Fast Times in the Bronx

Confession time: Down one run, I was hoping Derek Jeter would work a walk. Instead he made a little more history, and tied the game while he was at it.

August 17, 2012, Bronx, N.Y. – The Yankees beat the visiting Red Sox 6-4 in the Bronx Friday night, with the game’s start coinciding with a couple of innings of intensely bad weather, then settling into a rather pleasant evening, with the added bonus of a night lights show over the center field fence where the lightning had moved, along with the downpours, on to some other New York address. The Yanks pounded lefty Franklin Morales for four singleton home runs, three of them during the early downpours, and Phil Hughes made 105 very good throws in what was almost one of his best starts.

Unfortunately, Hughes threw the ball 107 times in combat this night, all but one toward home, but that lone toss elsewhere, toward second, almost cost him the win. Up 3-0, Phil grabbed a third-inning comebacker that was perfectly set up to be a 1-6-3 double play ball, but he yanked the throw 15-20 feet to the left of the bag, setting up a first-and-third, no-outs situation. It resulted in one quick run, and then three more when he made his lone bad throw toward home, resulting in a homer to left by Dustin Pedroia that gave the visitors a sudden and shocking 4-3 lead.

This was all the more upsetting not only because Morales settled down (except for a near two-run home run from Robinson Cano that Scott Podsednik made a fine over-the-wall catch on in the home third), but also because the Yankee righty unleashed his finest change up of 2012, not once, but often over his seven innings. But Derek Jeter to the rescue, and the Yankee Captain pulled a game-tying home run to left in the fifth; and to Jayson Nix, playing short this night, who smacked the ninth straight slider Boston’s Clayton Mortensen threw [can you really succeed in the bigs with one pitch?] upon entering the game with two on in sixth, finally singling the other way to right for the go-ahead run.

Grudging kudos need to be paid to Pedroia, who made a couple of fine plays in the field (as did third baseman Pedro Ciriaco and shortstop Mike Aviles, along with the aforementioned Podsednik leap and grab). The Boston second sacker also hit a 400-foot out that would have tied the game in the eighth had it carried a bit further. But it was run down by Curtis Granderson, who made two fine catches and showed some offensive signs with his 31st home run, and a key single in the winning rally. A hero all week, Nick Swisher homered from both sides of the plate. And Rafael Soriano looked automatic yet again. And earlier, using his change and fastball, Hughes not only coaxed four strike outs and four pop-ups along with the usual fly ball outs (yep, four) he gets, he induced an unheard of (for him) eight ground-ball outs. They were the sole reason that a guy who was at 75 pitches through four managed to complete seven innings.

Starting from the left, that's me in the Yankee cap, Sue in the salmon blouse behind the man in powder blue, and two guys I think you'll recognize against the back wall.

Lots of home runs and wins by the Yanks at home this year, but that was not the only exciting thing that took place in the Bronx this evening. My better half got a call from her Yankee rep inviting us to a pre-game Q&A with Alex Rodriguez and Andy Pettitte Friday afternoon, and it was quite a thrill. It was my first ever ride on a Yankee Stadium elevator that took us down from the field level, down to the media room, perhaps the same one from which we all watched Jorge Posada bid adieu to the team and his fans when he retired a year ago. What follows comprise my notes, no exact quotes, but a genuine report on the nine questions (e-mailed from fans) these two DL’d superstars were asked, and how they answered:

1. Andy, do you think Game 5 of the 1996 World Series was the biggest and best game you have ever pitched? The unfailingly self-effacing lefty from Texas immediately allowed that it was a huge moment for his team and himself, in light of the horrible game [he] had thrown in Game 1 (a 12-1 loss).

2. Andy, any thoughts if you do not pitch next year about returning as pitching coach? Pettitte was pretty adamant (and no one could disagree) that one thing he has consistently failed to know going forward is what he mght be doing the next year. Yankee PR man Jason Zillo added that if nothing else, the team would be looking forward to his presence as a “guest instructor” in Tampa in March.

3. Alex, will you have enough at bats after the injury to be ready for the playoffs? Rodriguez stressed several times that he thought (and hoped) that this might be the perfect scenario, that he would need 50-75 ab’s in live games, but that he just might be in the best shape possible for this end-of-year run.

4. Andy, what were your emotions when you got hurt? If there was any downside to this love fest it was the obvious frustration Pettitte is feeling. He is envious of Alex because so much of what Andy needs to do is inextricably bound up in having healthy legs. “Just a few starts” would be enough, but he knows he cannot have another setback. He is frustrated too because he has been hit by so many hot shots in his career, including, he said, one that Alex hit off him on 1995 in Seattle that bounded all the way into the Mariners dugout. “All those times I was OK to continue,” he said. He simply couldn’t believe that this time the line drive broke his leg.

5. Alex, will you catch Bonds? Alex did not put off the question; he did allow that any injury time hurts his chances. He compared himself to Rambo, put into a situation to do one thing. But then he talked about coming to the Yankees, not for the money, and not for the Championships, but for the chance to play with the best. He added a story about having talked with Pettitte during one (or one of several?) trip[s] to the Stadium in the 2009 postseason where the two shared what they would do in a 2-0 at bat with runners on in a key situation, Alex if up in the count, and Andy if down. Andy had replied that he would try to get a ground ball, and then in Game 6 in that World Series, Andy fell behind Jayson Werth with runners on, and coaxed a bouncer to Alex for a 5-4-3. Alex said his glance toward the mound afterward was a special moment.

The ever-gracious Andy Pettitte listens with a smile as I tell him we were there for his ''horrible'' 1996 Game 1 World Series start, but have loved his work ever since. Andy was taller than I expected.

6. Andy, what opposition batter has given you the most trouble? Very funny reply. He mentioned Alex before he was a Yank, and the unstoppable Edgar Martinez, and Manny Ramirez, who hit it hard everywhere when he was with Boston. But then he shared an embarrassment (at least facetiously, to him): lefty part-time outfielder Larry Bigbie with the Orioles, or “Babe Bigbie,” as he says he sometimes called him. “He’s a lefty; I’m supposed to be able to get him out.” Andy said he thinks he was 11-for-14 off him and, to make matters worse, he faced him once after returning from Houston, and he went 3-for-3. Alex joined in and said he had the most trouble with Pedro Martinez, whom he felt was standing on the mound saying, “I can embarrass you,” and he was right. He had trouble with Clemens, and (ouch) with Curt Schilling.

7. A question about baseball and all the great players not having a chance to appear in the Olympics brought not much wisdom, but angst from both, who each confessed to watching quite a bit. Mr. Zillo offered that he did not want to be quoted, but that it would be incredibly difficult to arrange such a thing during the summer. Alex said he has been psyched to appear for the U.S. in the World Baseball Classic.

8. A young man from Yorktown on his birthday was allowed two questions, though Zillo actually posed the second one. Andy, why did you come back? Andy made it clear that the impetus for all this was a question in the offseason from Brian Cashman. Nothing new here really. He really really enjoyed spending the year with his family. He really did skip last year because he simply did not have the desire to put in all the work required. After a year off, he was ready to go at it again. Andy mentions his wife and kids often, as I’m sure you all know.

9. How do you deal with all the pubicity? It’s obviously not easy, though both made light of it. Pretty self-effacing in his own right, Alex said a few times that you learn from mistakes, and that he’s sure he’s made quite a few. With help from Zillo, Andy related a creepy story about when he was trying to decide whether or not to come back a few years ago that a neighbor called about a strange car with occupants that had been parked nearby for three days running. A father of four young girls, the neighbor wanted to call the cops, and Andy said OK. A few nights later the car was back, and one of the passengers actually knocked on his door, catching Andy in his pajamas. They made light of it. I’m sure it can get quite serious, but the session ended on that note, and we all were invited up for group photos.

August 17, 2012, is the 52nd birthday of actor and activist Sean Penn, who many moons ago made a lot of fans by portraying stoner Jeff Spicoli in the delightful movie, Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Having watched a slew of successful games played by the Yanks, the best team in the game, in recent months; shared a several-minute conversation with Alex Rodriguez in the Yankee Stadium outfield a few weeks ago; and witnessed this Q&A in a part of the Stadium I had never visited before, I’m sure you’ll understand when I say my head is literally spinning from my

Fast Times in the Bronx!