Bronx, N.Y., Apr. 18, 2003 — Ken Singleton used a reference he cites often as Jason Giambi strode to the plate in the eighth inning. “There’s always one guy who doesn’t get invited to the party,” he joked to CBS TV boothmates Michael Kay and Jim Kaat. He was referring to the fact that Jason was the only Yankee position player to be hitless during the evening’s Yankee barrage, a fact that would remain true even when rarely used Chris Latham took over for Bernie in the seventh. Even he beat out an infield hit in the ninth. But I had been looking on the whole night as a party anyway, what I like to consider a birthday party, rightfully celebrated by Yankees and their fans, one and all.
I’d been in a great mood all day, knowing that the Baseball Cathedral was celebrating its 80th birthday (well, anniversary of the first game played in it actually). In fact only two things detracted a bit from the giddiness of the moment. First, I was a little melancholy realizing how fast the years have gone by since the park’s diamond anniversary only five years ago. In honor of the 75th anniversary of Yankee Stadium in 1998, pregame the Scoreboard people would each day play a great film presenting some still shots but mostly film clips and action on tape of all the great pinstriped stars and the teams on which they played over the years in the Home Office for Baseball, all of it in a fast-moving montage. The memory of that history highlight reel extended to me across the last five years, and I thought of all the great guys we have lost too.
The other reason I was less than thrilled with the day was that it just seemed wrong that the Yankees didn’t play at home on the day of the 75th anniversary of the ballpark (it was a Saturday and we were in Detroit). And that here we were again on the 80th, not only not playing at home, but playing in this baggy-walled monstrosity, this freaky edifice with none of God’s grass below and no sight of the sky — or too often the ball — when one looks up to track a fly, be it from the field or in the stands.
But the “Homer Dome” it is, and that’s exactly how we treated it, from the moment Brad Radke threw his second pitch, and Alfonso drove another no-doubt-about-it tracer beyond the left field wall. Radke is a professional, a guy who knows what he wants to do out there and much of the time gets it done. And he started this game with confidence despite a losing record to the Yanks. He is a draft day success story, as the Twins look back with glee to the day they found him hiding in the eighth round in 1991, a year the Yanks had the No. 1 pick in the land and wasted it, tragically, on the hard-throwing but immature Brien Taylor.
Alfonso’s tater notwithstanding, Radke started in throwing strikes and he was working home plate ump DiMuro from the onset, finding the low outside spot that would get a strike call, and then slowly expanding it. Roger was dealing early too, and throwing hard. But even with an early one-run lead, he struggled for his command, and for an effective split-finger pitch. He only threw five first-pitch strikes the first time through the nine-man order, and his outside corner pitches all seemed to just miss (or so they were called) while he allowed three walks in the first three innings. Radke, meanwhile, walked only one on the evening, and he threw eight first-pitch strikes the first time through the order.
But then the Yankee barrage continued, with Ventura’s second-inning first-pitch blast doubling our lead, and Mondesi restoring it to a two-run cushion with his drive to left in the fourth on a 2-1 pitch. Singletons all, these three Yankee home runs appeared to turn the tide, as Radke slowly lost confidence against the Yankee onslaught, while Roger was taking control of the game. Brad was throwing less and less first-pitch strikes and would finish with only a 14/11 ratio. But Roger was heating up, and the smoke and the fire was getting into the eyes of the Twins hitters. In an incredible 32-pitch span in the fourth and fifth innings he whiffed five Twins, four of them swinging, and that was accomplished despite Jones’s leadoff double in the fifth. He pitched to the same number of batters on the night as Radke and outdid him in first-pitch strikes, coming in at 15/10.
Between what the crack of the Yankee home-run bats was doing to Radke, and the way Roger’s smoke was blowing past their hitters, what had been a pitcher’s duel between two of the better starters in the league suddenly became a Yankee blowout. Radke could retire none of the four hitters he faced to start the Yankee sixth, and Robin Ventura’s second of three rbi hits on the evening (he drove home four) sent Brad to the showers. Mondesi and Soriano drove home the third and fourth runs of the frame against reliever Tony Fiore, and when Robin stroked a mammoth upper-deck two-run homer in the eighth, we had a 9-1 lead. The Twins just couldn’t seriously threaten it, even against a tiring Jason Anderson (who pitched a great seventh in relief of Clemens, but threw bp in the eighth) and an ineffective Jose Contreras, although I’m sure Joe was not happy he had to use Osuna to finish it out.
The Twins did manage a three-run eighth, but Matsui’s ninth-inning double, his second hit, knocked in a run, and once he scored on back-to-back wild pitches (well, over a couple of at bats, but you get the idea, pitches in the “dirt” on that turf) the 11-4 final score pretty accurately reflected the evening’s action.
The Stadium’s introduction 80 years ago is not the only reason to break into a chorus or two of “Happy Birthday to You.” Manfred Mann guitarist Mike Vickers is also celebating a birthday on this day. And even though the lyrics to “Blinded by the Light” were written by Bruce “The Other Boss” Springsteen, it was a top hit by Manfred Mann. That version of the hit finishes with:
- He was just blinded by the light.
Cut loose like a deuce another runner in the night.
Blinded by the light.
Mama always told me not to look into the sights of the sun,
Oh but mama that’s where the fun is
The Twins’ batters seemed to be looking into “the sights of the sun” facing Roger, while the Yankees were having all the “fun.”