oldest all-female baseball league in the country, the Pawtucket Slaterettes.) My team has been crummy this year, but I’ll post a season recap later this week. Right now, I’m too busy with the Yankees in town to do it.

I arrived at Slater Park at almost 5pm for a 5:30 game, but couldn’t get out of my car because T.J. Beam was trying to finish the Sox off, and was having trouble. He did give up a run, but eventually induced Mike Lowell to fly out. In the end it was 12-4 Yankees, who outhit the Sox 17-10, and it was a good thing they had rescheduled the nightcap to take place at 8pm, since the first one took sooooo long.

My own game was fun, as always, but between the fact that we played on back-to-back days thanks to a quirk in our schedule, and I played every inning of both games (a rarity, given our roster size, but a lot of folks are on vacation), by about the fourth inning my legs were starting to feel tired. Actually, all of me felt tired — remember, less than four hours sleep — but it was my legs that it seemed to affect the most. I played left field, the furthest position from our dugout, and the run back and forth to my position was starting to feel very long.

The team went out to dinner afterward to celebrate the end of the season, and just our luck, the place we went, a family restaurant called Chelo’s, had a tv on with the game. The Sox/Yankees game, I mean. We were actually in the next room, but I could see it through the windows separating that dining room from the one we were in.

Damon again led off with a hit. Awn fiyah. He was caught stealing by Doug Mirabelli, but I didn’t care. Damon’s hit felt like a sign that the massive offensive barrage of the early game was going to continue. The fact that Jon Lester was on the mound also encouraged that fact. I know the rule of thumb is that the Yankees can’t hit rookies they have never seen before. But I just felt like they were going to get the runs, and that they were going to need them because of one thing. Sidney Ponson.

The Sox got a run off Ponson in the bottom of the inning, but you knew a 1-0 score was not going to stand up. The Yankees then came up to bat, and they were still batting after we’d placed our order, and they were still batting around the time our drinks started to come–which was amazing because we had one of the slowest waiters I’ve ever seen. The poor guy was overwhelmed by our need for 10 separate checks, and needed every order as he was writing them down to be repeated three times–and even then he got some of them wrong and the drinks forgotten.

Who cares though, when you’re having a good time with friends, and oh by the way, the Yankees are now up 5-1? I thought maybe it was 3-1, but Todd, our coach, who was sitting a little closer and who has better eyesight than me, said 5-1.

I paid attention to food and friends after that, and got into my car to leave at the end of the third inning. The third inning? It was almost 9:30 pm at that point, and the Sox had scored four while I wasn’t paying attention. So now it was 5-4 Yanks, but in ninety minutes they had only gone through three innings?

The drive home was long. It’s always an hour, but it felt even longer as the Sox tied the score on a Craig Wilson error (he’s the guy we have at first base now, in case you didn’t follow and the trading deadline moves–Giambi DH’s mostly now). Then went ahead. Then scored three more in the fifth.

So we were down 10-7 when I got home and wanted to go to sleep. But was I going to be able to sleep while they were playing? Of course not. Never. I sat in my office instead, listening to the Red Sox broadcast on the radio while playing a computer game.

A scoreless inning occurred. That’s right. In the sixth inning, neither the Yankees nor the Red Sox scored. Something that had not happened in that game (and only happened three times in the earlier game, too).

Then in the seventh, the Yankees turned the tables once again, trumping all previous rallies of the entire day, scoring seven runs off Craig Hansen and Mike Timlin (who was given the blown save and the loss), making the score 14-10 Yankees. In the eighth both teams were again scoreless, which just seemed soooo weird. Scott Proctor had to pitch again. And Keith Foulke pitched two scoreless for the Sox, after having been activated between games (while the game one starter, Jason Johnson, was designated for assignment).

Mariano Rivera pitched the ninth. David Ortiz hit a home run off him, a solo shot into the bullpen in right, but it really did not seem to matter. The Yankees won 14-11, in a game that set the new record for a nine-inning game at 4:45. The poor folks running the Jimmy Fund radio-thon yesterday had to keep their phones open an extra hour because the game ran so long. (On the other hand, they broke the previous record for fundraising and ended up beating their goal of $2.6 million which is a Very Good Thing. Apparently, during the first game, Jason Giambi even got on his cell phone and pledged $1,000 between at bats.)

It was not the “Boston Massacre” of 1978, in which the Yankee offensive explosion was coupled with stifling pitching. But hey, I’ll take it. By winning the first two of the five, the Yankees insure that no matter what happens in the next three games, they will leave town still in first place.

Today Josh Beckett faces Randy Johnson–heat against heat. Tomorrow Mike Mussina faces Curt Schilling–ace against ace, brains against brains. And Monday Cory Lidle faces David Wells–question mark against question mark. So who knows how it will turn out? All I can say is after a full eight hours of sleep, I’m ready for it now.

July 30, 2006: Dirty Words

July 30, 2006 By: ctan Category: Yankee Fan Memories

Today, I’m just going to be a fan. So get ready for some venting. I’m wearing my lucky Mike Mussina jersey and currently watching the Yankees beating the Devil Rays 3-2 via MLB.com. Michael Kay just announced that the Yankees have a deal that is imminent with the Phillies–the Yankees would be giving up a pile of minor leaguers for Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle.

Here’s how I know I’m thinking like a fan and not like a writer. The first thing I did when hearing this was not look up Abreu’s stats, but shout “Cory &*%^$ Lidle!!” and then start wondering which of my beloved Yankees will be benched to make room for Abreu. Ostensibly he’ll play right field, no? So does that mean that Bernie will move to DH, Giambi back to first, and Andy Phillips will ride the pine? Or will Bernie?

I don’t friggin’ WANT you, Bobby Abreu. I want my valiant, struggling, heart-filled Yankees to triumph in the face of adversity. Bernie has exceeded all expectations, the “kids” and the bottom of the lineup have been getting the job done–by all measures the hitting is really going quite well.

Want proof? Okay, here come the stats. Only one team has scored more runs in the major leagues than the Yankees thus far this year: the Chicago White Sox. The Yankees are also in the top 5 in batting average, walks, team OBP, etc… In other words, there is nothing “wrong” with this lineup.

What’s “wrong” is that the Red Sox are right there, too, essentially neck and neck, and the Blue Jays, even, are right in that same pack. In order to “beat” these teams, the Red Sox especially, we need an offensive edge, right?

Wrong. What we need is better pitching. Those runs will count for a lot more if we could keep other teams off the board. That’s how the Tigers are doing it, with a team ERA of 3.70, far and away much better than any other team (the next closest is the Mets at 4.03, and that’s in the NL with no DH). Interestingly, if you look at the team pitching stats you’ll also see both the Red Sox and the Blue Jays doing worse than the Yankees, as well. But the race is still pretty close. If we could get better, more consistent pitching, Matsui and Sheffield could take the rest of the year off and we’d be fine.

So, we need pitching. So we’re getting… Cory Lidle? Insert fannish squeal of frustration here. I remember when he was with Seattle. And Oakland. And I seem to remember he wasn’t that great…

On the other hand, could he be better than Sidney Ponson? My squeal of frustration over Lidle is nothing compared to the sound I made when I heard Ponson was headed to the Bronx.

Are we really that desperate, Mr. Cashman? Is it really that bad? Sigh. I guess it is, or they wouldn’t be bothering. I know Cashman has the same ultimate goal as the fan in me: we want the Yankees to win. But I was really beginning to like the story that was shaping up this season, about the plucky, can-do Yankees who pioneered their way through the jungle of the American League East while a couple of superstars held together a team of rookies, cast-offs, and rejuvenated players.

Put simply, adding Abreu smacks of desperation, not destiny.

Maybe, just maybe, Abreu will be this year’s David Justice, and Lidle will be this year’s Chacon/Small. Maybe in a couple of weeks I’ll be writing about how shrewd they were to make this deal. But at the moment, I write to record this moment in time, when Lidle and Abreu are dirty words in my house.

June 26 2006: Dodging Raindrops

June 26, 2006 By: ctan Category: Yankee Fan Memories


I had an experience yesterday that I have never had before in my life: seeing a game at Yankee Stadium with empty stands.

Oh sure, when I was a kid we often went to games that were half-full. Even Dave Righetti’s no-hitter on a sweltering July 4th had ten thousand seats empty. But these days, when the attendance record was broken last year and is on pace to go up once more, here’s how it happened that me, corwin, and 6,807 other fans saw a game together at the big ballpark in the Bronx.

The trip began on Friday night, when corwin and I packed up our car to head to New York. Normally these weekend jaunts to Yankee Stadium involve leaving the house early enough so that we can get into the Yankee-radio listening area by 7pm–game time. But he had to work a little bit late, so it was actually7:05 when we pulled away from the house. Searching the radio dial proved fruitless–there is no station in the Boston area that carries the Yankees, for obvious reasons. WCBS 880 from New York comes in sometimes if the weather is right and the sky is dark, but on June 23rd the sky is as bright at 7pm as it gets all year. Oh, and it was raining, so the Red Sox game’s start was pushed back over an hour, cutting off our usual alternative listening plan.

So, we suffered through the static for several miles of the Mass Pike. Then we pulled off in Framingham, to the massive Shoppers World shopping center, to the Best Buy, where we knew they had the XM Satellite Radio “MyFi” on clearance sale.

We’ve been drooling over the concept of XM for a while now, ever since they started running all Major League games every night. When I did my book tour for 50 Greatest Yankee Games the rental car I used had an XM radio in it. My thought was–my god, I love MLB.com but this would be in the car

So we bought the MyFi. And then corwin had to spend 20 minutes on the phone with them getting the account activated, while I drove speedily toward Connecticut. As it turned out, of course, by the time we got it working, we were pretty much pulling in a regular non-satellite broadcast of the game, but hey, it was a great excuse to finally break down and buy one–plus it was on clearance sale. Success in baseball is all about being in the right place at the right time, and that’s true of shopping, as well.

It was around the sixth inning when we reached Rein’s Deli in Vernon, CT, our traditional stop-off point, and of course they had the game on in there. We sat and watched two innings while we ate. My usual order there is pastrami, cream cheese and cucumbers on rye, grilled. I know it sounds weird, but try it some time–it’s delicious. Kyle Fransworth came in to pitch and we got back in the car. Despite Farnsworth causing us, as always, to chew our nails, he got out of the inning, and the Yankees did win the game.

Now that the game was over, we flipped around the other channels (look! Oakland at San Francisco!) and talked about the upcoming games. I said I wanted to see a pitchers’ duel that ended with Mariano getting the save. corwin said he wanted to see A-rod hit a home run. I reminded him Giambi still owes me one from an earlier trip. (I know this makes no sense, but I’ve decided Jason owes me a home run for every time I make the trip to see him. What is funny is that he usually does hit one.)

We arrived at our midtown hotel at around 1 in the morning, and immediately watched an hour of Sportscenter, which is like a decadent luxury for us. (There is no TV in our house. We have the Internet instead.)

The next day was Old Timer’s Day, but gray skies and pouring rain, which have dominated the season all over the northeast, made it look grim. We put on our pinstripes and went down to breakfast, only to find the hotel’s buffet line had just closed. They served us in the bar instead, which suited us just fine since they had World Cup soccer on in there and we got to see Germany’s two exciting goals against… whoever that was they were beating. You can see my interest in soccer is well-honed. I just like the World Cup games and all the excitement around them. I pretty much always root for the host country, and always against Brazil. Anyway, Germany went on to win that match, but by then we were already on our way to the Bronx. We took the 4 train from Grand Central Station up to the Stadium with our rain ponchos at the ready.

We arrived just in time for the opening of the gates at 12:30. With the weather crummy, the crowd was relatively thin for the Old Timer’s Day ceremony, so we sat down below, in the main section against the wall, right by Artuso’s Bakery in Section 9.

By far the loudest ovation of the day, and the first standing ovation, was for David Cone. Sadly, because of the weather, we didn’t get to see him actually pitch. I still think they should have played Wiffle Ball or something instead–I hear Coney is wicked with Wiffle pitches. Darryl Strawberry was introduced right after Cone, and he got quite a loud and warm reception, too. Mattingly’s of course was so loud you couldn’t hear any of his introduction at all.

Then we had a rain delay. We went up to our regular seats, in Row R of the upper tier. Now, a lot of people hate these seats, but I absolutely love them. I love the steep rake of the upper deck that insures I am never trying to look around the head and shoulders of a tall person sitting in front of me. I love being able to see plays develop on the whole field from the bird’s eye view. Not to mention I love that the seats are still under twenty bucks. And everything above Row P or thereabouts is under the roof. Dry. Shaded.

We never had to break out the rain ponchos because sitting under the roof as we were, we stayed dry.

Then, after much sitting around, the Yankees and the Marlins played one half-inning of baseball, during which the Marlins got a run off Shawn Chacon, and then it rained again and they put the tarp back down. corwin turned on our brand-new portable sattelite XM radio to find out what was happening with Philly and Boston. He was just in time to hear the final inning, in which Tom Gordon with two outs and a 3-3 tie, in the bottom of the ninth, and a full count on David Ortiz, threw something that Ortiz powered out of the park for another of his patented game-winning homers.

Time went by. Because of the sheer number of empty seats, corwin and I invented a new game: sunflower seed baseball. Basically you crack the seed in your mouth and shell it, then you spit the shell as far as you can. One row is a single, two a double, etc… You make an out every time you can’t get it past the seats in front of you. We were just getting going with that when we began to suspect the game was called off. We saw all the relievers leave the bullpen and then all the Marlins go into the dugout and collect all their gloves and stuff. That seemed like a pretty sure sign there would be no game.

At about 7pm, six and a half hours after we had arrived at the Stadium, Bob Sheppard announced it officially: game called. That was definitely a new record ratio of number of hours spent at the Stadium per innings watched.

The good news was that they planned to make up the game the next day, as the night portion of a day/night doubleheader. The bad news was that would mean driving back to Boston in the middle of the night, but that’s really not that bad for a pair of night owls like corwin and me.

So the next morning we went down to breakfast–in time for the buffet this time–and at the table next to us was a nice lady in a David Ortiz number T-shirt. We ended up riding the elevator with her back up to our room before checking out. Me, I was in my lucky Mike Mussina jersey as the pitching matchup was to be Moose against Dontrelle Willis.

It had not rained all morning, though the sky was gray, but then on the way to the Stadium is came down in torrents. Sigh. We were coming up from the East side, so we went up the FDR and crossed over to the Deegan. There was no game traffic thanks to the rain, and we pulled off and up to the first parking lot there, one of the independent lots. “Twenty five bucks,” the guy told me. Then I told him we were staying for both games. “Fifty bucks.” Uh, sorry Charlie, I don’t think so. We pulled out, went another fifty yards or so and into one of the actual Stadium lots, for a mere $13, good for both games. Welcome to New York.

For this game, for some reason, we had Row B. We’ve never sat down that low in the tier, and we still haven’t since instead of sitting in the rain, we climbed up to Row T this time and waited for the rain to stop. Right around game time it did, and by two o’clock it looked like I was going to get my wish.

And I did, a pitchers’ duel with Mariano Rivera getting the save. Can’t ask for much better than a 1-1 tie, broken by a solo homer in the late innings, and then Mariano time. The only perhaps blot on the game was that Farnsworth made us chew our nails again, but he –phew– got out of the inning without giving up a run, so it worked out. Frank Sinatra all around.

We left the Stadium happy, and then looked for a way to kill a couple of hours before they would let us back in for the next game. Good old Ball Park Lanes, “the cleanest place in the Bronx” (so their banner says). For twenty bucks two adults can shoe-up and play for about an hour. That was two games and boy do I suck at bowling. I did have a few strikes though, mostly by sheer luck, and today my arm is killing me. But it was fun. Then we had a huge, dirt-cheap dinner at the Dominican restaurant across 161st Street, El Molino Rojo, and headed back to the park.

We went in Gate 2 since it was the nearest one and couldn’t help but notice there was no line for Monument Park. It has probably been 2 years since my last trip through the Monuments–actually since that day we took press photos down there–so probably 3-4 years since I had seen it with the general public. The line is usually too long. But the entire Stadium was clearly deserted, so we went ahead and wandered around the plaques for a while.

By the time of the first pitch, I had counted, by hand, a total of 500 people in the upper deck. We sat in section 1, our favorite section, Row T to stay dry. Then around the end of the first inning, the security guards started motioning everyone to come down. Of the 200 people I counted in the bleachers, about 150 took the invitation to go into the main section and sit in box seats–while the real section 39 bleacher creatures huddled closer together for solidarity. Lots of people left the upper deck to go down there, too, but not the diehards in section 1. We moved down to row L for a while, but then it started to drizzle, so we climbed back up.

Even the spring training games the Yankees play draw bigger crowds than this. According to the press notes, the last time the Yankees had a crowd that small at Yankee Stadium was April 7, 1984. It was a surreal experience, like watching a private exhibition.

Unfortunately, the Yankees played like it was an exhibition, and they were shut out 5-0. A-rod and Giambi did not hit the homers we wished for.

And yet somehow I couldn’t be too disgruntled. I got to spend two whole days at one of the places I love most in the world, and Moose got his 2500th strikeout and won a 2-1 victory, and I went bowling. And corwin and I got to spend a lot of quality time together. Did I mention we’re leaving on another baseball trip Wednesday? To Seattle, for the SABR convention. Which means that the summer fun is just beginning.

Addendum: As I post this, I find it worthy of note that Jason Giambi got my memo about owing me two homers a day late: he homered in his first two at bats tonight against the Braves.

June 11, 2006: Clean-Up Spot

June 11, 2006 By: ctan Category: Great Ballparks, Great Games

Well, it just goes to show that no matter how long you follow baseball or what capacity you are involved in the sport, there is always something new you haven’t seen or done. Today I was at Fenway Park to see David Ortiz hit a 3-run walk-off home run against the Texas Rangers. That was not the new part–Big Papi does that kind of thing regularly. No, it was what happened after that and before the next game started.

See, at Fenway today they played a doubleheader. Problem was, it was yesterday they were supposed to play the doubleheader, but the rain did not cooperate. So today, in brilliant sunshine, the plan was to play two. The first game started at noon and the second was to start as quickly as possible after the first one ended–the gates were scheduled to re-open for the new crowd at 4:30, with a 5pm start time (so the game could be televised on NESN before the ESPN Sunday night exclusivity came into play).

In order to turn the ballpark over for the new crowd, the public address announcer exhorted people to pick up their own trash, but very few people actually did. So as soon as the crowd began to clear out, Fenway Park employees of every stripe began to put on gloves, fluff out trash bags, and start filling them.

Bill Nowlin and I were in the park today to pass out flyers for SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) and recruit new members. (If you are into baseball history or love stats, you should join at www.sabr.org.) We had credentials for both games, so after the first game ended we were just supposed to wait around for the next one.

But just waiting around while groundskeepers, office workers, ushers, concessions employees (we could tell all these by their varying modes of dress and uniforms) were all drafted into trash pickup duty was hard. We drifted down toward the group who were fanning out from behind the visiting dugout. Finally Bill asked someone “Where can we get a bag and help?”

We were pointed to one guy who had trash bags and vinyl gloves. We each took a bag and gloved up, and went to work.

Pizza boxes, beer cups, ice cream spoons, the Sunday Boston Globe, chicken fingers, half-eaten hotdogs–almost every seat had something under it and we sped through picking up as much stuff as we possibly could. A bat boy in full home whites was doing it. Even Larry Lucchino, Red Sox Vice President, was filling up a bag in my section, though he was the only one of us who had a camera man following him around. Scoreboard operations put on the theme music to Sanford & Son and blasted it over the PA. My guess is that it was the only trash/junk-related song they could come up with (though surely they have a Garbage album up there..?).

I’d say with all the people helping, the main grandstand was cleared in under thirty minutes, which is pretty damn impressive. And here’s where I’m supposed to make a punny conclusion about trash or garbage or something, but with the Red Sox in first place (despite almost getting swept by the Rangers–only Papi kept it from being so), nothing appropriate comes to mind.

May 31, 2006; Walking Wounded

May 31, 2006 By: ctan Category: Yankee Fan Memories

If you haven’t been paying much attention lately, you can be forgiven for looking at the standings this morning and finding the New York Yankees tied for first place with the Boston Red Sox. After all, the Yankees are the walking wounded, aren’t they? And they are playing the best-record-in-baseball Detroit Tigers, no? While the Red Sox are coming off a series with Tampa Bay and now facing Toronto.

Yes, the Yankees are hurting. The disabled list includes Hideki Matsui (broken wrist, 3 months), the guy who would have replaced Matsui in left, Bubba Crosby (hamstring, 2 weeks), Tanyon Sturtze (surgery, out indefinitely), and starter Shawn Chacon (got whacked with a comebacker, unknown). Don’t forget Johnny Damon who is playing with a broken foot, Gary Sheffield who is playing with a broken bone in his hand, Derek Jeter who won’t admit his hand may bother him after a slide into the bag the other night in Detroit, Jorge Posada who is having a leg/knee tendon issue, and no one has said anything about an injury yet but am I the only one who has noticed that in the past 3 weeks Jason Giambi’s bat seems to have slowed considerably? After his hot April, May has brought an unusual number of pop ups to left field. Last night he got a fastball down Broadway on a 3-1 pitch and missed it. Fortunately, in the 11th inning, he got a curve ball, guessed right, and jacked it into the seats for the game-winning RBI. It was reminiscent of a day in Oakland when he did the very same thing off Mike Stanton’s curve ball, though that one was a walk-off since Giambi then played for the home team.

So, how are the Yankees doing it? The outfield that was supposed to be Matsui, Damon, and Sheffield has been replaced by Melky Cabrera, Bernie Williams and Terrence Long. They had to call Long out of retirement, for goodness’ sake. Well, after looking a bit rusty in his debut at Fenway, Long has been fine as a fill-in guy, had two hits last night and will continue to be a fine stop-gap. Bernie Williams has stepped up big over the past ten days, hitting .389 (14 for 36) in that span. Melky Cabrera had four hits last night and is batting .333 over the past ten days with 9 RBI. He’s 13 for 39 with six walks.

And Damon, bum foot or no, has still been hitting at close to .300 and playing fine defense. Sheffield sat last night but will be back in the lineup most of this week.

How about the infield? Alex Rodriguez hit .375 over the past ten days, with 12 RBI and 11 runs scored. Jeter has been his usual self–let’s knock wood that the hand injury doesn’t cool him off more than a day or two. Giambi’s bat-speed woes we already discussed, and we’ll keep an eye on him. Robinson Cano continues to be a plain great hitter, hitting .299 this season. Posada’s injury will hopefully not derail what otherwise looks to be one of his best years at the plate so far. And even backup Kelly Stinnett looks like he is coming out of his slump–perhaps the increased playing time he received is the silver lining on Posada’s injury.

Of course, the real question is the pitching. Randy Johnson, who has been the cause of so much hair-tearing over the past month, took a no-hitter into the sixth in Detroit. Aaron Small, who seemed spectacularly ineffective out of the bullpen, has had two strong outings now where his only problem seemed to be he tires after four innings, as you might expect from a guy who just spent a month in the bullpen. With Chacon out and Pavano still not due back for quite a while, Small can once again save the Yankees’ bacon as he did last season. Mussina has once again been simply great, having added a new change-up to his mix this year. As usual Moose’s weakness is the long ball, as with many pitchers who throw a lot of strikes, but this is no more of a concern this season than in any other. Chien Ming-Wang has been consistent with his ground-ball inducing sinker, and Jaret Wright seems to have regained his effectiveness.

The bullpen has had some hiccups, but overall they have been good. Scott Proctor, who was lights out in April, had a rough stretch likely brought on by over-use, but hopefully he is over that now. Kyle Farnsworth has alternated between excellent and awful, sometimes from one pitch to the next, but he appears to be finding himself. Ron Villone has been steady, and Mariano Rivera pitched three innings of effortless relief last night to earn the win–the first time he pitched three innings since the fateful 2003 Aaron-Goes-Boone ALCS game seven.

So how are the Yankees doing it? By mixing and matching and working hard. They don’t have all the parts working together, but they have enough that they have won seven of their last 10 games.

The dogfight with Boston resumes next week with a four-game set at the Stadium. Hang on to your hats as the ride is likely to stay bumpy.

May 27 2006: Now I Remember

May 27, 2006 By: ctan Category: On Playing the Game

Just in time for Memorial Day, summer is here with a vengeance. We had huge thunderstorms yesterday, the humidity went through the roof, and today it hit eighty degrees.

Just in time for my first baseball practice. I had forgotten what it was like to stand in the outfield, with not a hint of a breeze, the noon sun beating down, sweat sticking my hair to the back of my neck. Don’t get me wrong; I liked it. But I have a New Rule: do not drink Belle de Brillet brandy and Cointreau the night before baseball.

Dehydration sucks.

The upshot of today’s practice is threefold. One, yes, I can bunt, and our coaches’ decision that this year, when we’ve got a runner on third and a pitcher on the mound who throws strikes, we may just put down the suicide squeeze. My hands are itching in anticipation. Two, sitting around all winter without a single trip to the batting cage is not good for my swing. But it won’t take long to get it back. Three, I still cannot throw for beans.

The throwing thing is a pain because it’s simply embarrassing. I am not the worst thrower in the league. But the fact that I can throw less far than I could five years ago really irks me, and then there is the fact that my accuracy is for crap, too. I suppose by now I should just start accepting the fact that the torn tendon in my elbow is going to keep me like this. All winter it was great, no pain, good strength, no problems. Then, about a month ago, I tweaked it somehow (possibly pulling something out of the car) and kaboom, it swelled up and it is back to square one.

And of course throwing is one of those things that you have to do all the time. Chase a ball down in the outfield, hit the cutoff. Field a grounder, throw to first. Pick up balls in BP, throw them back to the pitcher. At this point, I can’t tell if my bad throws are because of my elbow or because of a mental block about whether the throw will be bad or not. Sometimes, I don’t think about it, and it’s fine. Sometimes, I don’t think about it, and I uncork these strange ones. Sometimes I think about it, and it’s fine. Sometimes, I think about it, and it makes no difference.

My fielding isn’t great but I want to convince the coaches that I can play second base at least as well as some of the other choices we have for the position, and I at least don’t have to be told when to cover the bag. Right field is nice but… well, no it isn’t. If we really have someone crack at second, I’ll be happy in the outfield because I want the team to win. But I don’t contribute much in the outfield. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m a worse right fielder than I am second baseman. It’s just less obvious.

Sigh. I should just shut up now. Among other good news, we have Nikki, the lefty who was on my old team 4 years ago and who throws harder than anyone in the league, on our team again, which means that we have a good chance to beat our arch rivals, Carter & Carter.

And right field has the advantage that at least during BP I get to enjoy the local wildlife. Today I saw two pretty birds. No idea what kind, but they were mostly black with yellow and orange on their wings. There was a pair of them, and they flew off to the woodsy area beyond third base. There was also a large hawk of some kind, being harried by six small birds. The little birds just dive-bombed it over and over as it went around and around in a circle over me. Eventually it flew off and they left it alone.

Oh yeah, haven’t done any sprinting during the winter either. Before you start getting ideas that me and Sidney Ponson spent the winter on the beach (or in jail) in Aruba, I am actually in better shape for this season than I have been for any baseball season yet. Why? In September I started regular tae kwon do workouts again, and kept it up until last month when I tweaked the elbow. I weigh less, my pants fit soooo much better, and a lot of me is stronger. I hope it pays off in more hits and better speed.

And I once again wonder if I should try a larger bat than my 29″ (22 ounce) Little League stick. Maybe.

On the way home from practice I stopped at the grocery store to grab some lunch-makings. A Hispanic checkout boy saw my pants, socks, and jock flip-flops and asked “You just come from playing baseball? That’s what I’m going to do when I get out of here!” When I’d gone into the store it looked like it was threatening to pour, but by the time I got home the sky was blue and the afternoon looked fine. I hope he got his swings in.

May 17 2006: Tall Cold One

May 17, 2006 By: ctan Category: Interviews

Randy Johnson has struggled of late, so I thought it would be worth revisiting a conversation that he and I had at the end of spring training. Given Johnson’s toughness as a competitor, the problem is more likely mechanical than mental.

Cecilia Tan: Has your perspective changed on your career now versus when you were younger?

Randy Johnson: My career is almost over. I’m not in the middle, I’m not in the beginning, I’m more towards the end. So, you know, I don’t really know how to answer that question other than to state the obvious, yeah.

CT: Was the decision to come to New York part of that knowing you are coming to the end?

RJ: I think it was more the decision to continue to be challenged toward the end of my career. The challenges were obviously there when I was young early in my career, the middle of my career, and I don’t think there is any bigger challenge toward the end to come here and have your reputation as a pitcher that can go out and do the things I do and still do them at the age I am doing them at. So that’s obviously the greatest challenge. If you are not into challenges, this obviously wouldn’t be the place to come late in your career.

CT: In fact, I’d say there are some guys who late in their careers left here to get away from those challenges.

RJ: Yeah, you’re right. I’ve always wanted to be challenged in my career and there is no greater place to be challenged than here. They expect to win, and that is what I’ve been expected to do everywhere I have gone.

CT: How does it feel to be part of that?

RJ: Good. It’s a good fit.

CT: The fans seem to respond to you, also.

RJ: They respond to anybody that wins, and fans are very appreciative of your effort when it’s there and obviously when you pitch poorly they will do whatever they do accordingly. That’s to be expected. That’s the way it is everywhere. If you get a bad steak or go to a bad movie, you send it back to get it cooked right or you walk out of the movie halfway. So, that comes with the territory.

CT: Are you looking forward to this year? Will it be different?

RJ: I think it will be. I think it’s a new year and I’m looking forward to doing this again.

CT: I think the AL East is going to be tough.

RJ: I think it’s the toughest division in all of baseball. There’s another challenge in hand. And if we want to continue talking about challenges, not only coming to the Yankees late in my career, but being in the toughest division, and then also playing in the American League, which is slightly tougher than the National League because you’re not facing the pitcher. There’s several challenge there. But I’m up for challenging all of them.

April 27, 2006: MVP! MVP!

April 26, 2006 By: ctan Category: Baseball Musings, Yankee Fan Memories

Tonight, Alex Rodriguez will be handed his 2006 Most Valuable Player Award in a pre-game ceremony. He was previously the first MVP to ever be traded during his reign. The words “best player in the game” can be placed in a sentence with his name without hyperbole or exaggeration.

So why is he still in Derek Jeter’s shadow?

Perception is a funny thing. Baseball fans and writers alike believe what we see. But what we see–and what it means–is as much a function of expectations as performance. Is this why, even though A-rod hits more home runs than Jeter, Jeter’s always seem to come in “big spots”?

Ask your average Yankee fan to name a Jeter homer and a list will probably follow. The Jeffrey Maier one. The Mr. November shot. The walk-off off Foulke at the Stadium last year. The one off Pedro in 2003 in the Zimmer brawl game. The leadoff homer at Shea, on the first pitch after the Yanks lost a game, the first time they had lost a World Series game in recent memory. The very fact that some of these homers have nicknames limns the point that they are legendary moments.

Now make a list of A-rod’s memorable dingers (as a Yankee–I’ll never forget that one he hit off El Duque’s “eephus” pitch when he was with Seattle…). It’s an unfair question, I know, because he has not had the long tenure in pinstripes Jeter has had, yet fewer of them stick in the collective memory. How about the three taters off Bartolo Colon in a single game last season? Reggie-esque. But no one is more disappointed in the way Alex hit (or failed to) in last year’s ALDS against the Angels than Alex himself.

This year both men are off to hot starts, but Jeter still seems to have an uncanny knack for being in the right place at the right time. He makes his own luck by virtue of being fearless. When he was in a slump worthy of a Sports Illustrated cover story in 2003, Jeter briefly–very briefly–experienced boos at Yankee Stadium. But he has disappointed so rarely (it seems) and come through in the clutch so often (it seems), that the fans’ comfort zone with him is a mile wide. Jeter is home-grown, a fairy tale storybook, and all that. But this does not mean that Alex Rodriguez has to polish his shoes.

Winning the MVP will hopefully add some comfort zone for A-rod, both for himself and the fans. There was a time when Tino Martinez–a guy now thought of as one of the “made” Yankees–was booed at the Stadium as an unworthy replacement for Don Mattingly. A grand slam in Baltimore, another one in the 1996 ALCS, not to mention the homer 2001 World Series… my how perceptions change.

This is what it will take for A-rod to become a “made” Yankee himself. He needs to not only be the best player in the game day in and day out, not just the MVP (though that helps), not only carry the team to another postseason berth, but also to come up big in those big spots in October. Until then, the unfair perception that he is a carpet-bagging attention-seeker will never be completely dispelled on the streets of Yankeetown, and Jeter will always be perceived as the “better” Yankee.

It will be curious to see which one makes it into the Hall of Fame first. I suspect it will be whichever one retires first.

April 11, 2006: Inauguration

April 11, 2006 By: ctan Category: Yankee Fan Memories

And thus was the high holy day of The Home Opener celebrated. With sunshine and cheers and an earsplitting flyover. With elder statesman Yogi Berra throwing out the first pitch and the sacrificial lamb of Ambiorix Burgos served up to appease the gods of Yankee superiority. We clamored in the ritual fashion, and our prayers were answered.

Today dawned sunny and warm in New York City. I have now attended six home openers in a row and this was the first where I did not have to wear a jacket. Sixty-eight degrees, a gentle breeze, it was a great improvement over the snow-out we suffered for Matsui’s debut, and even last year’s 8pm ESPN-fest against the Red Sox. Sadly, announcer Bob Sheppard had to miss his first home opener in 56 years as he fell and suffered a hip injury last night. His understudy, a man I have heard is cut from Sheppard’s mold and like Sheppard taught speech at St. John’s, filled in admirably with his best Bob Sheppard impression. Freddie the Fan was in attendance, though, with his signature pan, and a sign that read “2006 Opening Day/Let’s Go Yankees/Show The Way.”

When Johnny Damon strode to the plate to lead off the bottom of the first, he was greeted by cheers. Opening Day is all about cheering. The last time we had a chance to exercise our lungs was a chilly October night in New York, a game that had been postponed by rain, a nail-biter against the Angels. Today couldn’t have been more different from that night. Damon, the “new Yankee,” doubled, and received a standing ovation. (As I said, all about cheering.)

Jeter and Sheffield each grounded out, though, and Damon remained on second. Was Joe Mays going to escape the first unscathed? Alex Rodriguez then worked a walk, to bring Jason Giambi to the plate. The man sitting next to me called him “the world’s most expensive singles hitter.” I was in the middle of my reply–that it was Giambi who carried the team offensively in the second half of last season, and that even with the awful two months he had, if he had batted as many times as A-rod last season, he would have matched A-rod’s MVP offensive numbers–when Giambi laced a line drive rocket into the bleachers in right field. Three-nothing Yankees.

The cheering was such that Giambi had to be forced out of the dugout for a curtain call. It’s all about the cheering. There were cheers when Damon walked to lead off the third. Louder cheers when A-rod walked again. Still louder when Giambi walked to load the bases. And a terrific cheer when Matsui took ball four to force in a run and knock Mays from the game.

But the Kansas City Royals were not content to merely play a passive part in the inauguration ceremony for the new lineup. They tied the score at four off Chien Ming Wang in the fourth, and went ahead in the fifth. The crowd fell into a lull. But Opening Day, as Jason Giambi can tell you from experience, is also a day for boos. Tanyon Sturtze came in to pitch the seventh, and gave up a home run into the first row of the short porch on his very first pitch. He did strike out Mike Sweeney, but also gave up a ground rule double and another run. Mike Myers and Scott Procter (the Yankees’ best reliever in the spring) closed the barn door after that, though, to give the Yankees the chance to catch up.

Facing Andrew Sisco in the bottom of the eighth, down by a score of 7-4, Giambi reached base for the fourth consecutive time today, drawing his third walk. Matsui followed with a single to the right side, and Posada worked the count and ended up with what would have been ball four but it actually grazed him a little. With the bases loaded, Robinson Cano then his into a fielder’s choice, beating out a double play and bringing in one run. Thus there were men on the corners for Bernie Williams.

Bernie had received the loudest ovations of the day each time he had come up to bat. Yankees fans know this is probably his last year, and as a lifelong Yankee who has provided so many great memories, acknowledge that. Bernie stared at the first three pitches, and anxiety began to grow in the crowd. But Bernie laced a clean line drive into center to bring in another run and make it only 7-6 in favor of the Royals. The standing ovation for Bernie put the crowd on their feet and they did not sit again until the end of the game.

So much for lefthander Andrew Sisco. Even with lefthanded Johnny Damon coming up, Sisco was removed in favor of Ambiorix Burgos. The crowd’s cries for blood in the arena were so loud by then that I have no idea how Bob Sheppard’s understudy pronounced the new pitcher’s name.

A time for boos. Johnny Damon struck out on three pitches and whacked his bat on the ground in frustration. Admittedly, there were only a few token boos at that point–hazing more than genuine disappointment since Johnny had already scored twice and put down a lovely sac bunt which had earned him a standing ovation back in the fourth. Johnny went back to the diugout.

The Captain, Derek Jeter, strode to the plate, looking for all the world like what he might have been thinking was “Jeez, Johnny, do I have to do everything around here? I guess I will.” Jeter walloped the first pitch he saw over the wall in left (yes, he pulled the ball), for a three run home run and a 9-7 lead. Jeter was called out for a curtain call, and fans even tried to get a second one out of him with loud, rhythmic chants of his name, but to no avail.

Gary Sheffield struck out to end the inning in post-climactic fashion. There is always one guy who doesn’t join the party, and Sheff was the only Yankee not to reach base today. The fans serenaded Jeter again as he took his position in the field for the final step in the ceremonial victory over the Royals: Mariano Time.

Rivera wasn’t perfect today, but he didn’t have to be, giving up a bloop single and hitting a man (perhaps payback for Jorge?) but as usual he did not appear troubled. The game ended when Doug Mientkiewicz (remember him?) lined a ball right into Mariano’s glove.

And thus was the high holy day of the Home Opener concluded, with Frank Sinatra, and high fives, and pinstripes shaking hands with pinstripes on the field.

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