Bronx, N.Y., August 30, 2007 — An eerie feeling of deja vu hung over Yankee Stadium Thursday afternoon, as a Yankee starter carried a no-hitter against the Red Sox into the sixth inning for the second consecutive day. Chien-Ming Wang’s no-no attempt would last two outs longer, and his shutout finished intact, as the Yanks beat Boston 5-0 to sweep the AL East leaders in three straight. Continue reading
Bronx, N.Y., August 29, 2007 — In perhaps the key contest of this week’s Yankee three-gamer vs. the Red Sox, veteran Roger Clemens bested Josh Beckett, a young hard thrower who idolized the Rocket in his youth. Beckett’s hard heat dazzled at 96-97 mph, and his well-concealed, 20mph slower curve buckled knees. The Rocket got by while not throwing as hard, and he worked deep into counts, but he wouldn’t allow a hit until the top of the sixth. Continue reading
Bronx, N.Y., August 28, 2007 — The Red Sox and the Yankees played a very deceptive first inning in Yankee Stadium in the first of three Tuesday night. Andy Pettitte started things by retiring the visitors on seven quick pitches, just one of them off the plate. Then his teammates jumped on Daisuke Matsuzaka for a walk, a hit by pitch, two hits, and two quick runs, forcing the Japanese import to 26 throws, just half of them in the zone. As the game progressed, Matsuzaka would continue to struggle with his control, not an uncommon 2007 trend, but very little else that occurred in the first would be repeated. Continue reading
Bronx, N.Y., August 19, 2007 — I would like to be able to report that the Yanks overcame the Tigers 9-3 in Yankee Stadium today in a tight, tense, well-played game that was much closer than what that final score would have you believe. And I almost could too, if only the entire Stadium (and TV, radio, and Internet audience) had spent the middle innings in the restrooms or on the concession lines. Continue reading
Bronx, N.Y., August 17, 2007 — Newer Yankee fans who did not follow the team when Andy Pettitte formerly worked his magic in the Bronx got to see what see what veterans of the Pinstripe passion already knew: When the team is struggling and has suffered a number of ugly losses, Andy is the most reliable guy on the staff to put a stop to it. Continue reading
Bronx, N.Y., August 13, 2007 — The Yankees overcame the pesky Baltimore Orioles in Yankee Stadium 7-6 Monday night in a game that was every bit as close as the final score indicates. It was the usual 50,000-plus packing the House That Ruth Built, but this crowd brought a spark to the ballpark with them. Continue reading
Bronx, N.Y., August 5, 2007 — The hardest ball the Yanks hit off K.C. righty Gil Meche in Sunday’s second inning was the Jorge Posada tracer to dead center that David DeJesus tracked down with a fine run and catch. It gave the Yanks two outs with no one on, but Meche was rocked, and so, it turned out, was the scoreboard pitch counter. Continue reading
Bronx, N.Y., August 3, 2007 — The Yankees and Royals managed to squeeze a complete game in Friday night in the Bronx between a short storm before the start and a sustained rainmaker with all the lights and whistles at the end. Fans were scurrying for the exits as Mariano Rivera was nailing down Chien-Ming Wang’s 7-1 victory that came in at three hours and one minute.
Vintage Wang was what the Yanks needed after wilting vs. the Chisox Thursday afternoon in a battle that took an hour longer under a relentless summer sun. And that is just what the Yanks got, as the tall righthander notched 12 ground ball outs in seven innings. The soft-spoken Taiwanese was superb, but this was a team victory, as the Yanks clearly put the error-marred Thursday loss, in which they continually failed to add runs after an eight-run second, behind them.
Robbie Cano, guilty of two Thursday miscues, got the Yanks rolling with a no-doubt-about it home run to right center in the second, 1-0. Wang had pitched a one-two-three first, and then around an Alex Gordon two-out double in the second. He looked to have it going after a quick third-inning groundout and a fine Johnny Damon grab on a short Joey Gathright liner to left. But the next three Royals singled, a David DeJesus liner to short center and two ground balls that found holes, and the game was tied, 1-1. DH Billy Butler tried to tack on another with a base-hit bid to the shortstop hole, but Derek Jeter made a diving stop and forced Mark Grudzielanek at second by throwing from the ground. We didn’t know it yet, but it was Kansas City’s only chance.
Joe Torre had Damon in left and Shelley Duncan in right with Bobby Abreu sitting and Hideki Matsui DH’ing against K.C. lefty Odalis Perez. The Yanks retook the lead after Duncan and Cano led off the home fourth with back-to-back singles. Andy Phillips bunted to third to move both runners, and Jose Molina, in for a sore-kneed Jorge Posada, scored Cano with a sac fly to left. When Damon doubled to the right center field gap, the Yanks had a 3-1 lead.
The Yanks doubled their score two innings later, as Cano walked on four pitches to end Perez’s night. Phillips greeted righty Ryan Braun with a single to left and Damon walked to fill the bases after Molina forced Robbie at third on a failed sac bunt attempt. Melky Cabrera had batted in bad luck to this point, doubling over third in the first when no one else hit, and bouncing into a double play in the third before Jeter walked and Alex Rodriguez doubled. But Braun was the unlucky player this time as the Yankee center fielder drilled the first pitch up the middle and off his foot. It hit the K.C. reliever so hard that it caromed over the Yankee dugout and into the crowd. The umps ruled two bases so Melky had a two-run double, and when Rodriguez lifted a sac fly to right, the Yanks led 6-1.
Grudzielanek’s leadoff eighth-inning double brought Torre out to replace Wang, who received a long and well-deserved ovation, and Mike Myers and Luis Vizcaino got three outs without the K.C. second baseman scoring, courtesy of some stellar defense. The Yanks added an unearned eighth-inning tally and Rivera came in for the close as the rain drove the crowd to cover.
Torre’s lineup was dotted with heroes from top to bottom. Cabrera added a single in the eighth for three hits with two rbi’s; Cano homered, singled, and walked for two runs scored and an rbi; and Phillips had the great sac bunt with two singles. Damon reached four times and scored twice; and Duncan, showing there’s more to his game than just power, singled twice and was robbed of a third on a Gordon diving grab at third in the fifth.
And speaking of defense, the Yanks were all over that too, starting with the early Damon and Jeter plays alreaady mentioned. Jeter made another fine play retiring Mark Teahen on a grounder into the hole in the sixth, and Jose Molina stood his ground while being nicked on foul balls and sinkers in the dirt, but Cano and Phillips assumed the eighth-inning stage for the plays of the night. Robbie drifted to the shortstop side of second before flinging across his body to first to retire Butler, and Phillips nabbed Gordon’s shot into the first base hole on a full-body dive and tossed to Vizcaino to end the scoreless frame.
Wang’s outing was textbook, from the 12 ground-ball outs to a 68/30 strikes/balls ratio, and 21 of 29 first-pitch strikes. And the third-inning run on two seeing-eye grounders was not all he had to overcome. Although there were few complaints, home plate ump Larry Poncino had a curious evening that presented a challenge to both starters, or so it seemed. Wang and Perez notched nine strikes apiece in the first, with Poncino calling strikes four times for each. Wang got five called strikes and Perez three in the second. But at that point either both pitchers just lost it together, the hitters changed their approach, or the zone changed. Just four of the 26 strikes the K.C. lefty added from that point through the fifth were called. And just nine of the 49 strikes from Wang’s right arm from the third through the eighth came with the bat on the hitter’s shoulder. It was a very bizarre line.
Not that the fans noticed much. Baseball crowds usually delight in second-guessing umpires, and Yankee Stadium is no exception. But this crowd was otherwise occupied, as the Alex Rodriguez 500-home-run watch stretched into the weekend. Boo’s rang out in the first when Perez missed on three of four pitches and fans worried that he would walk Alex. And they were similarly peeved when Odalis did walk Alex in the fifth. The throng even paused before grudgingly applauding the Yankee slugger’s hard double to left center in the third. They acknowledged a good at bat, but wilted a bit that it wasn’t a home run. But as the game’s outcome became less and less in doubt, the tension over Alex’s at bats grew.
It was this day in 1971 that Beatle Paul McCartney announced the formation of his next group, Wings, whose biggest hit perhaps was Silly Love Songs. Once Cabrera pounded his weird ground rule double off Braun for a 5-1 lead in the sixth, the K.C. righty battled Jeter for a few pitches, and it slowly dawned on the 54,000-plus what the home run wait had been missing, “He’ll blast it as a grand slam!” one could almost hear the throng conclude in unison as the Yankee Captain worked a six-pitch walk. Alex took a strike as “grand” visions danced in our heads, then a ball. Then he lifted a fly to medium deep right field. Emotions leaped to joy, then skipped to disappointment, and finally to apprecaition as the sac fly produced the sixth run. The “Grand 500″ was not to be.
Rodriguez was scheduled to be the fifth batter in the eighth, the likely last time the team would hit. Intermittent thunder drummed in the distance and the wind picked up as Damon rolled a one-out grounder to third that frame, and reached on an off-target throw. The coming storm grew as Cabrera drilled an 0-2 pitch to right for his third hit. Alex would come to bat yet again, if only Jeter did not hit into a double play. Again, imagination raced and thousands in the crowd thought [one could hear them murmur] of Robert Redford’s film The Natural, a baseball fantasy where every big long ball was accompanied by wind, or lightning, or crashing light stanchions. We marveled at the spectacle we were about to witness, a record-breaker heralded by the forces of nature and screams of fans. Hopes dimmed briefly as Jeter bounced hard to second, but the relay throw to first was wide!
Alex strode to the plate. Braun pounded a strike, and A-Rod swatted it to deep right. Teahen bounded back, then stopped, and the ball settled in his glove. Our silly baseball stories had not come to life. But the Yanks won a game, and they play another tomorrow. Twenty-three years ago, Tom Seaver won his 300th game in Yankee Stadium, though for the wrong team, as the Yanks feted Phil Rizzuto on a day in his honor. Meanwhile, Rod Carew was stroking his 3,00th hit in Minnesota the same day.
Maybe Alex hits no. 500 on August 4 too. It would make a nice story.