Bronx, N.Y., August 7, 2010 — The altered hours baseball games are played in the name of national TV contribute some strange effects to the experience, something Yankees and Red Sox fans will know only too well when their four-game wraparound series in Yankee Stadium concludes with a rare 2 pm start Monday afternoon. Locals will find out how well mass transit handles thousands of bodies once Sunday night’s 8 pm tilt concludes at an hour when most weekend revelers have been home for hours, and in bed for some time as well.
To be sure, few fans had trouble arranging transportation to the Saturday afternoon 4 pm start, but the two teams and almost 50,000 in attendance did see a game played under shifting sun and shadows that don’t usually come into play with traditional game times. Early on, pitchers and batters enjoyed the glow, but then the shadows began their inexorable march from behind home plate until in the sixth inning all of the infield was in shade and the dazzling outfield grass was dotted with the shadows of nine of the Championship Banners that ring the new Stadium. To any Boston fan convinced they were in the “Evil Empire,” the nine shapes could easily have evoked the image of the Nazgul, the nine black riders or Ringwraiths introduced to the world in J.R.R. Tolkein’s trilogy of books and the movies that followed, The Lord of the Rings.
Yankee center fielder Curtis Granderson, coming off yet another bad offensive game in Friday night’s loss, started Saturday’s home sixth with a single, the second of his two hits. He had followed Boston’s second-inning rally for two runs on three straight extra base hits by tripling off the top of the right center field wall, driving in one run and scoring a second to knot matters and wipe out the visitors’ only lead. A two-run rally three frames later had given the Yanks the lead, and Curtis was determined to add to that margin with some baserunning derring-do. As the dark shapes floated across the green outfield grass, he wasted little time, taking off for second on John Lackey’s 0-1 pitch to Brett Gardner, though it seemed a longer wait as the Boston righty threw over to first base four times to keep him close. Granderson beat Victor Martinez’s throw with ease, and when it glanced of a glove and rolled into short center, he scooted over to third base. One out later, emergency starter at third base Ramiro Pena singled to forge the 5-2 final, his second rbi of the day.
While “Grandy” has struggled all year, Yankee ace CC Sabathia has taken New York by storm since the day he arrived in 2009, and was trying to extend his season record to 14-5. Despite a one-out single by Jed Lowrie, he retired the Red Sox on nine pitches in the first, while mound opponent Lackey struggled with his control. Not only did the Red Sox righty walk two, the 25 pitches it took him to navigate the first comprised three more off the plate than on.
But in a phrase so often true that I should have it stored on one of the function keys of my laptop, baseball is a strange game, and when Sabathia put himself in a 3-1 hole to leadoff batter Martinez in the second, the switch-hitting catcher blasted the next pitch seven rows deep in the seats in left center. Adrian Beltre pulled a 1-1 pitch for a double down the left field line, and on the same count Mike Lowell got a similar result by hitting the ball the other way toward right. Just like that, it was 2-0. Fans of the visitors cheered, and good for them, because their celebratory moments started and ended at the exact same time. A strike out, grounder to the box, and popup ended the second, and CC did whatever it took to stifle the Sox offense through eight dominant frames.
The jumbo lefty featured ground balls first, recording seven of the first 10 Sox outs that way, then suddenly switched to outfield flies, collecting six of his next eight outs on his way to 24 in aerial fashion. CC is a big powerful man, and he can rack up strike outs in impressive fashion. But on Saturday he apparently decided to make the Bostons complicit in their defeat. He whiffed just four, and two of them on called strike threes (both times DH David Ortiz, who disgustedly looked like he’d like to have a few minutes alone with much older home plate ump Jerry Layne), and actually coaxed just four swings and misses all day. Sabathia threw only 14 of 30 first pitches for strikes, but managed a healthy 62/39 strikes/balls ratio. He pounded mostly low nineties heat with a few curves early, and mixed in his change of pace as he went along. Following the flurry of fly outs, he issued his lone walk of the day to J.D. Drew leading off the seventh, then reeled off five more groundouts, including the second of two double plays. He closed the eighth (and his day) with Ortiz’s third whiff, this one swinging on a ball that submarined down and off the outside corner.
As alluded to earlier, the Yanks had tied the Sox right away thanks to Granderson’s triple in the second. The still struggling DH Lance Berkman walked leading off, and looked surprisingly spry digging for three bases in front of Grandy’s sprint to third. Once Pena delivered run number two on a grounder to second, however, the Yankees was dormant into the fifth, with just one hit in addition to Curtis’s three-bagger, a two-out Robbie Cano single in the third.
The fifth started bleakly as well, as Gardner rolled out to first and Derek Jeter took a third strike. But suddenly baseball cliche number two leaped to the fore, as the Yanks displayed Two Out Thunder: Four straight batters stroked singles with two down. Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira singled up the middle, and then Cano and Jorge Posada poked one-base hits to right, with Robbie and Jorge collecting the rbi’s. Granderson produced the last run with his speed in the following frame, and Mariano Rivera filled in for Sabathia admirably to nab a save in the ninth, retiring three straight on eight pitches.
Of course, unless you’ve been news-deprived you’re no doubt aware it wasn’t the best of Yankee days as Berkman, struggling to find his line drive form in games since arriving six games ago, smacked one off Alex Rodriguez’s knee in batting practice before the game. It is hoped that A-Rod, who had to be helped from the field after lying on the grass for five minutes, suffered more pain than serious injury. His rbi bat and cannon arm at third base play a big part in the club’s attack.
After all, I don’t think we can expect the Nazgul to hover over the outfield in games going forward.