27, 2003: Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees, Yankee Stadium
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
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.
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.
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
as it turned out.
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
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,
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.
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...
Yanks 11, Red Sox 3: Two beers, half a dozen high-fives, two scoring pencils,
and one endless stream of baseball chatter. BOX