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March 16, 2008: Run Through

Today’s game at Legends Field (soon to be re-christened George M. Steinbrenner Field, but they haven’t had the official ceremony yet, though the local government already voted in the change) was almost like a Real Game! With Real Excitement!

It’s difficult for fans who live and die by the Yankees to grasp just how laid back Spring Training games can seem. Winning the game is not the goal. Each player has things that he is working on, like mastering a specific pitch, or testing the health of his knees, and so on. Getting in shape to play in April is the goal of playing in March.

This means that in crucial situations in a spring game, you might see the very effective starting pitcher lifted because he’d reached his pitch count and the game handed over to some no-name journeyman who is fighting for a spot on the roster, and who is likely not to succeed in either pitching well in the exhibition or making the team.

A good analogy is to think of these games like dress rehearsals. You’ll see a lot of the understudies instead of the stars, and just when you are getting into the swell of emotion of a really good song, they keep breaking in and changing things around. If you’re disappointed by watching the rehearsal because it wasn’t like the Real Thing, well, guess what, you need to buy a ticket to The Show for that.

But, today, the Yankees pulled off a pretty bang up rendition of an exciting cast with a big production number at the end.

Things started well, with Chien-Ming Wang on the mound with a nice 1-2-3 inning, which included strikeouts of Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner. His second inning did not go as smoothly, as he gave up three runs, but still ended the inning with a strikeout to David Dellucci. He then sat down six of the next seven, the only hit being a pop fly into no man’s land that dropped for a hit. In the fifth he showed a little fatigue, perhaps, as Grady Sizemore, oopsie, got a hold of one and hit a long homer, and then after striking out Dellucci again, walked Hafner and was declared done for the day.

Scott Patterson (no, we hadn’t heard of him either) followed, getting them out of the jam with a 6-4-3 double play, and then pitching a 1-2-3 sixth. Darrell Rasner pitched the final three innings and, oopsie, gave up another homer to Sizemore, and they nicked him for one more in the ninth, giving the Indians a tally of 6 runs.

The Yankees were perpetually playing catch-up in the game. After Wang had given up the three in the second, Giambi led off the bottom of the inning with a walk, followed promptly by a Shelley Duncan dead-center blast that was absolutely crushed. Much earlier this spring, Joe Girardi had remarked that he didn’t understand why any pitcher would ever throw him a fastball ever. Apparently C. C. Sabathia had not gotten that memo, though and the shot made it 3-2 Indians.

In the fourth the Yankees tied the score, as Cano led off with a hit, stole second, and then came in on a Jose Molina double. Molina is one of the few catchers I’ve seen who does not look as though he is running perpetually uphill into the wind. He even tagged up and took third on a fly ball to right. Unfortunately, he was stranded there, and the Yankees were unable to take the lead. After Sizemore’s two homers it was 5-3 Cleveland, and the Yankees scratched back one more in the bottom of the eighth on a Greg Porter triple (yes, he plays for our side… we’re in the understudy territory now) andd a Bernie Castro RBI single. Castro nearly scored the tying run on the next hit, but ended up gunned down at the plate.

After the Indians got that insurance run off Rasner in the ninth, things were not looking good. 6-4 in Cleveland’s favor with Chad Moeller, Brett Gardner, and Justin Christian coming up for the Yankees.

But Moeller is no slouch, a former big league backstop who is currently jobless and looking to hook on with a team after the Nationals released him about a week ago. And Gardner is the guy my mother just loves. “This guy can run like crazy!” is her scouting report on him. Every time he’s come to bat this spring, my mom has said to me, “I hope he hits the ball so we can see him run.” The crowd, which had been sun-lulled all afternoon, came to life with a “Let’s Go Yankees” cheer.

Moeller doubled, and Gardner did not get to show off his speed–at least not right away–because he walked on four pitches. (That did not keep my mom from cheering “Way to go Speedy Dynamo!”) Justin Christian then tried to hit a ball in the big hole between short and third, but ended up lining to the left fielder. Damn.

So up came Kyle Anson in the DH slot. This is a guy who was a third base prospect but the Yankees converted him to catching because of the strength of his arm. I have no idea if he’s any relation to Cap Anson, the great 19th century baseball player. Anson doubled and Moeller scored. Now it was 6-5 Indians with one out and two men on… Gardner the Speedy Dynamo at third, and Anson at second.

Up came Nick Green, who at least most casual Yankees fans have heard of, even if they couldn’t pick him out of a police lineup. The sparse crowd was on its feet and he did not make them wait. He hit the first pitch for a single, bringing in the tying and winning runs with one sweet, walk-off stroke, and the strains of Frank Sinatra’s rendition of “New York, New York” filled the house.

Not bad for a dress rehearsal.

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