Bronx, N.Y., May 20, 2002 — I was as anguished as most Yankee fans tonight as I made my way to the Cathedral. El duque, with a balky back and fat pitch after fat pitch in a loss last Wednesday, would not be making his start tonight. Giving every benefit of the doubt that I feel I owe to ex-Yankees that return, I was prepared to do the same with the injured (and, even worse, ineffective in A and AAA ball) Sterling Hitchcock once the inevitable happened and the $6 million man got a start. But could the preliminary events have been less fortuitous? Not bad in his mop-up duties last Wednesday, he had clearly not recovered sufficiently when called upon around 12:30 am Saturday morning in the Giambi miracle game. And here he was less than 60 hours later about to start against a Blue Jay team with some boppers.
Bumping into a Box 622 buddy on the New York-bound train who had attended Friday’s triumphant homer fest, I approached the Stadium with renewed vigor, and I was delighted to be in my seat with my $4 diet coke in time to respond to Bob Sheppard’s request that we stand for two national anthems, and to give my hearty “Play Ball” cheer as it appears on the scoreboard once the music’s over. And that’s when I saw Freddy, who had chosen a peculiar night to use “perfection” on his two-sided Yankee cheer banner: “Yankees and Their Fans — A Perfect Fit” on one side; “Yankees — Always Striving for Perfection” on the other. Didn’t Freddy know that Sterling was getting the ball? Has he spent one too many nights prowling the stands?
But who am I to question Freddy? And once Sterling had quieted the bats of the first four Blue Jays, I began to think the old “coot” might really have something, a notion totally dispelled during a five-batter span in the second. But you know, as I look back, this was about as perfect a game as we could have hoped for. I first realized this when Jose Cruz’s eighth-inning single off Mike Stanton was only the sixth Toronto hit. The superb Mendoza had allowed one in his three innings, which meant that the only hits Hitch had surrendered were during that one stretch. And none of those four base hits made the Richter Scale. The man retired the side in order in three of his four innings, and he had clearly tired badly before the back-to-back walks to lead off the fifth. Ramiro made them go away, and retired all he faced save one, as did Stanton. And Mo, well, Mo was Mo.
Which left things to the offense. Comedians will tell you that the secret to getting a great laugh is timing. It’s not bad for stirring a section I can tell you. Delighted with Alfonso’s lead-off first-pitch (what else?) single, and his first-pitch steal of second and third during the next two at bats, I gave the 1-1 Bernie a loud and lusty “Bernie BLAST-OFF!!!” just before his bomb. Later, Nick Johnson would deposit an rbi single to the strains of “Here, it comes. Fat pitch!” in the fourth, and I was the first in the Box certain (or at least who yelled they were certain) that Robin’s lead-off shot in the seventh would, indeed, strike the foul pole.
Although the rally had already produced the tying run and would not reap another, I have to say that the Seinfeld clip the Scoreboard showed in the fourth, with George Costanza showing Bernie and Derek how to hit, is my favorite. In the original show, Derek answers George’s taunt, “Do you want to talk reservations or do you want to win some ballgames?” with “Well, we won the World Series!” To which George replies, “In six games!”, a funny line that became obsolete three times from 1998 through 2000. And the musical milieu grows in complexity as the 2002 season progressed through a cold night under a perfect half moon in the Bronx. Mr. Vander Wal’s apparent Doors thing extends to Jimi Hendrix too, Robin likes Stevie Wonder (though it was somebody else’s cover), and Jason must share a love of “Baba O’Reilly” with Paul.
Derek’s seventh-inning foul before his double smacked the Tier facade in section 13 and caromed all the way back onto the field and a waiting Lee Mazzili, and first base ump Ed Montague made a lot of enemies when he kept Wilson’s ninth-inning foul off of Mo rather than tossing it to the well-heeled, just-beyond-the-Yankee-dugout faithful. But tonight’s game belongs to Ramiro and Mo, to Bernie, Nick, Robin and Shane, but most of all to “Perfection Lite,” the game Sterling Hitchcock. I wish him well, as should we all. He showed a lot of heart.