Bronx, N.Y., June 26, 2005 — It’s been a hard day’s night, and a long homestand’s week. After starting a two-week stand in the Bronx with back-to-back three-game sweeps of the Pirates and the Cubs, the Yanks had to scramble to barely close the home stay on a high note. They evened their season series with the Mets with a come-from-behind, ninth-inning 5-4 win Sunday night, but not until they did their best to give the game to their crosstown rivals.
Randy Johnson came back strong after a scarily ineffective start against Tampa Bay in the Yanks’ only other second-week-of-the-stand win. He pitched deep into the seventh and threw the pitch that should have closed that frame with the teams tied at one apiece, but rookie second baseman Robinson Cano booted Marlon Anderson’s grounder and the Mets took a 2-1 lead. Randy was hardly laughing when he exited after that play, but one hopes (but does not believe) that he didn’t see the slapstick nature of the following play, when the visitors added two more on a Jose Reyes slow roller that failed to reach first base. First baseman Jason Giambi flipped the ball over reliever Tom Gordon’s head, something he couldn’t have done if the 6’10″ Johnson was at the bag, and when the dust cleared, Reyes stood at second and the Mets had a 4-1 lead.
Benson faced 27 Yankees, the same number of batters Johnson toiled against, and their numbers mirrored one another’s. Kris threw 18 of 27 first-pitch strikes (to 17 of 27 for Randy), and he allowed one earned run (and one unearned) on three hits and four walks. Johnson gave up just one earned run as well (though three unearned) on six hits, and his five strike outs bettered his righthanded opponent’s by two. But Johnson threw exactly 13 pitch-innings twice (the second and the fourth) and though the Yanks had won their last game on a 13-run inning, this 13-game home trip was enough to give fan a bout of triskaidekaphobia (fear of the number 13). It represents the total runs scored in Saturday’s Mets win as well (10-3), and is a number the Yanks couldn’t quite attain in runs in the three games (4 + 3 + 5 = 12).
But the numbers started adding up for the Bombers in the latter innings. Luckily, when the pre-game auditions list for bonehead plays was posted a few Mets showed too, something that kept the Yanks in the game until Mets starter Kris Benson tired in the seventh. Mets third baseman David Wright first mishandled Gary Sheffield’s sixth-inning roller down the line leading off the inning, but it’s good for the Yanks that Wright threw wildly once he recovered. Given the chance to rule Sheffield safe at first on a close play later in the contest, first base ump C. B. Bucknor would blow the call (and thumb Shef for throwing his batting helmet). It was a comfort he had no such opportunity when Wright’s throw was offline in the sixth.
Alex Rodriguez followed with an infield single to short for his second of four safeties. Following a one-out Giambi walk that loaded the bases, Mets second baseman Marlon Anderson made a great play to force Giambi at second on Cano’s bid for a hit into the hole, but the Yanks had tied the game at one. Anderson had set up the early Mets run with a double to right in the third, which advanced catcher Ramon Castro to third with no one out. Shortstop Reyes scored Castro on a first pitch roller to Derek Jeter at short for the early Mets 1-0 lead.
This was Jeter’s 31st birthday, and nobody in the ballpark was surprised that he contributed to the Yankee win. Unfortunately he scored neither time he worked out a walk, though the second loaded the bases against releiver Roberto Hernandez in the home eighth. But after Bernie Williams worked a leadoff walk off Benson hitting for rookie left fielder Kevin Reese in the seventh, Aaron Heilman replaced Kris and promptly balked Williams to second. Sensing a chance, Derek lined a 2-1 pitch into short right center scoring Williams, and when Mets centerfielder Carlos Beltran air-mailed a hopeless throw home, Jeter never broke stride and coasted into second. Sheffield’s one-out hard bouncer up the middle moved Jeter to third. Anderson’s recovery of the bouncing ball and throw to first were excellent, but Bucknor’s incorrect call, and tossing of Sheffield from the game, were not. But A-Rod somewhat cushioned the blow by drilling his third straight single, and the Yanks were within one, at 4-3.
Following the e-3 on Reyes’s seventh-inning roller, Tom Gordon and Mariano Rivera would retire the next seven Mets to bring the Yanks up in the bottom of the ninth still down one run. Joe Torre had inserted rookie Russ Johnson in right for the departed Sheffield; one wonders who would have played right if the game went into extra innings, because crowd favorite Tino Martinez hit off Mets closer Braden Looper to start the home ninth. Tino homered against Looper on a 3-2 pitch in the bottom of the ninth Friday. Despite struggling of late, Martinez worked an eight-pitch walk after fouling off two 3-2 pitches.
“Follow the money,” Mark Felt (Deep Throat) advised the news people investigating the Watergate break-in more than 30 years ago. This has unfortunately become the advice often followed by baseball aficionados questioning the underperformance of this overpaid Yankee team. No one gets a bigger paycheck than third baseman Rodriguez, and a fan in front of me was whispering to his friend that A-Rod “never comes through” when he followed Tino into the batter’s box. It’s a nonsensical claim; he’s been challenging the League lead in rbi’s for weeks. But if Alex hears the jibes, he does not show it. He took a ball, then swung and missed, then turned on pitch three and smacked it over the third base bag into the corner for a double. In a similar situation a month ago in Flushing Mets Manager (and former Yankee player and coach) Willie Randolph ordered his reliever to pitch to Hideki Matsui rather than walk him, and paid for it. He had the Yankee DH walked this time, thrusting the pressure squarely on the shoulders of troubled Yankee first baseman Jason Giambi.
If Rodriguez is rudely treated for being the best paid player on a poorly performing team, Giambi faces worse, for the steroids controversy that hovers over him, for the big salary he commands, and because he plays while the beloved Tino sits. Although a poor defender, he can handle a glove, but his moves are glacial, and he cannot throw. At the plate his game is getting on base and hitting home runs. He continues to take pitches and walk, but the five homers coming in were an embarrassment. He had gotten close against Benson in the fourth, following A-Rod’s first single and a Matsui walk with a drive high into the upper deck in right, but foul. He swung and missed at the next pitch, and the Yankee threat was gone amid a chorus of boos.
And it was Giambi’s misplay in the seventh that had given the Mets their last two runs, as if he needed any further incentive (or pressure). Looper may have gotten the biggest strike out in the Marlins’ 2003 World Series victory against the Yanks, whiffing at-the-time third baseman Aaron Boone with one out and the go-ahead run at third. He would clearly try for the same result against Jason. Giambi took a ball, then fouled a fastball to left, not getting around.
Returning home from a disastrous trip two weeks ago, the Yanks got six quick wins, but it has been a hard week since, as they have dropped three of four and now two of three. Jason Giambi, like it or not, has become the poster player for this unsatisfying 2005 Yankee season. But he got to play the hero as he drove Looper’s third pitch into the right center field gap for two tallies and a 5-4 Yankees homestand-closing win. Smiling over the two runs delivered after allowing two on a miscue two innings eralier, I’m sure Jason would agree with the title of the hit Beatles album (and film, later) released 41 years ago today.
It’s Been a Hard Day’s Night