Bronx, N.Y., July 9, 2005 — It’s easy to use words like “gorgeous day in the Bronx” and “classic game” writing about Yankee game experiences. I feel I’m honestly reporting the truth when I write them too, but the danger is that the words become cliches; the adjectives lose all meaning.
The Old Timers’ Day festivities Saturday afternoon were a joy to behold as always, but the intramural contest among 49 Yankee heroes came to a quick halt in a second-inning rain shower. And the game the Yanks played (and lost) with Cleveland in the Bronx Saturday afternoon will not stand out among other near misses this, or any, year. That being said, however, the Yankee Stadium experience this day was entertaining in the extreme.
In his job so long that he announced the first game the late and beloved Mickey Mantle (who played more games in Pinstripes than anyone) ever played in the Bronx, Bob Sheppard got things started by welcoming one and all to Yankee Stadium at 2:03 pm. Former broadcast partners John Sterling and Michael Kay did the announcing chores, introducing a team of 24 “Pinstripers” and 25 “Yankees,” with the second group beginning with early sixties outfielder Hector Lopez, who was celebrating his 76th birthday. New Hall of Famer Wade Boggs attended, with the Scorebard showing him riding a police horse celebrating the 1996 crown. In attendance were Yankee favorites aplenty, including Tom Tresh, Joe Pepitone, Bobby Murcer, current Yankee coaches Roy White and Mel Stottlemyre, Goose Gossage, Graig Nettles, Jim Leyritz, and Ron Guidry, along with other Hall ex-players Reggie Jackson, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, and Phil Rizzuto.
The hands-down crowd favorite was 2005 Hitting Coach Don Mattingly, who was celebrated with a “Donnie Baseball” sign affixed to the first base loge facade. In the brief game, the Pinstripers jumped to a 2-0 first-inning lead on a long Oscar Gamble single to right, and added three more tallies in the second, featuring a double from current third-base coach and 2000 Subway Series hero Luis Sojo. But the rains and wind ended things suddenly and sent much of the 54,366 in attendance scurrying for cover.
But although the rain freed the retirees from their playing chores so they could bask in the praise and adulation they had received, it really affected the rest of the day very little. Home plate ump Ron Kulpa called Yankee emergency southpaw starter Darrel May’s first pitch a strike at a right-on-schedule 4:08, and by the time the first frame was over, the Tribe had two strike outs, and the Yanks were up 2-0 on back-to-back Gary Sheffield and Alex Rodriguez home runs. But two can play that game, and following a Casey Blake swinging bunt for an infield hit leading off the second, Jose Hernandez and Jhonny Peralta blasted taters to left one after another, and the Yanks trailed 3-2.
Catcher Josh Bard’s two-out single that inning extended the Indians lineup so that even though May coaxed consecutive 4-3′s for two outs to open the third, Blake came to the plate in that inning as well. Fresh off three hits and perfect (though unchallenged) center-field play through his two debut major league games, outfielder Melky Cabrera took center stage when Blake drove a 3-2 fastball to deep left center. The young outfielder was either blinded by the sun or uncertain of what to do, but by the time he recovered the ball was over his head and thumped off the wall on a couple of bounces and Blake eased into second base, bringing homer hitter Hernandez to the plate. Jose had delivered his first jolt on a 3-1 May offering. This time he fouled the 3-1 pitch, but not the 3-2 one. It zoomed toward left field and fell inside the foul pole; the Indians had a 5-2 lead.
The Yankees have experienced a severe shortage in starting pitchers with Carl Pavano joining Jaret Wright and Kevin Brown on the Disabled List. Bullpenner Tanyon Sturtze gave up most of a big lead and failed to finish the fourth inning in a spot start Monday; Darrel May did no better this day. After a quiet fourth inning, Hideki Matsui ran hard to snag Grady Sizemore’s liner into the left field corner leading off the visiting fifth. But Coco Crisp singled up the middle, and when Travis Hafner lined one deep and just left of center, young Cabrera reacted poorly again, and another catchable (though very well hit) ball reached the fence for an rbi double. Righty Scott Proctor relieved just as he had Monday, pitching very well, but only after hitting Blake with a pitch and surrendering a single to Hernandez, his third hit and fifth rbi.
You’ve noticed, perhaps, that it has been paragraphs since the Yankee offense was mentioned. This game matched the template that was set Monday in more ways than one. It was the Baltimore pen that quieted the Yankee bats through the middle innings then; in this one, Tribe starter Scott Elarton righted himself after the two first-inning home runs. Giambi blooped a broken-bat single to short center for a second inning single, but Elarton coaxed three consecutive popups. (He would pop Posada up again in the fifth, and Giambi in the sixth.)
Elarton wasn’t overpowering, topping off at 91-92 mph, and he notched just three strike outs with one walk. Yankee hitting star Ruben Sierra (playing right field with Sheffield DH’ing) fouled six pitches before doubling past first to lead off the fifth, then scored on Robinson Cano’s one-out single. The only other hit Elarton would allow through seven was a second Sierra double in the seventh. So Scott whiffed only three, and he coaxed five popouts, leaving 13 other outs he needed to record to finish seven frames. He was burned by two long flies in the first, but he didn’t give in and change his game. He retired 10 Yankees on fly balls. In fact, he used the ground ball to get outs just three times; amazingly, all three were by Yankee Captain and leadoff hitter Derek Jeter.
Bob Howry came out to start the eighth, and Cano got his second single before a Sheffield walk. Hideki Matsui waited on deck as Howry fell behind Alex Rodriguez 3-1. But he got a borderline strike call on a pitch that looked high, and A-Rod popped to first for the first out. Lefty Arthur Rhodes came on to face Matsui, but the strategy backfired as Hideki homered off the loge facade in straight right, and the Yanks were within 7-6 as the fans roared. But Rhodes struck Giambi out swinging and Posada flied to left. The crowd (rightly) felt the Yanks had at least one more run in them.
But Tanyon Sturtze, who had pitched the eighth, gave up a ninth-inning insurance run on a one-out single, then double by Blake and Hafner. The run was huge as Sierra drove a long home run off closer (and ex-Yank) Bob Wickman to start the home ninth. Bernie Williams singled pinch-hitting for Cabrera, and when catcher Bard stumbled on Jeter’s short bunt, the Yanks had two on with none out. In a similar situation Monday, Cano bunted beautifully up third. This time he took strike one, and fouled strike two on a hit-and-run. Forgotten man Tony Womack, who had run for Williams, would have had third stolen too. But then a team that had been retired on grounders just three times in 24 came a-cropper. Cano bounced into a 4-6-3 and, after a Sheffield walk, A-Rod bounced to short on the first pitch. The Pinstripers put up a fight on a special day, rebounding from a 7-2 deficit to 7-6, bu they fell 8-7.
But on a day the Yankee six-game winning streak would be snapped and they would fail to gain ground on the Red Sox and fall back behind the Orioles into third place, it just didn’t feel like a loss. With one game remaining before the All Star break, it’s clear that Cabrera will get more time to prove himself in center. And the team hopes to start the second half with both Kevin Brown and Carl Pavano back in the rotation. Both factors are key; but essentially the second half comes down to this: They will pitch better, or they will lose.
Maybe the day did not feel so bad because they rallied so well. Or perhaps it was the presence of the beloved Old Timers. But even that aspect seemed less focussed on winning and losing games than it had in the past. One of the most poignant moments of this day each year comes when Bob Sheppard reads out the list of members of both the Yankees and baseball families who have passed away in the last year, and in the last decade we have lost the likes of Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, and Catfish Hunter. This year the list included Hank Borowy, who won 56 while losing just 26 with the 1942-1945 teams, and Marius “Lefty” Russo, 45-34 for the Yanks around the same time. Russo was 2-0 in Yankee World Series starts, Borowy 1-0.
But the list was dominated by off-the-field heroes this time around, people who bring us the joy of the game and further connect us to it because they, like most of us, couldn’t play it worth a darn, at least not anymore. There was beloved 35-plus-year organist Eddie Layton, so unschooled in the game that he confessed to being terrified the one time George Steinbrenner directed that he should throw out the first pitch. And Metropolitan Opera star Robert Merrill, number 1-1/2, who belted out the Anthem before so many big games. Actress Teresa Wright was feted this year as well. She became quite the fan after starring with Gary Cooper in Pride of the Yankees. And of couse Manny Gluck, the concessions employee with the big frame and the ready smile who welcomed fans to the game for more than 30 years, who died just weeks ago.
A popular Scoreboard feature this year has players pick their favorite tune among three in a given category. Today it was baseball songs, and Bruce Springsteen’s Glory Days was the runaway winner. Those of us who have watched most of today’s assembled stars play have certainly reveled in Glory Days aplenty.