Roger, Freddy, and Jesus

Bronx, N.Y., September 24, 2011 – The celebration of the 50th anniversary of Roger Maris’s 61st home run, delayed from the rain-drenched Friday night, went off without a hitch Saturday afternoon, even better perhaps because this day was exactly one week from the actual anniversary, which falls after the regular season ends. The Maris family and two of Mickey Mantle’s sons took to the field following the announcements of Maris teammates Bob Cerv, Bobby Richardson, Moose Skowron, Whitey Ford, and Yogi Berra.

Yankee bat boy from those days Frank Prudenti and Sal Durante, who caught Roger’s 61st in the right feld stands, were present as well. Durante came out with the actual ball, on loan from the Hall of Fame, Mariano Rivera escorted Roger’s widow Pat to the field, and Derek Jeter came out with the bat that Maris used to stroke the historic blast. A video tribute to Roger’s incredible achievement highlighted the festivities.

Following the festivities, the Bombers continued Boston’s woes, driving southpaw John Lester from the mound with a Jesus Montero two-run double that opened the Yankee lead to 8-0 in the third inning. Four Yankee singles and a walk had preceded Derek Jeter’s three-run home run that crowned a six-run rally in the second. A Montero home run off Junichi Tazawa in the sixth increased the lead and the home team coasted to a 9-1 win.

Perhaps even more important than the Jeter and Montero heroics, however, was the stellar six innings turned in by veteran Yankee starter Freddy Garcia, whose recent struggles had put his potential spot in any postseason rotation in doubt. With the third place in Joe Girardi’s coming starting four in doubt, Freddy turned in the best Yankee start since Ivan Nova’s shutout of the Tampa Rays Tuesday night.

Desperate Boston Manager Terry Francona gambled that he could get the struggling Carl Crawford going by moving him near the top of the order, and the move fell flat. Jaoby Ellsbury parachuted a soft single to short right off Garcia to start the game, and he stole second base on the fourth pitch to Crawford. But with the significant Red Sox fan presence in the stands screaming for a breakout start, Crawford popped harmlessly to second, Dustin Pedroia bounced to third, and Andrew Jones easily caught up with David Ortiz’s liner to deep left. By the time Boston managed to get two runners on base in the fourth inning, the visitors were already behind 8-0.

Crawford would actually drive in the lone Boston run with a seventh-inning double off Raul Valdes, but by then he had ended one frame and killed a rally in another by grounding out weakly to end both the third and fifth innings. Garcia was totally in conrol, keeping Boston batters off balance with a continuous mix of his fastball, splitter, slider, and slow curve right from the beginning. He allowed six singles and walked one in six innings, and managed a strike out each in the second, third, and fourth innings, all of them swinging. His 63/39 strikes/balls ratio was solid, and Freddy found the zone on first pitches to 15 of 25 batters.

Beginning with an effective game catching Thursday night, young designated hitter Montero has put on a clinic at the plate, reaching base safely eight straight times, five on his three-for three, two-walk game Thursday, then with a single, double, and home run his first three times at the plate this day. To go along with the long ball he had two booming doubles, three singles, and six rbi’s in the two games.

With the win, the Yanks ensured at least a tie for best record in the AL and, with four wins in the remaining five games, can attain 100 victories in the season. And they continued archrival Boston’s collapse that, combined with Tampa’s win against Toronto, closed the Red Sox lead in the Wild Card to 1.5 games. They look to continue Boston’s woes with a day/night double header Sunday.

It goes without saying that any late September day in Yankee history holds some impressive landmark wins, and September 24 is no exception. On this day in 1927, the Ruth/Gehrig Bronx Bombers set a new record with their 106th victory, but on September 24, 1998, the Yankees surpassed the 110 eventual wins from that year with their 111th in a 5-2 win over Tampa Bay, on the strength of Shane Spencer’s grand slam.

The Bombers clinched their 23rd pennant on this day in 1957, but the 9-5 win over Boston in Yankee Stadium on September 24, 1950, all but wrapping up the pennant, attracted almost 67,000 not only over the expected triumph over the American League, but also because it was Johnny Mize Day. The Yanks don’t only outstrip the rest of baseball in Championships: Nobody does a better job of honoring their Old-Timers.

Today Roger Maris, and 61 in ’61, was center stage.