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      F I E L D  T R I P S

MAY 30, 2003

MAY 27, 2003: Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees, Yankee Stadium
Blog Duo Nix Bronx Jinx

The wait seemed like eons, but it had been only a dozen days. Time does anything but fly when your team is losing. On May 15, my last trip to Yankee Stadium, the Yanks thrashed the defending World Champion Anaheim Angels 10-4. Alfonso Soriano homered on Anaheim starter Aaron Sele's second pitch of the ballgame and the rout was on from the get-go. They were the Bronx Bombers that night, pounding Sele for 8 runs in 2.2 innings and rolling to a 10-1 lead after four loooooong frames.

That game now stood out like Mount Vesuvius amid the ruins of Pompeii. Leading up to it, the Yanks had lost seven out of ten game, costing them three series in a row. Since then, they'd lost eight straight in the House o' Ruth and gone 2-9 overall, surrendering first place to the Red Sox in the process. Their offense had ground to a halt (3.5 runs per game over that span), while the pitching went south as well (5.9 runs per game). Pile on the loss of two of the team's most productive hitters, Bernie Williams and Nick Johnson, for six weeks apiece, and news that their expensive setup man, Steve Karsay, was done for the season without throwing a pitch, and you had all the makings for a pinstriped panic, complete with Mad King George sharpening his guillotine. The tabloid sharks which had been circling the Mets all season, waiting for the bloated carcass of GM Steve Phillips to be thrown overboard, were now swimming in the Harlem River, licking their chops for a fresh Yankee kill.

Fellow blogger Alex Belth of Bronx Banter had been at the May 15 game as well. Alex is a recent acquaintance; he and I had spent a few hours together a couple months back, talking baseball at an East Village Polish diner like we were old friends. Our energized conversation had rolled on like a lengthy rally, taking unexpected twists and turns, much to our delight. Since then we'd been corresponding on a regular basis via email and our respective websites, pulling our hair out as the Yanks went down the tubes. "The Yanks are tearin' my ass out, man," wrote Alex one day.

Misery loves company, so I'd invited him to the May 27 Sox game, thinking it would make for good material for both of us. Had the weather been more cooperative (or uncooperative, depending upon your vantage), we might have had even better material, for Roger Clemens faced the Sox in search of career victory #300 the day before. Memorial Day weekend in New York City was filled with rain, and Monday's ballgame was even delayed for nearly two hours, but Clemens took the hill as scheduled — unsuccessfully, as it turned out.

Anyway... after riding up together from Grand Central Station, Alex and I spent a pre-game half-hour in our seats picking apart the Yankee squad, comparing notes on everything going wrong. I offered my take that Joe Torre might be the wrong man to get them out of this slump because he's too committed to the players he's won with in the past, too inflexible with the roles he's set out for this team. Alex suggested almost guiltily that the Yanks needed a good swift jolt of Billy Martin, and for a moment the thought was tempting: watch Billy kick ass or die trying. That note set us off to talking about Bill James' book on managers, then onto the season's hot book, Moneyball, and back to a hundred other topics and anecdotes melding into a hum of baseball chatter that lasted throughout the game.

Torre's batting order for the night surprised me, given everything I'd just been yammering about: Derek Jeter leading off, Hideki Matsui second, and Soriano third, Giambi fourth (this was actually the third game since Torre shuffled the lineup, but I'd missed the previous two due to travel). Andy Pettitte on the hill, facing the Bruce Chen. Pitchers don't get any more journeyman than Chen: the Sox are his seventh team in six big-league seasons.

It was immediately easy to see why, as Jeter swatted Chen's fourth pitch of the game over the leftfield wall. In the second, Robin Ventura golfed Chen's first pitch into the rightfield bleachers. Mmmmmmm, taters. Meanwhile, Pettitte cruised through the Sox lineup with a confidence that had been sorely lacking lately. Not-So-Dandy Andy entered the game coming off of four straight losses for the first time in his career and sporting an ERA above 5, but that tentative thrower was nowhere in sight. Pettitte struck out two hot hitters — Bill Mueller (.383 coming into the game) and Nomar Garciaparra (a 26-game hitting streak) — looking at his off-speed stuff in the first, and retired the first ten hitters he faced. The Sox didn't touch him until the top of the fifth, when David Ortiz smoked a double into rightfield and Jason Varitek singled him in.

The Yanks took the run right back. Juan Rivera raked Chen's first pitch of the fifth off Nomar's glove and into left-center for a single, and Todd Zeile battled back from two looking strikes to launch his 238th career homer, giving him sole possession for most home runs by a player whose name begins with the letter Z. Roll over, Gus Zernial! Zeile's previous homer had come at that May 15 ballgame. I was beginning to think we were onto something.

The Sox threw their best at Pettitte in the sixth. Mueller led off with a ground-rule double to right-center, and after Nomar grounded sharply back to Pettitte, Manny Ramirez gave a scare with a long foul ball that just missed becoming a homer. When Manny lashed an RBI ground-rule double to left, no Yankee fan could be disappointed at the outcome. Matsui bailed Pettitte out of the inning, catching Kevin Millar's short liner and then two pitches later hustling to haul in a deep David Ortiz fly ball.

The home half of the sixth brought a familiar face in an unfamiliar uniform: Ramiro Mendoza pitching for the Sox. The Yankee crowd gave Mendoza a warm ovation, perhaps acknowledging the baby-faced killer's role on four straight World Series teams, or perhaps suspecting that his 7.53 ERA signified that he was still on George Steinbrenner's payroll. Mendoza instantly got in trouble when Ramirez overslid a Jason Giambi popup into short left, the ball caroming off his glove for a two-base error, but the Yanks failed to capitalize.

They made up for it in the seventh. I'd been blathering all night that with Shea Hillenbrand at third base, Bill Mueller at second, and David Ortiz at first, the Sox had a less-than-optimal defense on the field, and though Hillenbrand had already made an error, this inning clinched my point. Zeile hit a liner that Hillenbrand couldn't handle, safe on an infield single, and then Jeter hazed Shea with a bunt single. Matsui grounded to Mueller for a potential double-play, but the Sox could only get the force, and Zeile then scored on a Soriano sacrifice fly. The Yanks had an opportunity to tack on even more runs at their former teammate's expense, but Raul Mondesi returned to his hacktastic days long enough to fly out to left on the first pitch, leaving the bases loaded.

Having dodged real damage in the fifth and six, Pettitte cruised through the seventh and came out to start the eighth. He retired Johnny Damon on a groundout after a long at-bat, then quickly induced Mueller into another grounder. But with two outs and Garciaparra at the plate, Joe Torre decided to send Once-Again-Dandy Andy off on a positive note and called to the bullpen. Pettitte drew a rousing standing ovation from the 44,000 fans, doffing his cap on the way to the dugout like it was October. The crowd had scarcely quieted down when Antonio Osuna retired Nomar on his first pitch, a quick comeback to the mound.

Trailing 5-2 in the eighth, Sox manager Grady Little called upon Matt White, a rookie making his major-league debut. A Rule V lefty. In Yankee Stadium. In the middle of a heated rivalry. I could almost hear Jimy Williams muttering "manager's decision" from somewhere far away. Ventura poked a leadoff double as if to say, "Welcome to the big leagues, kid." Rivera advanced him on a grounder to the left side, and Zeile plated the run with a sac fly, but it looked like White might escape without too much damage.

Then Jeter, ever the instigator, milked a two-out walk. Matsui singled to right, and the Yankee rally machine belched blue smoke as it revved up for the first time in ages. Soriano singled, scoring Jeter, then Jason Giambi poked an opposite field double for two more runs and a park full of smiles. Giambi had entered the game hitting an anemic .207, but with his third hit on the night (and his second opposite-field double), it was easy to hope that Big G had finally turned the corner. White then walked Posada and was relieved by Rudy Seanez, who quickly bounced a couple balls past catcher Jason Varitek for another run. Mondesi singled to bring home Posada, and when the smoke finally cleared, the Yanks had batted around for six runs.

The save situation a distant memory, the Yanks still brought in Mariano Rivera to get some work. Rivera yielded a homer to Kevin Millar and a single to David Ortiz, but neither did anything to dampen the crowd's enthusiasm for a win over Boston. He ended the game striking out Little G, Jeremy Giambi. For one night, the Yanks had shown that reports of their demise were greatly exaggerated. And with two straight double-digit outbursts in our presence, Alex and I decided that we were definitely onto something. The Yanks should send chauffeurs for us. Stretch limos will be fine, George...

Final Score: Yanks 11, Red Sox 3: Two beers, half a dozen high-fives, two scoring pencils, and one endless stream of baseball chatter. BOX SCORE