Bronx, N.Y., August 24, 2002 —
- I see the bad moon arising.
I see trouble on the way.
But not true, I tell you. Debating with my better half whether or not to even attend last night’s game, she saw rain coming, and I saw fair skies. And hours later, I was shaking my head as I stood alone in the upper deck, looking up at a partly cloudy but decidedly nonthreatening sky.
Moose stopped on the way to the pen to do the short, then long toss so many starters seem to like to use to break in. Standing on the outfield grass just outside the door in the fence to the bullpens, he tossed short lobs to a bullpen catcher, who initially stood at the plexiglass window in the wall located where the pitchers throw. He took two or three big strides back in between each throw, moving to the the 398 marker, then the 408, then even further, into right field.
Aside from the absence of Bernie out in short right doing his stretches (indicative of the fact that he would not play in center again), there were no ominous signs. Derek warmed up by long tossing with Alfonso as usual, Mondesi warmed with Enrique Wilson. Rondell White used to take part in these toss sessions, but he has been driven into the dugout to think about his hitting woes. But even this isn’t particularly new.
Moose threw well his last time out, and Chan Ho Park has been a disaster in Texas. And with the advent of the game’s first pitch, it seemed we were on our way. Mike disposed of the Rangers in nine pitches; Park not only threw 21 and surrendered the game’s first run on Jason’s booming line drive double to right center. Bernie set an unfortunate pattern for the first couple of innings by lining hard to the opposite gap, but just a bit too close to Mench’s position in left field, and Kevin ran it down. It’s true that Palmeiro tied it leading off the second, but Mike had him struggling for five pitches, and there is no shock when a power-hitting lefty like Rafael broke threw on the at bat’s sixth pitch. Mike went on to subdue the Rangers in the second and the third with a manageable pitch count of 44, three strike outs to match their three hits, and only a mild concern that too many of the outs were via the fly ball.
Park, meanwhile, continued to struggle, but the Yankee bats became even more cursed with “at-em ball-itis.” Alfonso’s soft liner over second just missed eluding Michael Young with runners on first and second with two out in the second, and the 24 throws put Park at one pitch higher than Mike, when Mike had already worked the third. Park’s pitch count ballooned over 70 in his half of the third. Derek led off by homering on the first pitch, but Jason’s followup drive was lofted about twice as high but it came down about 10 feet shorter, as it pinned Everett to the right field wall. Bernie singled, Jorge was hit by a pitch following Robin’s popup, but once again Raul chose the left center field gap for his long line shot and Mench just barely ran it down as well.
The sky was dark and empty, the score was 2-1 (but was inches from being 5-1 or 6-1) and Park had thrown 18 more pitches through the game’s first third. And then it happened. Thursday night we didn’t see any of the new full moon through the intermittent drizzle, but it peaked from behind the south side of the Bronx County Courthouse that dominates the skyline beyond the Stadium’s center-field fence just as Palmeiro strode to the plate to start the fourth. I tried to discount the omen-like quality of its appearance as Rafael hit a 2-0 bomb to the upper deck in right, but Perry’s two-out blast to left stayed fair and the game’s momentum shifted dramatically, as they took a 3-2 lead. We didn’t know this at the time, but Shane’s answering leadoff double to dead center was the last of six wall shots the Yanks hit, and once Rondell’s attempt to hit behind Spence was meekly popped to right, our offense reacted like a puncher who had worn himself out pummeling his opponent with punishing but ultimately ineffective body shots.
I know most would sum up this game’s story as another baffling Mussina failure, but I’m not so sure. Yes, I’m concerned at the long balls, and I clearly remember that when Mike bested Pedro and the Red Sox early last year, one of the highlights was the Golden Sombrero he handed Carl Everett, so Carl’s two-run shot in the sixth that effectively ended Moose’s night has to be a concern. But Everett, hurt all year, is healthy now, and he’s tearing it up at the plate lately. Mike’s 62/31 strike/ball ratio was ideal, the seven strike outs/no walks breakdown was great, and the 16 out of 26 first-pitch strikes was OK. Will we need Mike to be better in October? Definitely. But I just don’t think he was that far off, and that last night it just wasn’t in the stars.
It was a rare game where the adults in attendance received a giveaway, and I was thrilled. I thank Snapple and the Snapple Lady for my new Yankee bandanna. And for those who come down on my side of the “Wave” divide, last night was the first time I have actually seen it cause injury(ies). As the human migration of rising and falling bodies was proceeding from the right field corner, and then past home plate and towards us in Section 12 while Ranger DH Mike Lamb batted in the sixth, he hit a shot back that struck a seat about 10 rows deep in the Tier boxes in Section 8. No one knew it was coming, of course, as they were all looking to their right to make sure they didn’t rise too soon, or too late. It caromed off the seat and bounced high back toward the Tier rail. Reacting to the sound and the sight, six or eight guys in the second row leaped to make the grab, and several came down hard, back-first, in the row below them, one almost toppling over the rail and down to the Field boxes below. Several did not rise to their feet until the inning had long ended. My complaints against the Wave have been that it influences the crowd to ignore the action on the field and causes a lapse in rooting for our team. But it’s obviously a safety issue as well.
I suppose my pinning the turn in our fortunes on atmospheric conditions may seem laughable, but teams have had much worse times on this day. Back on August 23, 1883 (when wild pitches, passed balls and walks counted as errors), the Philadelphia Phillies made 27 errors in losing to a team from Providence. And it wasn’t a good day for the Phillies in 1964 either, as the Cardinals started their (ultimately successful) march from 11 games behind. It would culminate in their passing the Phillies on September 27 after the Phillies suffered loss no. seven in what came to be known in Philly as the notorious “Ten-Game Phold.”
I’m not saying that there is nothing to worry about, or that we didn’t have a bad day. And it could have been worse, as the defense was once again stellar, particularly in the person of Derek, both in the first and eighth innings, with a little assist from Jason during the latter. But you can claim that Moose’s high hard ones are looking a little too good to power-hitting opposition batters, mostly of the left-handed variety, and that they’re hitting “moon” shots off him. I trace my concern to a bit higher in the sky, to the moon itself, and specifically to tonight’s Full Moon (plus one), hiding while we were ascendant, and soaring just in time for the Rangers to get in their licks. I have no proof but my eyewitness account of its sudden quirky appearance, but how about this? Yesterday wasn’t only former Yank DH Ron Blomberg’s 54th birthday; it would have been the 55th (some claim the 56th) of late rocker Keith Moon as well.