Bronx, N.Y., August 9, 2005 — In the midst of a long torturous summer where periods of hazy, hot, and humid weather have enveloped New York in waves as consistent as those pounding area beaches, the Yanks and White Sox played a dandy game on a delightful Tuesday night in the Bronx. The Yanks had used a big home run to edge the Chisox in Monday night’s game, and the visitors returned the favor with two fence clearers in a beautifully pitched game.
On Monday, the Yanks had beaten Orlando “el duque” Hernandez, much beloved in the Bronx with a great postseason record in Pinstripes, but fellow ex-Yank Jose Contreras took the mound for Game Two of the series. He was greeted with boos, but he would have the last laugh.
For the Yankees, Shawn Chacon remained winless in three starts, but he established that he not only has the skill and nerve to pitch in New York; he also has the stamina to give the team needed innings despite elevated pitch counts due to too many pitches off the plate. Shawn was down 1-0 on a Tadahito Iguchi fourth-inning, opposite-field home run to the short porch in right, but Joe Torre allowed him to accumulate 120 pitches and finish the seventh despite two walks and a 3-0 count on another batter. Chacon has a nice mix of pitches, with fastballs in the high eighties looking faster than the are because they are effectively mixed with a 78-mph slider, with the occasional 70-mph sinking curve to keep the batters honest.
He struck out four and gave just three hits and three walks Tuesday, but 51 of the 120 pitches were off the plate. He did throw first-pitch strikes 16 of 26 times, but his eight-pitch fifth inning stood out in that he threw about twice that many, at least, in every other frame. He gets the ball and pitches it, which kept his defense in the game, and Derek Jeter, Tony Womack, and Jorge Posada made fine plays to keep the Yankees close. After Chacon left, Alex Rodriguez, Tino Martinez, Hideki Matsui, and reliever Alan Embree also flashed some leather in the crisply played contest.
Of the 69 strikes Chacon got on the White Sox, they swung and missed 11 times, the same amount of no-contact strokes the Yanks suffered against Contreras. And both pitchers went seven innings and allowed three measly hits. Surprisingly, Jose only managed 11 first-pitch strikes to 27 Yankee batters, but in every other respect his numbers were better. Contreras walked only two, and hit one, and he struck out six. He managed innings of 10, 11, and 13 pitches, which got him through seven (plus one batter) on only 102 pitches. Of course, most telling of all was that he allowed no runs; all three Yankee safeties he surrendered were singles. And he got Jason Giambi swinging when he faced the only real threat, as Alex Rodriguez had made third in the fourth inning with just one out.
The Yankee defense and Chacon’s pitching had an interesting momentum building for a while. Once Chicago left fielder Scott Podsednik led off the game with a single past short, Derek Jeter made a fine (and close) play on Iguchi’s hard grounder up the middle, touching the second base bag and firing to first for the assist in retiring the White Sox second baseman. The Yankees would not record another assist until the fifth inning, and posted just four in Chacon’s seven frames. There was the threat of a beanball war too. Chacon came up and in to Iguchi in the first, and when Contreras drilled A-Rod in the bottom half, home plate ump Matt Winters warned both benches. But that quieted things, and Winters took no action when Embree hit Podsednik seven innings later.
Also worthy of mention are the fine at bats by the Chicago second baseman, despite the first-inning twin killing Jeter turned. The home run to right in the fourth was obviously huge, but more impressive (though not in terms of the final score) were the next two at bats. He fouled off seven throws before whiffing in an 11-pitch at bat off Chacon in the sixth, and then fouled eight more of the 10 pitches Embree threw him in the eight, before bouncing into his second double play. Podsednick made a fine sprawling grab of Womack’s liner to short left in the fifth, returning the favor that Tony had delivered when he dove for Scott’s shot the inning before. And center fielder Aaron Rowand’s running snag of Posada’s liner into right center in the seventh looked almost routine after his fine plays on Monday.
It was a very nice night, something New Yorkers have not been able to say too often this summer. But not everything about the Stadium experience was pleasant. For some reason, the subway’s northbound 4 train took the express tracks as it passed into the Bronx. Trains on this track don’t stop at the Stadium, and thousands had to exit at 149th Street and wait to shift to a different 4 train on the opposite track at about 6:15 pm. And the security checks going into the Stadium were strange as well. Veteran fans are used to the obvious, and pack their belongings in clear plastic bags. They arrive near the front of the line with their cell phones ready to display, and with one hand on their caps so they can show they’re concealing nothing underneath. But today brought a new request, and we were asked to show whatever keys we might be carrying. Don’t ask. I did, and got a shrug in reply.
And of course there was the fan on the screen excitement, as a fan fell from the Upper Deck into the screen that protects field level fans behind home plate just as Jeter was sacrificing Womack to second in the Yanks’ eight-inning attempt to square things, one that would fall short when Sheffield grounded to short. In May 2000, a fan who had had too much to drink fell into the screen during a Red Sox/Yankees game. Back then they played the inning to its conclusion before removing the fan. In 2005 this guy was coaxed into the luxury boxes as the players waited, which could not have helped the Yankee rally. And this fan appeared in some pain and did not look drunk. What was similar was that both games featured teams with the “Sox” in their name. And the Yanks lost both games too.
Once the Yanks failed to score in the eighth, Embree allowed a huge (both in the distance it traveled and in its impact on the game) home run to Paul Konerko. It was huge because Alex Rodriguez went yard on reliever Cliff Politte’s first pitch of the ninth. Subsequently, Giambi walked and Tino Martinez singled with two down against lefty Damaso Marte. When Torre sent Bernie Williams up for Womack, Ozzie Guillen countered with closer Dustin Hermanson. Bernie stroked his first pitch toward first, but defensive replacement Geoff Blum snagged it and the game was over.
Danish traveler and farmer Jonas Bronck became the first European settler in the Bronx on this day in 1638, 367 years ago. Similarly, it was 374 days ago that the Yanks tired of waiting for Jose Contreras to blossom in the Bronx and shipped him to Chicago. This day he returned and took the borough by storm. He dominated Yankee bats with a 95- and 96-mph fast ball in the early innings, mixing it with a darting cutter. And then when fans began to hope that the Yanks would finally time the hard stuff, Jose replied with his splitter, notching two strike outs on it in the fifth, including getting Robinson Cano swinging on three consecutive sinking missiles. The crowd awaited the Contreras fade, but it never came.
Current Yankee DH Ruben Sierra, after having played a big role in the Yanks’ stretch drive that got them back into the post as the Wild Card in 1995, wore out his welcome and was traded to Detroit for Cecil Fielder in July 1996. On August 9 of that year, Ruben got his revenge, as he drove in all five Detroit runs in a 5-3 Tigers victory over the Yanks. In 2005, Jose Contreras got revenge on a Yankee club that shipped him away, just as Sierra did, by beating them on August 9.