What a weekend. Watching the Bronx Bombers slug it out against the Amazing Mets with my son Daryl, the Mets’ Number One fan, was like being on a seesaw: any time the Yankees mounted a threat I was ridin’ high, but when the Mets were on top—and they usually were—I crashed to the ground, while he laughed gleefully from above. I was morose, I was elated; he was thrilled, he was frantic. From Friday to Sunday that’s the way it was.
We aren’t used to this. Normally, with nothing to lose, we support one another’s teams. But when Interleague Play, first instituted in 1997 , comes around, we turn into bitter rivals, like millions of other baseball fans. Chicago Cubs play the White Sox; in Florida the Devil Rays play the Marlins; the Oakland A’s face the SF Giants in the Bay Bridge series. I keep an ear tuned to that last rivalry at least, but my primary focus is on my home town.
Yes, I was born in the Bronx, where there’s enough motion to keep the seesaws tottering. In the first inning of the second game, the Yankees suffered yet another pitching disaster: Darrell Rasner became the latest victim of the Yankees’ Pitchers Plague when Endy Chavez whacked a ball that caromed off his bare hand, breaking his right index finger. Rasner had to leave the game, and reliever Mike Myers stepped onto the mound.
I wondered why Torre didn’t put in another starter. True, Andy Pettite had just pitched (and took a loss) the night before—but what about Mike Mussina? Or Chien Ming Wang, who was originally scheduled to start Sunday’s game, but was switched, apparently so he could face the Boston Red Sox tonight. It’s entirely possible there weren’t any starters to replace Rasner, considering how many are incapacitated. The new training coach was actually fired because of all the pitching injuries–for all the good that did. In any case, here we were in the third at-bat of the first inning with the Yankee bullpen busy already. The Mets scored twice and I took up residence on the bottom end of the seesaw, where I was to remain for most of the game. The Yankees mounted a threat in the seventh and eighth innings, during which Daryl and I went up and down respectively several times—but in the end the Mets won again.
On Sunday Daryl was ready with the broom. Not so fast, my friend, I cautioned. Joe Torre brought in a new pitcher, a rookie making his MLB debut. Tyler Clippard, 22, is so wet behind the ears he’s still in the throes of adolescent acne angst, and he hasn’t mastered the fine art of looking tough on the outside while quaking inside with fear. His eyes and mouth scrunched up, and he pitched like his life depended on it, his body flailing about after every delivery, falling left or right depending on the kind of pitch he’d thrown. In his six innings he allowed just three hits and one home run; he walked three batters and struck out six. In the end Clippard was declared Player of the Game. After Friday and Saturday, not to mention the preceding two months, Clippard’s performance blew across Shea Stadium like a cool sea breeze after a wicked heat wave. He might very well be the best thing to happen to the Yankees—except, perhaps, for the eagerly awaited advent of Roger Clemens.
Clemens will soon be coming in as a starting pitcher, having brokered a deal with the Yanks that allows him to be absent from the game unless he’s actually on the mound. This concession was also made by the Houston Astros for the two years The Rocket was with them; it’s the only terms under which he’ll play anymore. Clemens has four sons, one of whom is just beginning a baseball career himself, and he wants to spend time nurturing their careers. After 23 years as the best pitcher in baseball, bar none, now 44—45 in August—I’d say Clemens has earned the right. Some people, naturally, resent it, and a few, like former Yankee pitcher David Wells, have said so out loud. Of course, nobody listens to Wells—I’ll never forgive the guy for bragging a few years ago that he never exercises, then throwing out his back at the start of an important game. But when one of Clemens’ future teammates—pitcher Kyle Farnsworth—voiced the same sentiments, it became fodder for the baseball gossip mill. Farnsworth is now on my shit list, as he must be on others: it’s an unwritten rule that you don’t publicly dis’ your teammates. While Roger Clemens has earned his acts of chutzpah, Kyle Farnsworth, in his second year as a Yankee reliever, has no such status. As one sportscaster noted, there’ll be hell to pay should Farnsworth come in and blow a perfect Clemens game.
Another big story this week was Jason Giambi’s comments to the press about steroid use. Giambi’s never admitted taking them, but it’s assumed he did; he was one of the players mentioned in the BALCO case. Last week Giambi uttered the word “we” as in “we made a mistake,” interpreted by many as an admission of guilt. From there it was a short step to speculation that Giambi might be suspended from the game.
WTF? At this point nobody in MLB has been punished for using steroids in the distant past; in fact, the biggest offender, Barry Bonds, goes right on blithely chasing Hank Aaron’s long-standing home run record. Why the rush to indict Giambi? Could it stem from the always-present undercurrent of Yankee-hating? After all, the other big subject of speculation the past few weeks has been Will Torre be fired?
Every time a Yankee pitcher walks a batter, it seems, this question falls from the lips of an announcer. Sure, owner George Steinbrenner is known for making heads roll, and yes, the team’s playing disgracefully for who they are and the money they’re paid. But is this Joe Torre’s fault? The Yanks already fired the pitching coach in a misguided attempt to stop the hemorrhaging of the pitching staff. How can it be that Joe Torre, who led his team to 11 post-season appearances and nine titles, is suddenly so terrible at his job? Derek Jeter, loyal to the end, spoke up to say it’s the players, including himself, who’re responsible. Everyone in the baseball community respects and loves Joe—or so they say; his is, in the end, the public face of the team that everyone loves to hate.
It comes down to sportscasters, game announcers and other talking heads of the baseball world—the people who encourage these rumors. I don’t fault sportscasters like Mike and Mike in the Morning, whose entire purpose is to dish dirt; they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing. I do, however, have major issues with some of the game announcers. Tim McCarver, who’s never particularly bothered me before, spent Saturday’s game poking at every sensitive Yankee sore spot like an unhealed scab, when what he’s supposed to be doing is calling the game!
Remember radio? Pre-TV, games were only available on that medium, where announcers had to be skilled at describing every move the players made. Just because the game’s on TV doesn’t mean they don’t still have to call the plays—it isn’t always easy for viewers to see everything as it happens. Besides, when they don’t call the plays but talk about other things, it’s a huge distraction. I’ve sometimes muted the TV and turned on the radio to banish the chatter from announcers who choose game time to reminisce—most of them are former players—or gossip like a couple of Russian yentas. The worst offenders are John Miller and Joe Morgan. I’ve actually fired off e-mails to ESPN complaining about these guys, who sometimes completely ignore what’s going on below them while they spout meaningless drivel. They prefer to linger over past glories than to call the action that’s happening right in front of them, sometimes showing clips of 30-year-old games in the middle of an at-bat. Unfortunately, John and Joe were on hand Sunday night to gleefully savor the Yankees’ troubles, from pitching plague to Torre’s tenuous tenure. Time for me to write another futile letter to ESPN.
Enough venting. Here are final details of the Subway Series:
In Game #1 the final score was 3-2, Mets. Hideki Matsui, who batted in Jorge Posada, scored the two YANKEE runs. Derek Jeter stole a base for the fourth time this season. Mets player Endy Chavez hit his first home run of the season, and pitcher Oliver Perez won his fifth game; he also had a base hit. Billy Wagner picked up his tenth save of the season.
In Game # 2 the YANKEES again lost to the METS 10-7. A-Rod, Posada and Cano each had home runs. Chavez and Delgado both homered for the Mets, and David Wright hit two home runs. The Mets also stole three bases. Tom Glavine picked up his fifth win, while Darrell Rasner got the loss. (Unfair to charge him after he was injured, if you ask me).
In Game #3 the YANKEES finally beat the METS 6-2. Tyler Clippard was the 11th starting pitcher used by the YANKEES this season. Damon, Jeter and Posada each had a home run. John Maine took the loss for the METS.
On the Left Coast, here’s what happened in the Bay Bridge series:
Game #1: In an embarrassing outing, Barry Zito pitched only four innings, losing his third game of the season. His performance was so dismal here in his old stadium against his old team, that I felt terrible for him. When it was over he sat in the dugout, head bowed, silently simmering. I don’t know what’s happening to Barry; I hope he’s not unhappy that he crossed the bridge, even if I am. The A’s scored five runs in the eighth inning, including a grand slam home run by Mark Ellis. Final score was 15-3. Chad Gaudin picked up his third win for the A’s.
Game #2 and 3: The Giants lost again by a score of 4-2, but they avoided being swept, winning the third and final game by 4-1. Matt Morris pitched a complete game for his fifth win of the season, while Joe Kennedy lost his third.
Tonight the Yankees and Red Sox begin a three-game series. Stay tuned.
This post written with assistance from Daryl Hochheiser
Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez