Tampa, Fla., March 3 — Baseball can be so many things to different people. To some it’s nothing more than a reason to peruse the morning sports pages over a cup of coffee. Some, on the other hand, live and die with each and every pitch. To others it provides a connection to warmer days whether they’re living in a frigid part of the planet, in the cold of winter, or in a little “dark night of the soul” of their own. It can bring a smile to those whose accustomed window to the world is a frown; or it can become an excuse for exhaustive research and study for some who barely passed their classes in school (or who didn’t).
For Yankee fans more often than not it has become a source of repeated feelings of joy and choruses of celebration, and that is part of its intrinsic nature as well. But one thing we purveyors of Pinstriped passion can forget is that baseball, at its core, is more about failure than it ever will be about success. Great hitters fail seven out of 10 times; for every Jim Leyritz, Chris Chambliss or Bill Mazeroski basking in the glow of victory, there is a legion of hitters who, with the game on the line, went down to ignominious defeat. There are few seats in the Mariano Rivera clubhouse, but the guys in the Mark Wohlers wing have to rent out a hall.
The Yankees made an inspired and almost successful charge today after falling behind by the daunting score of 8-0, losing by a 9-8 final score. They were mired in their huge hole by a disastrous outing by Chien-Ming Wang, helped out at the end by a very untimely error by young second baseman Alfonso Soriano. Wang’s 1.3 inning line: eight runs (six earned), five hits, three walks, 43 pitches (22 balls, 21 strikes). But Mr. Wang, too, is not accustomed to such failure. He was a star on a Little League World Series winning team. He has done well in two seasons in the minors, posting a 6-1 record this year for the Class A Staten Island Yankees. Mr. Wang lived the reality of baseball today. The Blue Jays “rocked his world.” But don’t count this kid out. The next “rock” will be the one he is blowing by opposing hitters, at gradually higher levels.
The Yanks did a little “rocking” of their own, to get back in the game. The comeback began with a two-run double by Todd Zeile. Then young Soriano, looking visibly bigger in his upper body, lined a homer to left. Jeter lined out, but Giambi and Williams scratched singles. The park went mad when Hideki Matsui (who helped hold the Jays at eight with a fine running catch on a sinking liner; the guy covers ground in front of him superbly), strode to the plate. I’m told he impressed writers, players, scouts and fans when he battled through eight pitches to homer the other day. His first-pitch, no-doubt-about-it liner to right certainly opened a few more eyes (and three for three didn’t hurt), as it stood at 8-6 after five.
Rondell White had to be removed after his second HBP in as many days; his future has to be a concern. But the leadoff baserunner got us to 8-7, and we just knew the Yanks had one more run in them. We were right, as the multi-talented David Post hit our third homer. Unfortunately, Ben Rivera was scratched for a run in the ninth, so the comeback failed.
Andy Pettitte was brilliant, retiring the first six guys on 18 pitches. Juan Acevedo looked strong but seemed to tire. And it was strange seeing former Yank farmhand John Ford Griffin patrolling left field in the late innings for Toronto. The sun-speckled weather got hot at times, and the postgame downpour on the way to the car promises to be the welcome end of the rain. Now things start to heat up. We freelance at another local park tomorrow as the Yanks drive south to Fort Myers.