Bronx, N.Y., September 27, 2006 — Fourteen pitches into the Yankees/Orioles game on delightful Wednesday eve, the fans looked to be in for an old-fashioned treat: a well-pitched, tightly played game. Three Chien-Ming Wang pitches were enough to retire each of the first three Baltimore batters, with Wang splitting his first two of 11 ground-ball outs with one of his four strike outs.
Baltimore’s Kris Benson, meanwhile, struck out Johnny Damon, retired Derek Jeter on a first-pitch grounder to second, and quickly got ahead of Bobby Abreu. The only hint that things might not be what they seemed was that the new Yankee right fielder extended Benson to seven pitches before lining deep to the left field corner. There was a buzz of concern when Wang allowed a run on three straight two-out singles in the second, and truth be told it was not his best night, as 10 hits and four runs over six innings bears out. But the concern among this crowd was unwarranted, which can perhaps best be demonstrated by the fact that a scant two innings later the same fans were waving themselves silly until fatigue settled in.
Jason Giambi was Joe Torre’s newest reclamation project to test a wounded wing (wrist, actually) in the Bronx this night, and he passed his test with flying colors. Following a leadoff A-Rod walk in the home second, Jason battled through a typical at bat, working the count full and fouling a third and fourth strike, until Benson’s next fastball was low and not nearly inside enough. The Yankee DH slashed it several rows back and three feet to the fair side of the foul pole for a 2-1 Yankee lead. Robbie Cano delivered a third run with a sac fly following a Hideki Matsui single and a Jorge Posada double to the same right-field corner.
The Birds responded with two more hits and another run, but the Yanks shrugged it off. Abreu restored the two-run lead with a homer to right, and then the Bombers stroked four straight two-out hits, the last a Posada liner into the short porch in right. Bruce Chen relieved and got a third out, and the Yanks paused long enough for two Orioles to reach base in the fourth via Wang’s lone walk and a hit by pitch. Then the relentless Yankee offense was back; it would not be denied.
Johnny Damon’s home run to right began a parade of seven players in a row to reach safely. When Damon’s turn to bat came around yet again, Melky Cabrera took his place, still in the fourth inning. I can recall scoring spring training games where teams batting around had more than one guy hit in the same position in one inning; this may have been a first for me in games that count.
But it gets better, and in the midst of it all, I was afraid someone would pinch me and melt the dream away. On the out of town scoreboard, home field advantage contestant Detroit fell behind 3-0 to Toronto, who in turn threatened to drive the rival Red Sox back to third place. Boston was down early in Fenway to Tampa, and in later returns the Rays poured it on. Favored to reach the World Series from the NL are the crosstown Mets, and they had their wounded ace Pedro Martinez going in a big start. While the 8-2 Yankee lead was mushrooming to 13-2, Pedro was driven from the Atlanta mound down 7-0 in the third.
Minnesota, another potential rival for best record, slipped behind K.C. as the scores rolled on, and two National League teams putting on spirited late challenges for the postseason, Houston and Philadelphia, rebounded from ugly-number scores to drive Pittsburgh and Washington, respectively, into extra innings.
As the ecstatic Yankee fans grew weary of the wave, Wang posted a scoreless fifth around two hits, then gave up two more runs on three straight safeties in the sixth. Chien-Ming would leave after that frame, and Robinson Cano restored the 11-run margin with a bomb over the Modell’s sign on the right field upper deck facade. Wang was good, not great, and several of the hits were bloops or ground balls that found a hole. He threw 58 of 90 pitches for strikes, finding the zone on the first toss 18 of 30 times. He used a preponderance of 94- and 95-mph sinking fastballs to get ground balls, and mixed in the occasional slider about 10 mph slower, and even a few changes of pace as slow as 80 mph.
Hideki Matsui had a quiet night in left, and lifted his batting average past .300 on 2-for-3 hitting. Gary Sheffield handled eight throws at first, made a good play knocking a Brian Roberts bouncer down the lline and retired two Birds unassisted, though be briefly bobbled Jay Gibbons’ third inning grounder on his way to the bag. More encouraging still were Shef’s at bats. After lifting a weak fly to center, he doubled, then singled to left, both on patented Shef hard liners. And before the fourth-inning one-base hit, he blasted one of the hard foul home runs that have become his trademark in Yankee Stadium.
But the hitting stars were Giambi and Posada. Jason went 3-for-4, scored three times, and drove in four. Posada had two hard extra base hits right down the right field line, he scored once, and he drove in four as well. Mariano Rivera treated those still in attendance with a four-batter seventh-inning appearance, and the struggling Ron Villone and then T.J. Beam finished up, with Beam allowing a ninth-inning run after Bob Davidson surprised us all by calling a balk.
The Scoreboard people thrilled an already happy crowd by showing Bruce Springsteen and family ensconced in the Rudy Guiliani seats next to the Yankee dugout during an early pitching change, blasting a Bruce tune to make the point. Later, with many having left a long game early that the Yanks had well in hand, Cotton Eye Joey not only did his traditional eighth-inning dance, but he left the control room, and danced and doffed the big straw hat among the few remaining paying patrons adjacent to his usual happy stage.
September 27, 2006 is not the only time the Bombers have dominated an opponent in the House That Ruth Built. It’s actually the 75th anniversary of a 13-1 drubbing of the Philadelphia Athletics that finished the 1931 regular season. Lou Gehrig’s homer that day tied Babe Ruth for the season high at 46, and the two teammates amassed a possibly unmatchable 347 rbi’s between them that year. Twenty years ago this day in a 10-inning, 1-0 shutout, Detroit’s Jack Morris snapped Don Mattingly’s 24-game hit streak, a streak that fellow Captain Derek Jeter finally passed just a few weeks ago. As for the Orioles on this day, although I’m sure Karma played no role in their 16-5 destruction at the hands of the Yanks, this is the 10th anniversary of the day former Birds second baseman Robbie Alomar shocked the baseball world by spitting in an umpire’s face.
And this is also the 59th birthday of rocker Meatloaf, who is the only rock artist ever to feature the voice of the one and only Phil Rizzuto on a number-one hit. The song, I’m sure most know, was Paradise by the Dashboard Lights. Let me assure you that watching the Yanks’ offensive onslaught on a beautiful evening while all the good news came pouring in from out of town was a little bit of Paradise as well.