Bronx, N.Y., April 29, 2007 — Baseball in the Bronx made a rare appearance under pleasant conditions Friday night, as the returning-from-the-road Yankees met the visiting Seattle Mariners in the first of four. And the almost 50,000 faithful that filed into the Baseball Cathedral for the 7:09 first pitch were treated to an early, home-team, offensive explosion.
Once Kei Igawa had retired the Mariners around an Adrian Beltre double, the Bombers piled it on. The struggling duo of Johnny Damon and Bobby Abreu each stroked the first of three hits to start the onslaught, and Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, Robby Cano, and Melky Cabrera base hits around a Hideki Matsui walk plated five quick runs against righty Cha Seung Baek. Fans shrugged off a second-inning Kenji Johjima home run, but when Adrian Beltre went yard for two in the third, the crowd realized that offense — and plenty of it — was on the menu.
Matsui, who is on the cusp of attaining Hall of Fame status in Japan for compiling 2,000 hits (Japan Leagues and mlb combined) calmed things a bit with a third-inning fence clearer (for 6-3) of his own, but Igawa was battered for two doubles and Jose Lopez’s bomb to left to knot things at 6-6 in the fourth. Alex Rodriguez promptly doubled for two in the bottom of the fourth, and Igawa took the mound in the fifth with a chance to post a victory despite the three long balls he had allowed.
Alas, it was not to be. The ranks of baseball fandom have swelled in the last decade, adding legions of stat-crazy enthusiasts to the devotees of one team that dominated the scene in days gone by. Another growing phenomenon are the baseball history nuts (myself included), and many of this ilk could point out that it was on May 4, 1975, that (at the time) Houston Astro (and eventual Yankee GM) Bob Watson scored what has been calculated to be the big league’s one millionth run. Upon hearing that, I’m sure the lament of more than a few who attended Friday night’s fireworks would be, “Surely, it’s up to two million by now!“
Although undoubtedly battered by long balls, the only single Igawa had allowed through four was an Ichiro Suzuki infield one-base hit in the third. But the first two M’s up in the fifth reached the inscrutable Yankee lefty for singles into the outfield, and Joe Torre had seen enough. He signaled for “relief.” What he got, unfortunately, was an almost unfathomably inept 17-pitch, five-run outing from tall-of-stature, but offspeed-of-pitch Colter Bean. To start, eight straight off the plate filled the sacks and plated one. A second-pitch single to right from his third batter scored the equalizer and, after he fell to a 3-0 count again, Yuniesky Betancourt drilled a 3-1 lollipop to the gap in right for two more.
Two more off the plate brought out Torre, who inserted the struggling Luis Vizcaino. The ensuing two-run single was charged to Bean, and one-base knocks from Suzuki, Vidro, and Ibanez around three merciful outs scored the seventh and eight runs of the inning. So it went from 8-6 Yanks to 14-8 M’s. Mike Myers surrendered one more tally down the stretch, and Johnny Damon made things interesting with a three-run homer in the seventh that closed it to 15-11. And the gritty, gutsy Yanks loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth to bring the tying run up, as you just knew they would. But it was to no avail, and it ended at 15-11.
Aside from the three safeties each by Abreu and Damon, Yankee rbi honors go to A-Rod and Damon with three apiece. Eight of nine starters stroked hits; all eight guys scored or knocked in at least one run. The only one to miss the party was the 0-for-6 Derek Jeter, who probably hit the hardest ball in the five run first, but Suzuki ran it down in right center. Sadly, this put an end to Jeets’s league-leading 20-game hit streak.
On the Seattle side of things, all nine starters had hits among the team’s 20; all nine scored at least one of the 15 runs. Ibanez had four hits, Betancourt three, which is the same amount of rbi’s he accounted for. Lopez knocked in four. Southpaw reliever Sean O’Flaherty got the win in relief of Seung Baek due to effective offspeed pitches that carried him from the fourth to the sixth. Seung Baek displayed an amazing repertoire, throwing 89-94-mph fastballs in the first, along with a low-70s curve, mid-80s sliders and cutters, and an 80-mph change. But he did not start piling up outs until he threw the cutters and changes for strikes while showing the heater out of the zone. O’Flaherty seemed to go to school on that approach and he used it well.
What can I say about Igawa? He has found the zone and now issues few walks. He did not give up a lot of hits, but those he allowed carried a long way. He’s a work in progress, perhaps one the Yanks can afford once starters one through four are solid, but who knows when that will happen?
The game featured a few quirks, like Richie Sexson being retired 2-unassisted in the second when he ran into his own batted ball. Alex Rodriguez, in particular, shone on defense. Mientkiewicz made some nice diving plays on Ichiro grounders to no avail; when you hit the deck on him, he already beat it out. And Igawa endeared himself to the Yankee crowd, at least, when he threw hard, high, and tight to Ichiro in the fourth after the three home runs. Both benches were promptly warned, though it’s not certain we’ve heard the end of that with three more games in this series.
The New York baseball world was aghast three seasons ago when Cleveland blanked the Yanks in the Stadium 22-0. It came out then that that was the worst shutout the franchise had ever suffered, eclipsing two 15-0 losses to the White Sox, one back in 1950, and again before that in 1907. Big-number defeats like that can be embarrassing, but they’re relatively painless compared to times the team comes up short by just one run.
Cinquo de Mayo is a great Mexican-American holiday, one that not only many Hispanic communities in this country celebrate, but Americans of all nationalities as well. May 4 is another story. Thirty-seven years ago, it was the day four college students were killed during another unpopular American war. It is also the date that both former Yankee teams suffered those 15-0 embarrassments. Today was the 100th anniversary of the first. But following the hurting the Yankee offense applied in tonight’s first inning, going forward, May 4, 2007 may rank with that day in 1907, and the one that followed in 1950. No Cinquo de Quatro celebrations in the Bronx.