I had a fun night at the ballpark on Tuesday, even if the Yankees’ series with the Toronto Blue Jays has felt like pure anticlimax after the weekend’s bouts with the Red Sox. Gorgeous, warm weather, especially for mid-September, made for a real treat, especially when considering the source of my tickets — trade-ins from that double-rain-delayed May 11 game with the Angels, the one where Gary Sheffield knocked in the winning run at 1:23 AM as I sat, dry and secure on my couch, beer in hand.
Subway woes caused me to miss the top half of the first inning; apparently spot starter Esteban Loaiza struck out the side looking, though he allowed a single to Vernon Wells in the process. Just as my brother and I were settling into our seats, Jays’ centerfielder Wells gave the crowd a rare reason to cheer a visiting player when he robbed Alex Rodriguez of a home run to deep centerfield. And I do mean robbed. Wells dug his foot in the padded wall, elevating and reaching over to pluck the ball back into the field of play, much to the crowd’s amazement, and after watching the replay and shaking their heads in disbelief, they rewarded his effort with a sincere ovation.
A-Rod had taken Jays’ starter Roy Halladay, pitching for the first time in two months due to shoulder woes, deep. Sheffield followed by taking him even deeper, walloping a towering homer into the upper leftfield deck. His 36th shot of the year came a mere two days after having two cortisone shots in his ailing left shoulder. He’s earned those “M-V-P!” chants the hard way.
Loaiza got into extreme trouble in the second, loading the bases with nobody out via two walks and a single and going to three balls on nearly every hitter he faced. The Jays put two runs over, one on a sacrifice fly, the other on a walk, the third that Loaiza issued in the inning, much to the dismay of the crowd. Same shit, different day for the man with the 8.51 ERA since being traded for Jose Contreras.
But the Bronx Bombers got that lead right back. Jorge Posada stroked a one-out single, and then Jason Giambi, hitless since July 11 (0-for-32) and looking somewhat lost at the plate since returning from his litany of injuries, illnesses and alien probings, socked a 2-2 Halladay pitch into the left-centerfield net. The crowd erupted, giving Giambi a lengthy standing ovation until he obliged with a curtain call. It was good to see Big G get some love for a change.
Surprisingly enough, Loaiza cruised after that, retiring the side in order in the third, fourth, and fifth. The Yanks backed him with another run in the fifth on a double by John Olerud and then a single by Derek Jeter to go to 4-2. Loaiza got one out in the sixth before Joe Torre, intent on ending his struggling starter’s night on a high note, pulled him. Not that the arrival of Felix Heredia, who came on in relief, was guaranteed to keep the good vibes rolling. But “The Run Fairy” as he’s known in some circles, retired Carlos Delgado on a fly ball and struck out Eric Hinske.
I won a wager in the seventh at Paul Quantrill’s expense. Quantrill had allowed four hits and two runs in one-third of an inning on Monday night, continuing his second-half slide (a 6.62 ERA since the All-Star Break). As the struggling reliever came on, I turned to my brother and said, “He’s not going to get out of this inning. He’ll get two men on and Torre will have to pull him.” Bryan comically peeled off a dollar and said, “I’ll take that action.” When Alexis Rios reached on an infield single to second base, he let out a groan — “That wasn’t his fault!” — and another when the next grounder didn’t turn into a double play. He eased up as Quantrill struck out Eric Crozier, but resumed his complaining as Zaun walked. That was all for Quantrill, as Tom Gordon came on and I pocketed my dollar.
With the bases loaded and nobody out in the eighth, Giambi added a sac fly, netting more applause for the insurance run, his third ribbie of the night. Mariano Rivera looked a bit shaky in the ninth, yielding a run to cut the score to 5-3. The crowd seemed more interested in Baltimore taking a 2-1 lead on the Red Sox — despite 14 Curt Schilling strikeouts — than they did in the Jays narrowing the score. As it was, the Yanks held out but the Orioles did not, and though the Sox remained 4.5 games behind, the Bombers’ magic number to clinch the AL East is now eight games. Yes indeed, kids, it’s countdown time.