Bronx, N.Y., May 4, 2008 — Well, beat the drum and hold the phone — the sun came out today
After a month of frigid temps, rain, everlasting road trips, injuries, and no days off, the baseball season arrived in the Bronx in earnest on Sunday afternoon. The Yanks had been home for six days, but the hard breeze that carried them here from Cleveland Monday night chilled the city and the ballpark all week, the Tigers swept the Yanks three straight, and the home team was earnestly trying to sweep the visiting Mariners in an effort to redirect a season seemingly headed south.
Ichiro Suzuki swung at righty Darrell Rasner’s first pitch at 1:07 pm, with the temperature rising to 63 degrees and the humidity steadily dipping, reading 66% at that moment. Ichiro popped out to left and Felix Lopez grounded out to third on a 3-1 pitch after Rasner had fallen behind 3-0. But Raul Ibanez singled up the middle, Adrian Beltre homered to left, and the visitors had a quick 2-0 lead. Still, somehow the feeling was one of relaxation, as we had a chucker on the mound who, it seemed clear, was going to throw strikes whether the Mariners hammered him or not.
The Yanks responded with back-to-back, one-out singles by Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu but the rally fizzled. Morgan Ensberg singled with two down in the second. Even though he died on first, however, it seemed clear that a vibrant Yankee offense had arrived with the burning sun, the disappeared winds, and the rising temperature. The Yanks won Friday night, but only after cashing in two early gift runs from the Marniers’ defense. They wouldn’t earn a second run until the eighth inning. They hit well in Saturday’s win, but even then, they twice failed to score with the bases loaded and one man out
Rasner started the 2007 campaign in Scranton too, waiting for the call, which came in roughly a month. But his season was over shortly when a battled ball shattered two fingers on his pitching hand. Darrell retired six of seven in the second and third this day, and leadoff man Johnny Damon took his place as the first Yankee to hit in the bottom of the third. Damon singled off Seattle righty Carlos Silva at 0-1, then Jeter singled him to third with a perfect inside/out swing, lifting a fastball to short right field. Abreu followed with a grounder through the second base hole, and the Yanks had closed to 2-1. Two pitches later Hideki Matsui lifted a double into the left field corner, and Jeter scored to tie it, but Abreu was forced to stop at third because yet another “Yankee fan:” down the line thought it more important that he try to grab the ball than that the Yanks take a lead.
It was a small matter, however, as Jason Giambi lifted a 2-0 sac fly deep into the left field corner for a 3-2 lead. When best buds Melky Cabrera and Robbie Cano followed with back-to-back blasts to right field, the Yanks had a 6-2 lead, and Rasner had a decent handle on a win in his first 2008 game. Beltre and Yuniesky Betancourt singled in the top of the fourth, but Rasner mixed in two swinging K’s, and set the M’s down with no score when Wladimir Balentien grounded out to short.
The Yanks pounced again. Damon and Jeter led off the bottom of the fourth with hits just as they had the inning before. Damon was able to score on Jeter’s ground rule double because he had stolen second base. One out later Matsui singled in Jeter, and the Yanks led by the same 8-2 score that would hold until the game’s end. Rasner retired six straight to hold the Mariners through six and Joe Girardi removed him on a high note, even if he had just thrown 75 pitches to that point. Ross Ohlendorf and Kyle Farnsworth would pitch around one single each in the seventh and the eighth, and Mariano ended matters in another non-save situation with a one-two-three ninth. This would be Rivera’s 799th appearance, landing him on the 39th rung all-time on major league baseball’s all-time appearances list.
Rasner never once intimidated the M’s. His high eighties fast ball scares no one. But he mixed in a mid-eighties cutter, a low-eighties slider, and a curve 10 mph slower as the game went on. He threw just 11 of 23 first-pitch strikes, but he hit bats through three, then missed just three swinging sticks the next two for three swinging stike outs. He got Ibanez looking for strike out number four in the sixth.
The Yanks sprinkled their offense around but the contributions were top-of -the-order-heavy. Jeter went 4-for-5, scored twice, and drove in one; and Abreu collected three hits, a walk, a run scored, and an rbi as well. Damon had two hits and scored twice, Matsui knocked in two with two safeties, Giambi made news with his long sac fly the other way, and Cabrera and Cano tacked on three with the back-to-back jacks.
The weather just got better and better as did the home team score. It’s no secret that the Yanks started the year with a new commitment to youth, to letting their home-drafted and home-trained talent anchor the pitching staff going forward. Young Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy were handed two of five starting rotaion spots with a commitment to success and a plea to trust their stuff. That was a request neither hurler could follow through on. They repeatedly got themselves into bad counts and the team behind by several runs early each and every game.
They have both departed the rotation now. Hughes has been disabled, and Kennedy was sadly demoted to the minors. In light of their struggles, it was encouraging to see how the young veteran Rasner threw to contact despite the loud home run in the first. His performance could serve as a template as to what Hughes and Kennedy have not been doing corrrectly for the full first month. The Yanks selected Rasner from the Nationals off waivers, and he made his initial appearance with them in 2006, picking up some mid- and late-season starts that year. And he was called upon in 2007 as well, as a litany of not-ready-for-prime-time starters proceeded through the Yankee mound during short intervals in the major leagues.
Strangely, Rasner’s initial 2007 Yankee callup was but one day further into the season than this year’s. He arrived on May 5 and made his first start the next day. And he faced the Mariners that time too, working 5.7 innings in a 5-0 Yankee win. He gave up three hits, walked two, and struck out four. He struck out the same number today, May 4, 2008. In that first start last year, he threw a strikes/ balls ratio of 50/29; today it was an almost identical 48/27.
When Darrell was born on January 13, 1981. the number one song on the U.S. charts was former Beatle John Lennon’s (Just Like) Starting Over, just three or four weeks after John was tragically shot and killed. The title could speak to Rasner’s second straight year starting off with a solid game against Seattle. It could also refer to a Yankee rotation that, whoever is filling the fourth and fifth spots, henceforth will be throwing strikes and taking the consequences, keeping their team in the game. Either way, let’s hope that today’s win that pushed the team above .500 for the second time in a week represents a new “start,” as Mr. Lennon said:
- It’s time to spread our wings and fly
Don’t let another day go by …
It’ll be just like starting over