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Bummer in Boston

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‘Tis a sad sad day in the Bronx and for all of Yankee Nation. This weekend the Red Sox made history by sweeping our guys; it was the first time in 17 years the Yankees got swept at Fenway Park. The games were close: 7-6, 7-5 and 7-6, so it’s not like New York got pummeled. They just got…well, swept; there’s no other way to put it.

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Let us not forget that the DL is replete with the Yankee’s top starting pitchers—Mike Mussina, Carl Pavano and Chien-Ming Wang. (I’m not making excuses, but it does put them at a disadvantage.) Even more of a heartbreak was Mariano Rivera’s performance in the first game, coming off his stunning loss to the A’s a few days earlier. Useta be when Mo got out there everyone could relax, except the opposing batters. But on Friday night he came out in the 8th with two men on base and the score 6-4 Yanks, and by the end of the inning, the Sox were up 7-6, which is how the game ended.

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Some more possibly bad news: though A-Rod’s been on fire and continued that way for the first two games of this series, hitting two home runs on Friday and one at a key point on Saturday, on Sunday he began to fall apart again. He flailed at outside pitches from Daisuke Matsuzaka, the new wunderkind for whom the Sox paid a small ransom, and then struck out looking. It was a horrible sight: my guts were churning, I got so worried about A-Rod’s mental state. He seemed to be sabotaging himself: more and more I’m realizing the guy is very neurotic, and I wouldn’t be totally surprised if he lost it so soon after his stunning comeback. He’s hit 12 home runs in April, making him the big major league story—the day the Yankees arrived in town the Boston Globe, in an act of heresy, put him on the front page. In his first at-bat against Curt Schilling he popped it out, and Schilling made no effort to hide his self-satisfaction. That smirk was soon wiped off his face, though: on his next at-bat A-Rod knocked the ball over the Green Monster and out of the park.

Success has turned A-Rod into a totally different person, laughing, bouncing around the dugout, getting and giving hugs to his teammates. Captain Jeter is suddenly his best friend again. People have been criticizing the New York fans for being so hard on A-Rod, but the fact is, if they’re anything like me, most Yankee fans don’t closely follow the Mariners or Rangers, so we’d never seen this side of A-Rod before. Last season he wore a perpetual sour puss and slouched around spreading bad vibes. His personality now is purely delightful–that’s why I fervently hope he doesn’t blow it.

Probably the worst moment in the entire series happened Sunday night, when Manny Ramirez hit a monster home run over the wall and onto the Boston streets, and the next three batters followed suit. That’s right: the Red Sox hit four, count ’em, four consecutive home runs. (Quick: when’s the last time it happened? On-call researchers went hunting.)

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Catcher Jorge Posada injured himself slightly while hitting a home run on Saturday, and Wil Nieves replaced him behind the plate. Dusty Baker, one of the game’s announcers, gave Posada some well-deserved praise, noting that he’s hit home runs in more ballparks than any other Yankee in history (a word on arcane statistics later). I agree that Posada is possibly the most underrated guy on the team. Last year I sent him a birthday card, dubbing him Jorge-We-Do-It-All-Posada. Last season was typical: he caught 134 games and hit 23 home runs and 93 RBIs. He deftly manages pitchers who’ve ranged, over the years, from nervous rookies to egomaniacal warhorses. He’s quick enough to throw the ball in time to catch a fair number of would-be base-stealers. If a foul ball goes anywhere near home plate, or even in the stands behind him, you can count on Posada to get it for the out. I have enormous respect for catchers in general; he has to suit up and crouch down, inning after inning, day after day, year after year. To not only do that job, but perform respectably at the plate as well—Mike Piazza and Ivan (Pudge) Rodriguez are also outstanding —they get major kudos in my book. Jorge is fast becoming my favorite Yankee.

Not that I’m giving up on my man Rivera. I’m hoping, as I’m sure Joe Torre is, that these last few games are just a blip on the radar of his long and distinguished career. Rivera is so respected and feared throughout major league baseball that a few years ago when he suffered a similar slump during playoffs, Red Sox fans held up signs that read, “Send in Rivera, We Need the Hits.” I’m pulling for ya, Mo: this too shall pass. Soon you’re going to be throwing that infallible pitch again, leaving bewildered batters shaking their heads after swinging at a pitch they could have sworn was there….or was it there…or there? You’ll do it again, and so will the rest of the team—including the neurotic but lately lovable A-Rod. And when you guys do come back, I’ll be right here cheering you on.

In other baseball news yesterday:

Barry Bonds hit a solo home run. It was his sixth home run of the season, and #740 of his career. He’s now 15 away from breaking Hank Aaron’s record. The GIANTS beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 2-1. Pedro Feliz hit a solo home run, his second of the season. Matt Cain pitched a complete game, giving up only one run on three hits. He walked four and struck out four, and picked up his first win of the season.

The METS lost to the Atlanta Braves 9-6. Tom Glavine pitched the first six innings. He allowed three runs on seven base hits. He did not allow a walk and he struck out five batters. Two of three relief pitchers caused this loss. Each gave up a three-run home run, one of which tied the game and another drove in the three runs that made the difference.

The A’s lost to the Texas Rangers 4-3. Mike Piazza hit a double that scored Eric Chavez. Shannon Stewart hit a two- run home run. Chad Gaudin pitched the first six innings. He gave up one run on four hits and walked two batters. Duchscherer gave up a run on two hits and Houston Street gave up a two-run single that put the Rangers ahead for good.

About statistics: Baseball’s mania for statistics never fails to amaze me. They’ve got records going back to the dawn of the game for the most arcane facts, like only left-handed pitcher to throw a change-up twice in one inning. I made that up, of course, but you get the idea. As soon as anything even slightly unusual occurs in a game, word goes out to the on-call researchers, who scramble to find the relevant stats. Four consecutive home runs: get the stat, STAT! A sweep in Fenway Park: get the stat, STAT! I’d love to interview the guys whose job it is to locate those stats. They surely must represent the epitome of geekdom.

This column was written with help from Daryl Hochheiser.

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