Bronx, N.Y., August 1, 2008 — Following the devastation Anaheim wreaked upon the Yankees Thursday, fans could be forgiven for missing what was the turning point of the Friday night game. Few expected Sidney Ponson’s quick and efficient 11-pitch, top of the first, and before the 54,000-strong throng realized it, the Yanks were set up to take a lead. A 1-0 Derek Jeter single to right following Johnny Damon’s six-pitch leadoff walk against Ervin Santana had the home team set up.
Unfortunately, in a tendency that has been only too common in 2008, all the mini-threat led to was the first three of six hometeam failures to come through with a hit with a runner in scoring position. Bobby Abreu went down swinging on three pitches, then Alex Rodriguez followed a six-pitch battle to 3-2 by watching a not very fast fastball buzz by for strike three. Finally, DH Jason Giambi went down meekly for the first of four straight times by popping up to short. It may be time not only to lose the ‘stache, but lots of body hair too.
Santana would allow but four more singles and one walk through eight, and no two Yanks would ever reach base in the same frame again. Abreu (in the fourth) and Damon (in the sixth) stole second following leadoff singles, but Giambi ended those hopes too, with a fly to left and then a strike out. Abreu made a bid for extra bases to right center once, but Vlad Guerrero tracked it down harmlessly.
Still, this was so much a better and more satisfying game because of Ponson’s professional job. Sid allowed only two singles, four walks, and no runs through seven, and he battled gamely and successfully through one Angels threat after another. Torii Hunter hit four balls hard this night, and the last one would do the Yanks in, but Yankee outfielders swooped in (or out) to snatch the first three, particularly a liner to right center field that Abreu uncharacteristically crashed into the wall while catching to close the top of the fourth. First baseman Wilson Betemit had started that frame with a leaping grap of a Maicer Izturis liner, Abreu made another retreating snatch of a Howie Kendrick drive in the fifth, and Melky Cabrera outdid them all by running under a Garret Anderson fly to deep center to start the seventh, banging the wall hard after the catch.
Sid weathered every storm, and the hard liners were a secondary problem; his own control was enemy number one. The biggest threat came in the fifth once Anderson bounced a single up the middle. Abreu flagged down the Kendrick drive next, but ex-Yanks Juan Rivera and Jeff Mathis loaded the bases with walks with one down as Ponson missed on eight of nine throws. Home-plate ump C.B. Buckner established a fairly small zone early; he favored the high strike, and he wasn’t looking to call anything a strike that was just off the black. Ponson missed low regularly, which is ironic because he got 15 of 21 outs on fly balls, line outs, and popups. And it was a popup to short and a fly to left got him through this threat as well. Sid coaxed just nine called strikes in 95 pitches, missed on 15 of 26 first throws, and his strikes/balls ratio reads more like 2000 election results than a pitch count: 48 strikes and 47 balls.
Damaso Marte, looking more like the late-innings lock we have heard about than in his last outing, struck out two in a one, two, three eighth inning, and then what is probably the oddest (and least pleasant) conundrum to the 2008 Yankee season reared its head when Mariano Rivera came out for the ninth. Spotless in save outings, and possessed of almost unprecedented control, Mo fell behind Mark Teixeira 3-0, and walked him leading off the ninth on five pitches. Vlad Guerrero singled pinch runner Reggie Willits to third by bouncing one inside Betemit into short right. With the infield in, the 0-for-3 Hunter, who started Andy Pettitte’s demise with a three-run bomb Thursday, singled past the drawn-in infield for the 1-0 lead. Rivera, who can’t be touched with the Yankees up, was scored upon in a tie game yet again. Francisco Rodriguez fell behind A-Rod 3-1 to start the bottom of the ninth, but got him to swing at a bender off the plate and take one down the middle, just as Santana had eight innings earlier. Giambi’s fly to center was just the second out this time, but Robbie Cano popped to right to end it.
Buddhist literature and a famous Herman Hesse novel tell the story of a prince named Siddartha, whose parents attempted to guide him and keep him pure and safe from all that was evil and tawdry in his youth. The sheltered upbringing backfires, and the prince adopts a wanton lifestyle in midlife, sampling life’s more illicit and pleasures and making a fortune on shady deals. Eventually the pleasures of that life leave the prince cold as well, and in his later life he is able to return to his earlier beliefs, stronger than before after having seen both sides first-hand.
While never a lights-out winner early with the Orioles, Sidney Ponson did have a decent early career with a team that went from perennial contender in the mid-nineties to bumbling failure through the early millennium. Sid debuted in 1998, went 12-12 in 1999, and hovered in the high three’s and mid-four’s in era until he closed the 2003 season after a stretch-drive trade to the Giants with a 58-65 career mark. But fate and life have not been kind to the Aruban citizen Ponson since. A prince by birth, like Siddartha, Sid’s own bad behavior has led him to both legal troubles and baseball ones numerous times in the ensuing years, and he began the 2008 season having slipped to an 82-101 mark on the baseball side of things.
Even a 4-1 mark in Texas in 2008 couldn’t save him from being deposed from there, but following failures in their own rotation, the Yanks welcomed him. Sid hadn’t pitched very well during a brief 2006 Pinstripes stint, but he had caused no trouble either. And this time he pitched well until a bad start in Boston a week ago. On a Yankee team that has struggled to improve problem areas the last month, the starting rotation may yet be the final frontier. Today’s gutsy start has almost certainly earned the Yankee prince another shot or two.