Why I Like Baseball

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Archive for August, 2008

August 31, 2008: When The World Is Running Down

August 31, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Baseball Fans and Fandom, Yankee Fan Memories

Well, I have probably just seen my last game at Yankee Stadium, at least the stadium as I knew it. My very earliest trips to the stadium were before the mid-70s renovation. I even remember a doubleheader at Shea on a day it poured rain so hard that the decks looked like waterfalls. But the vast majority of my baseball memories are of the renovated stadium. It was a favorite destination for birthday parties and family outings. Longtime readers of this blog will remember that we were there when Dave Righetti pitched his no-hitter, which to this day is still spoken about as a famous day in Tan family history.

And now there are only ten games left at the place, and I will probably not be back again this season. I’ve put my tickets for the final game on sale and it seems likely they will be bought.

Am I nostalgic? Yes. But I managed not to cry, although the National Anthem almost did me in (as usual) and I only staved off tears by singing louder than usual.

It seems to me the Sunday crowd sings more than on other days of the week. Not only was the National Anthem audible, but there was definitely high participation on Take Me Out to the Ballgame also.

The game itself was not that memorable. The Yankees lost to the Blue Jays 6-2, after Pettitte walked the leadoff batter and then Nady lost a ball in the sun in the first inning. It was pretty much downhill from there, except for two solo home runs off Halladay, one from A-Rod, who heard some real cheers for the first time basically all week, and Jason Giambi, who has been, as they say on Lon- Gisland, “awn fiyah.” I saw three games at the Stadium this week; Giambi hit a homer in each one. (He must be getting the memos that say I’m there.)

The weather was beautiful, though, warm and dry, with a blue sky barely marred by just one or two clouds throughout the afternoon. The Yankees’ playoff hopes fade day by day, and you can feel the lethargy in the crowds as they wonder whether they should get excited or not. It’s a bit of a vicious cycle: the team doesn’t seem to have the horses to make it, so people won’t clap, and you can’t will a team to do more than it’s capable of, can you?

Anyway, the thing is… even with the team losing, the playoffs dwindling on the horizon, and the destruction of the Stadium imminent, it was still a pretty nice day at the ballpark. Am I a sap? Yeah. But we got to see the major league debut of Alfredo Aceves, who pitched two scoreless innings and struck out three. His throwing motion looks a lot like Mariano’s, but he differs from Mo in one major way, which is that he throws a change-up.

I now present a collection of observations and snippets of overheard conversation from the past week of baseball here in the Bronx:

Prior to the Wednesday game against the Red Sox, these words were delivered wistfully: “It must be nice to have a new Stadium.”

Prior to Sunday’s sold out tilt, to a scalper: “You got any cheap tickets?” The reply: “Yeah. At Shea Stadium.”

The Red Sox fans sitting next to us the other night, as A-Rod came to bat. The girlfriend said something we couldn’t hear, which prompted the boyfriend to respond: “With Madonna?!?! But she’s old!”

Did Carl Pavano always have a lazy eye, or did that happen after he got hit in the head with a ball?

Talk about feeling like it was the 1970s again; there was old school sky writing above the Stadium today. It read: I N T R E P I D M U S E U M . C O M

We watched yesterday’s game from a bar on the boardwalk (Spicy in Seaside Heights), where there was a live singer with a guitar (I’m so sorry I didn’t get his name—he was quite good). He kept pausing between songs to ask us what the score was. He tried to egg on the White Sox (who are playing the Red Sox) by playing “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.” The scoreboard department today opted for AC/DC “Highway to Hell” when the Yankees failed to rally.

While watching the game from the bar, which is a pleasant experience thanks to the weather and booze and nice music, even when the Yankees lose as a result of a Cano error (but I’m not bitter)… we learned that the song “When I Come Around” mashes up perfectly with “No Woman, No Cry.” While we’re at it, have you noticed that “Sweet Home Alabama” mashes up with “Werewolves of London?”

I admit my sadness over the ending of the Yankees’ season is tempered somewhat by a feeling that certain things are inevitable. First off, Cashman has pulled a rabbit out of his hat year after year after year to replace injured players and find the last pieces of the puzzle so many times. From David Justice to Shawn Chacon and Aaron Small, he keeps plugging the holes. This year, though, there was really no way to replace the loss of Chien Ming Wang and Jorge Posada. Pudge Rodriguez doesn’t have enough left in the tank to fill the need (he’s like 10 for 55 since putting on pinstripes), and using Sidney Ponson and Darrell Rasner in place of Hughes and Kennedy hasn’t lifted them above mediocre. So, Cashman’s luck was bound to run out some time.

The inevitability, though, stems partly from the overall feeling that an era is coming to an end. The Stadium is coming down. We’ve already lost Eddie Layton, and Bob Sheppard seems sure to go next; I’m not sure he has been well enough to work even a single game this year? Even Derek Jeter is having an off year and whispers about his age are starting to crop up.

So it’s hard to separate my feelings about the season from all the other things that seem to be winding down. Or maybe it’s just that I literally do not remember what it is like not to make he playoffs, so I don’t know how to feel.

I actually have not given up. But it is feeling a lot like it’s the bottom of the eighth and we’re down by a lot of runs, making the comeback unlikely. But not impossible. And how amazing it would be if they did.

August 29, 2008: The Giambino Saves the Day

August 29, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Great Games, Yankee Fan Memories

The two Yankees who have defined the post-Paul-O’Neill era were the stars yesterday in one of my final visits to Yankee Stadium, Jason Giambi and Mike Mussina.

A look back at their Yankee careers shows a saga of “not quite.” Mussina had two of the ultimate “not quite” experiences, narrowly missing a perfect game in Fenway Park on Labor Day Weekend in 2001 (not even a full month before September 11th would change everything) and then pitching the incredible lights-out 1-0 must-win game in Oakland (the “slide, Jeremy, slide!” game) where if he had let in even a single run, the Yankees would have been going home… only to sit helplessly by while the ninth inning of Game Seven of the World Series unraveled around Mariano Rivera.

Giambi’s initial blush as a Yankee had one incredible Ruthian moment to it, in which with the team down 3 runs in the 14th inning against the Twins, in the pouring rain, Giambi did the seemingly impossible, which was came to the plate with the bases loaded and hit a walk off grand slam. The sports pages reported it as a feat to have only been performed by one previous Yankee, Babe Ruth himself. But the steroid scandal and myriad health problems have plagued Giambi in his time in New York, making him often no better than a bench player who was being paid like a star. Most of us have forgiven him all the steroid stuff, mostly because of all the players named in the Mitchell Report, he is the one still playing who actually ‘fessed up about it, both in the courtroom and in the papers. He’s proved himself to be a regular guy who gets it, who just wants to mash the ball and get cheered, and whose relationship with the fans is as simple and pure as Alex Rodriguez’s is complicated.

Yesterday, the Yankees faced the Red Sox at The Stadium for the final time (unless some miracle pits them against each other in the postseason). On the day Yankee Stadium opened, the two rivals met, and Babe Ruth hit a three-run shot to beat his former team in a fitting inauguration for the House that Ruth Built.

Yesterday, Giambi once again performed a Ruthian feat. With Sox lefty Jon Lester on the mound, Giambi had been given the day off. Mike Mussina took the mound for the Yankees, and pretty much stifled their potent lineup other than one rally where the Sox managed to get two runs (sparked by the return to life of the bat of Jason Varitek, who has been hitting around .200 all year and whose selection by the players to the All Star Game baffled many). As such, when he left the game with the Yankees down 2-0, Mussina would either be the hard-luck loser or get no decision. It’s impossible at this point for me to accept that a pitcher “must” have a 20-win season in order to be elected to the Hall of Fame, when Moose has been a victim of low run support for nearly his entire career (including with the Yankees, go figure). Moose held the Sox to 5 hits over 7 innings, walking two (Big Papi twice, and who can blame him). He contributed to his own demise slightly by hitting Alex Cora with a pitch with two strikes on him, and if Robinson Cano had stepped on the bag and thrown to first on a ball off the bat of Jacoby Ellsbury, they might have gotten out of the inning only giving up one run. Instead he had flipped to Jeter and Ellsbury beat it out, letting the second run in.

But one run or two, it doesn’t matter if the Yankees don’t score.

In the bottom of the seventh, with two out, Cody Ransom, who had been inserted at first base for Giambi in the lineup, came to bat. Ransom, a 32-year-old rookie, for those of you who don’t recall, hit two homers in a spring training game, but no one really wrote about it because that was the day that Billy Crystal “played” for the Yankees. Ransom had also had to give up his number so that Crystal could wear it, and then after the game stood off to the side in a towel and his shower shoes because the media horde around Billy was so large that Cody couldn’t get to his locker to put his clothes on. Ransom also had one of the more unique displays of batting stats when he came to the plate, which showed he was batting 1.000 with 2 homers and 5 RBI. In his first plate appearance of the day he was hit by pitch, and then did strike out against Lester in the fifth. But in the eighth (with his average having plummeted to .667) he doubled off Lester and drove the lefty from the game.

At that point, Girardi sent up Giambi to pinch hit. After the game Suzyn Waldman would report that Girardi picked him in the hopes that he’d tie the game with one swing. None of this “just hoping he’d get on base” stuff. Down 2-0, with Papelbon in the wings, the manager (and everyone in the Stadium) wanted a two run shot.

We got it.

It was, surprisingly, a shot to left center, not the direction that Giambi usually hits the ball. But he has supposedly been working with hitting coach Kevin Long all year on taking the ball the other way. He took it all the way into the Yankees bullpen. Did I mention he hit the shot off lefty Hideki Okajima? Girardi told Waldman that it didn’t matter who they brought in to pitch, whether they left Lester in there or brought in their lefthander from the bullpen, his orders to Giambi were the same. Tie the game.

The very first time I saw Jason Giambi play live was when he was with Oakland. He was, then, my favorite player in the American League who was Not A Yankee. So I always wanted to see him hit a home run. My rule of thumb for seeing teams in other stadium is simple: always root for the home team unless they are playing the Yankees. I saw a game in Anaheim, for example, where when the Angels were winning handily in the late innings, I then rooted for Giambi to hit one for the A’s—and he did. We saw the Yankees play Oakland a few times at the Coliseum, too, and he pretty much hit one each time there—including one that left me totally conflicted when he hit a walkoff homer off of Mike Stanton’s 12-6 curve ball, which you KNEW Stanton was going to throw on the first pitch, because he almost always did. corwin joked that Giambi must have gotten a memo that I was there, and hit it for me.

Anyway, since then, most of the games I have seen live have featured a Giambi home run, since of course he came to the Yankees after that. He even hit one for me the night before, as we sat sulking in the upper deck with the score 11-2 Red Sox. Apparently, he got the memo again.

So, here he did it AGAIN, this time tying the game and sending the crowd into a frenzy. Our entire section of the tier seemed to have been taken over by Red Sox fans, but they were silenced by the blast, and Yankee partisan voices, which had been very subdued all day and also the night before (I’d rarely heard the Stadium so quiet), finally were raised.

Oh, did I mention Jeter had three hits yesterday? It’s probably my imagination, but it feels like he often comes through with a big day the day after the Yankees get humiliated. A-rod, on the other hand, did not have a big day, but at least he wasn’t actively awful like he was in the opening game of the series. Please, Alex, keep up with the therapy, because when you make the mental breakthrough to deal with pressure, you’re going to be a monster. (His numbers according to FanGraphs for this year are not only not clutch, he’s anti-clutch. Last year’s clutchiness was fine, but this year…? Blame Madonna?)

Oh, and did I mention that the Yankees are 19-9 in Mike Mussina’s starts, but are below .500 otherwise? If I wear my Mussina jersey a thousand more times, will Mike Mussina get into the Hall of Fame?

Now, with the score tied 2-2, Joe Girardi did not fool around, using three relievers to retire three batters in the top of the 8th. Brian Bruney got Pedroia, Damaso Marte got Big Papi, and then Mariano Rivera came in for a four-out appearance. Not a save, since the score was tied. According to the Star Ledger this morning, it was the first time since September 22, 1996 that Mo has entered a game at home with the game tied before the ninth inning—and back then he was not even the closer.

Mo retired Youkilis on a fly ball to center. Terry Francona countered with two outs in the eighth, bringing in Justin Masterson to strike out Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod ended the day with three strikeouts (one caught looking on a highly questionable call, but when you’re going bad, stuff like that happens) and one pop up to the infield on the first pitch with two men on in the 6th. Yeah, ouch, but A-Rod is not the story here.

Jeter made a throwing error to lead off the ninth, but Mariano shrugged it off and retired the next three men easily. Jeter has looked somewhat stiff in the field this series, as if his back or legs are stiffening up on him. Old age setting in? Or an injury that’s being well-hidden? I’m curious to see if something will be revealed after the season.

So, to the bottom of the ninth. Xavier Nady, who has been really a nice surprise since coming to New York at the trade deadline, led off with a single off Masterson. Brett Gardner, the guy my mom dubbed “Speedy Dynamo” in spring training, came in to pinch run. Robinson Cano (who has been hitting his traditional post-All-Star-break .320 or so) then hit a line shot … but right into the glove of Lowrie at third. Gardner stole second, so they intentionally walked Matsui. That brought up Pudge Rodriguez, who has been hitting dismally since coming to the Yankees, and who traditionally is an aggressive hitter.

He told reporters after the game that he just kept telling himself over and over “don’t swing if it’s not a strike.” He worked a walk, loading the bases and bringing Giambi to the plate.

Francona brought in Papelbon with no margin for error. With Giambi down 0-2 he left a ball over the plate that Giambi smacked on a line into center field for the game winner. Gardner held up in case it was caught, but crossed the plate easily as Ellsbury merely swiped at the ball in disgust as it came to him. Giambi was mobbed at first base.

We exited into rush hour traffic but creeping along in the car burning valuable fossil fuels is so much easier to take while singing “New York, New York.”

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