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      F I E L D  T R I P S

AUGUST 2 , 2001
 

August 2, 2001: Texas Rangers at New York Yankees, Yankee Stadium
Ditching Ditch Day

The philosopher who surmised that a bad day fishing beats a good day working wasn't talking about the time he watched his tackle box sink to the bottom of the pond before lunchtime. Similarly, when I planned to carry out my annual Ditch Day by taking in an afternoon game at Yankee Stadium rather than spending it at the office, I had no idea it was the Yankees I would ditch before the last out was recorded.

My day off (scheduled, I might add) looked promising at the outset, with a game-time temperature of 85 and nary a cloud in the sky. The Yanks came in having won 9 of 10, and were facing the hapless Texas Rangers, a team whose season has existed as a cautionary tale for Baseball Economics 101 (the lesson along the lines of "Thou shalt not spend well over a quarter-billion dollars on contracts without addressing thy horrific starting pitching."). The pitching matchup featured Mike Mussina against Aaron Mylette, a rookie with a career ERA of 7.48 and zero big league wins to his credit (a mere 158 behind Mussina). It should have been no contest, and it wasn't.

A bit of scouting on my part would have prepared me for what happened. The Rangers had won eight of ten entering the game; they'd broken the Yankees' 8-game winning streak two nights earlier, and were fresh off of their first winning month in over a year. The Yankee lineup was missing two of its best hitters: Jorge Posada was sidelined for the third straight game with a stomach virus, and Scott Brosius had been placed on the disabled list with a hairline fracture in his left hand after being hit by a pitch the night before. And while Mussina has had some success this season, it hasn't come in my presence; he was 0-2 with a 4.26 ERA in the three games I'd attended thus far.

Suffice it to say that his trend continued. Like an Italian chef out of a bad metaphor, Mussina was serving up meatballs from the outset. Frank Catalanatto doubled down the right field line to lead off the game, and then Randy Velarde lined a single to left. Catalanatto came around to score on Rafael Palmeiro's sacrifice fly, Palmeiro effortlessly belting the first pitch to deep center field to plate the run. Mussina semed to settle down with a 1-2-3 second inning, but he found doom in the third. A leadoff walk to the #9 hitter (insert the head-shaking of a thousand managers here) opened the door to a six-run inning which featured a pair of three-run blasts by Pudge Rodriguez and Gabe Kapler. My sunscreen hadn't even absorbed, and the Yanks were down by a touchdown.

The Moose was so gopher-happy that he couldn't stop. A solo shot to Catalanatto in the fourth even prompted me to singe the ears of those around me, shouting, "Take that weak shit back to Baltimore!" It was the first time I'd booed a Yankee pitcher since one of Roger Clemens' less-than-stellar outings last year, but then, I've always had a rocky relationship with the Rocket. All told, the Rangers pummelled Mussina for nine hits and eight runs in four innings. Only a spectacular double-play, Alfonso Soriano to a counter-clockwise-spinning Derek Jeter to Tino Martinez, spared Mussina from a mid-inning exit to a chorus of boos.

Mylette, on the other hand, was nearly unhittable. Through five innings, he yielded only a single to Soriano. But he walked Chuck Knoblauch to lead off the sixth, then hit Derek Jeter, and both runs scored on a Bernie Williams double to deep center field. That ended Mylette's day, and for the first time, the near-capacity crowd (which featured some twenty different groups of day-campers, each in matching t-shirts—armies of prepubescent Jeter-shriekers) came alive. But Tino Martinez and a rusty David Justice (back from two stints on the DL) stranded Williams, shutting down the rally.

The Rangers weren't done, however. Randy Choate, who had pitched two scoreless innings in relief of Mussina, fell apart in the seventh, yielding two more runs. The last came on a ground-rule double by ex-Yankee Rickey Ledee. As catcher Todd Greene strode to the mound, the infield and Joe Torre closed in around Choate.

My friend Julie and I decided we needed some relief from this trauma as well. Despite the defecity, we planned to stay through the seventh—I do not, as a rule, like to leave games early; this Yankees team has put up far too many comebacks over the last three and a half years for me to turn my back on them easily. But with a pitching change and my old nemesis, "Cotton-Eyed Joe," looming on the horizon, we decided to cut our losses. This day off had turned into an off day—the one that got away.

Final Score: Rangers 12, Yankees 2. Zero beers, zero hot dogs, one frozen lemonade, one lame Moose, two early departures, and one vacation day crying out for a mulligan. BOX SCORE