Time Loves a Hero

Derek Jeter and Hideki Matsui

The mutual respect of two of the classiest professionals Yankee fans have ever known shines through.

Bronx, N.Y., April 13, 2010 — The Yankees and their fans celebrated last year’s Championship at the home opener in the Bronx Tuesday afternoon with a 7-5 win over the visiting Anaheim Angels. The team had all-timers Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra on hand to help hand out the rings to the victorious players. With the Championship Number 27 banner blowing in the breeze, Broadway’s Kristin Chenoweth’s rendition of the National Anthem was crowned by a Navy Phantoms flyover, and Bernie Williams tossed out the first pitch.

Manager Joe Girardi handed the ball to veteran southpaw Andy Pettitte, and the starter and winner of home openers in 1996, 2002, and 2003 did not disappoint. Bestowed an early lead on singleton home runs from DH Nick Johnson and Team Captain Derek Jeter, Andy used a killer curve to turn in three, two-strike-out innings in the first four frames. Leadoff Anaheim singles in the first and second innings and two of his three walks allowed in the second and the third barely caused a murmur. Pounding seven first-pitch strikes to the nine Angels batters the first time through, the crafty lefty definitely had the visitors off-stride.

Hideki Matsui

Although Hideki seemed to genuinely appreciate the love, it was hard to guess the range of emotions he must have been feeling.

When Jeter delivered a third run with a sharp single off Angels hurler Ervin Santana in the fourth, the game seemed well in hand. Pinstriped batters threatened Santana early and often, and he used seven strike outs of his own to minimize the damage. The second inning was a microcosm of how the young righty worked his way into trouble all game, and escaped it much of the time. Missing with 10 of his first 13 throws, back-to-back 3-0 counts led to a Robbie Cano double, a wild pitch, and a Jorge Posada walk. But nine strikes in the next 11 pitches got him out of the frame unscathed on three straight strike outs.

But in the words of an umpire who will remain anonymous, the “embarrassing and pathetic” Yankees prevailed due to the early power and because they made Santana and three relievers work until they made mistakes. Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, and Johnson made Angels hurlers throw 25, 24, and 23 pitches respectively through their five at bats apiece, and Nick Swisher walked three times while seeing another 19 throws his four times to the plate. The hot-hitting Jorge Posada posted the best hitting numbers, with three hits and a walk on just 11 pitches seen, but perhaps Johnson had the best day with two extra base hits, two walks, an rbi and three runs scored. There was none of the feared base-clogging from the plodding DH on this day. Still, the first of two Posada doubles on the day did move him ahead of the legendary Mickey Mantle into seventh place on the all-time Yankees doubles list with his 344rd.

Andy Pettitte

The wily vet prepares to throw yet another beaut, his fourth home opening win in the Bronx in as many tries.

If there was a downside to Pettitte’s multi-strike-out approach, his pitch count did soar with the Ks and the free passes, and the one-two-three fourth was his only of six frames that came in at under 15 throws (13). Andy’s 59/41 strikes/balls ratio was good, not great, and the dominance ended with the strike out of Howie Kendrick that closed out the fourth. All eight of the swings and misses Pettitte coaxed had been recorded by then, and when back-to-back leadoff fifth-inning baserunners (single, walk) got him into a bind 70 pitches in, he did what the wily vets do: He changed it up. Uncharacteristically, just two of the first recorded outs had come on ground balls, but mixing in his changeup with what appeared to be a biting two-seam fastball and cutter, he held the Halos scoreless that frame and in the two-hit sixth that followed by retiring five of six on the ground.

No sooner had Andy left after the top of the sixth than the home team padded their lead with a two-run Alex Rodriguez single following two Santana sixth-inning walks, and it seemed to be overkill (but clearly wasn’t) when Johnson and Posada doubles made the score 7-1 in the eighth. A game but workaday Chan Ho Park two innings had resulted in just a Kendry Morales singleton eighth-inning home run, but Park was helped by stellar plays by Alex Rodriguez at third and Nick Swisher in right on shots drilled by the first two batters the free agent righty faced.

The unfortuante David Roberston was seemingly pounded in the top of the ninth, but the characterization is innacurate. A seeing-eye Kedrick roller and beautiful Jeff Mathis bunt put him in immediate trouble, and Brandon Wood singled off the right field wall. D-Rob managed a three-pitch punch-out, but ex-Yank Bobby Abreu recovered from a bad day (two Ks, infield pop, goundout) with an 0-1 grand slam to right to forge the final score. All of which ended up increasing the record number of Pettitte/Rivera, win/save collaborations by one when Mo came on and closed it out with a strike out and popup.

Opening Day at Yankee Stadium

The new Palace looked great on yet another big day in the Bronx, but that wasn't the case across 161st Street.

The new Palace was looking great, as might be imagined, and the weather neither soaked nor froze the 49,000 paying customers. The Yankees have made some serious renovations of the scoreboard visuals. The out of town scoreboard will no longer confuse, and the veteran fan who learns the numbers of opposing pitching staffs will have a leg up. But we’ll no longer know if the tying run is on base as one of these comes to a close. It’s fitting that the new Stadium look so great on this, the 12th anniversary of the day yet another Angels/Yankees tilt had to be postponed because a beam fell in the old place, one of the reasons many became convinced that the old Stadium needed to be replaced. No logical train of thought like that, however, could have prepared fans of the old place for the appearance of a pile of rubble it has taken on in the last few weeks. Even the much-beloved and lobbied-for-preservation Gate 2 appears to have been levelled. Words fail.

But this was, first and last, a day of celebration. And there was some important business to be taken care of before the Bombers could proceed with yet another home season. Before the game, Yankee Manager Girardi handed each 2009 team member his ring and embraced them. Yogi and Whitey (can you imagine?) congratulated one and all as well. And the lovefest continued as team memebers embraced one another. The usual suspects got the greatest roars. Jetes, Mo, Po, CC, Alex, and all.

But baseball is a business, and the guy the ones who hand out awards say was most responsible for the victory was in town, but in the wrong clubhouse, wearing the wrong-colored uni. When Joe was almost finished with his chore, he had a ring left, and there was still one guy in the building who needed to be honored. John Sterling announced “Hideki Matsui” and it was fortuntae the soon-to-happen flover was carefully timed, as this roar from the crowd could have disrupted even that. The decibels soared. Eyes moistened. There is nothing more faithful than the faithful fans of a baseball team who spend their hours and their dollars rooting these guys on. They want nothing more than the chance to be there at the celebration, to be able to add their voice to the thanks, to the accolades. Five months ago, Hideki Matsui was the toast of the town.

Frontman and vocalist of the rock band Little Feat, Lowell George, who passed away in 1979, would have celebrated his 65th birthday today. Matsui wasn’t just a hero in New York in November. He was beloved. Veteran fans remember the guy who was not only a regular rbi producer until he fractured a wrist trying to make a play a few years back, but who actually apologized to his team for getting hurt. It was our fondest hope that he would excel on the field of play yet again. But would the fanbase that dominates the new Palace, some of whom didn’t even see that horrific play, remember five months later?

Well they say time loves a hero
but only time will tell
If he’s real, he’s a legend from heaven
If he ain’t he was sent here from hell

The verdict was absolute from moment one among the fans. The love was all around. But once Hideki received his prize ring, we were treated to another spectacle: the sight of Hideki’s ex-teammates mobbing him in the infield. They all embraced him, and Matsui reciprocated. There was an excess of love. But on the precipice of a new season, a new adventure on the baseball diamond, and in the stands, one thing was abundantly clear.

Time loves a hero