The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Monday, April 30, 2007

 

Grumpy 7

Yankees-Red Sox games in the Bronx are always tense affairs, but Saturday's contest ratcheted the tension through the roof. For starters, the Yanks came in riding a seven-game losing streak, their longest since the end of the 2000 season (their 0-fer on the Hit List stuck out like a sore thumb). They'd lost four straight to the Sox, including Friday night's 11-4 debacle, a game which stopper Andy Pettitte (13-5 against the Sox in his career, and 64-27 after a Yankee loss) failed to get the job done. Worse, Mariano Rivera, who'd blown his only two save opportunities of the year in spectacular fashion, was torched for four runs in 1/3 of an inning of mop-up duty and had to be unceremoniously removed mid-inning. The tabloid paper tiger, George Steinbrenner was supposedly threatening to roar (if you believe Howard Rubenstein), canning Joe Torre for the egregious sin of not being ten deep in healthy major league starting pitchers. Not that anyone should put any stock in this; it's most likely the black throat of the anti-Cashman forces -- Mark Newman, raise your hand -- stirring up trouble.

Against this backdrop, I headed to Yankee Stadium for my second game of the year, and the fun started early, when the Police Academy reject at the entrance hassled me over the little leather attache in which I keep my scorebook, sunglasses, and subway-ready reading material -- a modest upgrade over the previous faux-leather item I'd recently replaced. Since 9/11, security at the Stadium has gotten increasingly unpleasant and irrational. I could have a Tek-9 in my pants and grenades wired to my body, but so long as my cell phone turns on and there are no assault rifles hidden under my cap, the Rent-A-Cops will wave me through. Try to bring in a leather attache, and it's curtains. Stick the stupid thing in a clear plastic bag at the request of the Rent-A-Cop's supervisor, and everything is back to hunky dory, "just this once."

Our seats were in the infield, but they were also in the back row of the Tier Box section, directly in front of the Section 10/12 tunnel. Thus, we were vulnerable every half-wit drunk sloshing multiple beers onto us, while a steady breeze of peanut shells wafting up from the rows below dusted our entire section. All of this excitement cost me only $56. Several rows down, a man in a red #7 football jersey with "Grumpy" on the back, stood out among the Jeter, Cabrera, Rodriguez and Mantle t-shirts and jerseys dotting the crowd. It was a Snow White reference, but the non sequitur summed up the vibe in the park: the Yanks' seven losses in a row had all of us in a less-than-chipper mood, hardly they type of vibe than a beautiful Saturday afternoon with a ballgame ought to bring.

Against that wonderful tableau, the game got off to a miserable start for the Yanks. On the first pitch, Sox shortstop Julio Lugo lined a pitch back to the box, and it drilled pitcher Jeff Karstens on the leg. Karstens went down as though he'd been shot, and was writhing in agony as Torre, trainer Gene Monahan and the infielders encircled him. After a few minutes of catching his breath, standing up, and squatting on his haunches -- making us believe he'd actually taken the shot in the groin -- Karstens threw a warm-up pitch and drew applause and the green light from the trainer. But after giving up another single, he departed; it turns out the liner had cracked his fibula, further depleting an already decimated rotation.

With the staff already in disarray, Torre summoned his lone option, Kei Igawa. Carrying a 7.84 ERA through four starts, the Japanese lefty has been nothing short of erratic thus far; with Karstens' return from some spring elbow tenderness, the Yanks had banished Igawa to the bullpen until he got his shit together. Nick and I put the over/under for runs allowed by the Yanks at 12 and slunk into our seats. I summoned my Clancy Wiggum voice: "This is gonna get worse before it gets better."

Miraculously, Igawa began by inducing a room-service 4-6-3 double-play off the bat of David Ortiz. As the big slugger lumbered back to the dugout, the man in the seat directly in front of me shouted, "Get off the field, fat ass! And that's coming from a 50-year-old, 295-pound man!" The fellow fat ass soon revealed himself to be Tom from Texas, and he kept us entertained throughout the afternoon with a lively stream of patter, though I could have done without the combination of peanut detritus and dandruff flaking from his midnight blue shirt into my soda cup. Suddenly, I wasn't so thirsty.

Though Manny Ramirez came into the game batting just .193, he still posed a threat, particularly with Lugo at third. After falling behind 0-2, he battled Igawa through 10 pitches, finally working a walk. But Igawa came back to strike out J.D. Drew, earning a healthy ovation from the portion of the 55,026 fans who weren't carpetbagging around in Red Sox paraphernalia.

The Yanks mounted a threat in the bottom of the first against Tim Wakefield. With one out, Derek Jeter reached on an error by third baseman Mike Lowell, his seventh of the year after making just six all of last year. Jeter stole second a few pitches before slumping Bobby Abreu -- in the midst of what would become an 0-for-19 slump, one that would see him attempting to bunt in his next at-bat -- worked a walk, bringing up Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod had cooled off a bit from his scorching pace of 14 homers and 34 RBI in 18 games. A-Rod worked the count full, but struck out, while Jeter lit for third base and was gunned down for an inning-ending double play. Blech.

The Yanks threatened again in the second. Hideki Matsui stroked a one-out single, and stole second one pitch before Jorge Posada walked. Both runners moved up when a Wakefield pitch knuckled off Doug Mirabelli's big glove. Since Mirabelli's sole reason for breathing rests on his ability to catch Wakefield's knuckler -- a problem that San Diego GM Kevin Towers exploited beautifully when the Sox needed to hurriedly reacquire Mirabelli last summer -- I shouted something colorfully unprintable, even by this blog's lax standards. Yeah, love to hate that Mirabelli, I do. Thus my curse words were adequately warmed up when Melky Cabrera lined out to rightfield to end the inning.

The Yanks finally broke through in the fourth, when after a one-out walk by Matsui, Posada went upper deck with a Wakefield knuckler, spilling some poor fan's beer or soda all over the facade of the rightfield tier, 2-0 Yanks. Still, the crowd was tense, unwilling to believe Igawa's stifling performance. Working exclusively from the stretch, "Ugly Uh-gawa" (who's no matinee idol, if you've seen pics) kept the Sox offense at bay by getting ahead of hitters. Through five innings, he'd gotten a first-pitch strike on 11 out of 16 and surrendered just one hit, a two-out double by Lowell in the fourth. He even got Ortiz to ground into yet another double play, though this time, his sundial-timed loaf back to the dugout brought no comment from Tom from Texas.

Ugly Igawa gave Ortiz fits all day. With one out in the sixth, he got the slugger to pop up into foul territory on the first base side. Jason Giambi, playing first because Joe Torre had finally benched Doug Mientkiewicz and his .140 batting average, surprised everyone by leaning over the railing to snare the popup. When Igawa walked Ramirez on four pitches immediately afterwards, it looked as though the jig was up, but Drew slapped an easy grounder right to Giambi to end the threat.

The Yanks extended their lead to 3-0 in the bottom of the inning. Posada worked a walk off Wakefield, and advanced to second on a grounder. Cabrera, who'd hit the ball hard all day to no avail, dunked a blooper down the leftfield line, and the ball obliged by bouncing into the stands for a ground-rule double and an RBI. That was it for the knuckleballer, who'd thrown 118 pitches for the day. In came Brendan Donnelly, who loaded the bases by yielding an infield single to Jeter -- who would go 3-for-5 with two infield singles and two reach-on-errors, as Lowell had booted another one in the fifth -- and walking Abreu before getting A-Rod to pop up to short.

Lowell reached on an A-Rod error to start the seventh, and Coco Crisp singled, ending Igawa's day. Six-plus shutout innings, two hits, four walks, six strikeouts, against the Red Sox no less -- it all added up to a well-earned standing ovation as he departed in favor of Brian Bruney. The chunky, heat-throwing reliever struck out Mirabelli and extricated the Yanks from the jam having thrown just nine pitches.

It would have been nice if he'd come back for an encore, particularly because he hadn't worked the night before, but Torre quixotically summoned Kyle "Marmaduke" Farnsworth -- christened as such by Alex Belth in a conversation earlier in the week (congrats to Alex and Emily on their beautiful nuptials down in the Bahamas, by the way). With the skill of a suicidal arsonist, Farnsworth doused himself in gasoline by surrendering a single to Kevin Youkilis and walking Ortiz, reaching for the matches by bringing up Ramirez with two on and no outs. But Manny looked at two quick strikes, and after a ball, was punched out watching strike three, as disbelieving as the other 55 thousand of us. He got Drew on a fielder's choice, but surrendered an RBI single to Lowell, 3-1 Yanks. Up came Crisp, who looked at two quick strikes just as Ramirez had. He worked the count to 2-2, but looked at strike three, and was so angry at home plate ump Bruce Froemming's call that he slammed his bat and helmet down and was tossed.

As all of this was going down, the tension, the alcohol, and a very bipartisan capacity crowd induced the usual slew of fights up in Tier Reserved. Tom from Texas proved himself a fantastic spotter, directing our eyes to the latest fray -- none of which got very violent, from what I saw -- long before the cops arrived. Best was the ejected Sox fan who turned around in the tunnel entranceway so as to give the finger to the Bronx denizens above. For his trouble, he got a well-deserved beer shower. As Chris Rock would say, "I don't condone it, but I understand it." Or perhaps my Coup de Torchon mantra is more suitable here: "It's a dirty job, and I deserve all the dirty pleasure I get out of it.

The Yankees carried their lead into the ninth, which meant a call for Rivera. Still lacking a save for the year, and lugging a 12.15 ERA into the game, he nonetheless arrived to a hearty ovation and the familiar strains of Metallica's "Enter Sandman." He quickly yielded a single to Jason Varitek, pinch-hitting for Mirabelli -- uh, oh, here we go -- but erased him on a fielder's choice for the first out. Lugo quickly fell behind 0-2, bringing the buzzing crowd to its feet, then hit a dribbler near the mound which Rodriguez barehanded on the charge, flinging a perfect peg to first, a beautiful play. With trouble looming on deck in the form or Ortiz, Mo calmly got Youkilis to pop up to second for the game-ender, as the crowd erupted and Sinatra's "New York, New York" rang from the P.A.

I wish I could say it was all sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows from there, but exiting the Stadium turned ugly. With the concourses thick with throngs of fans who'd stayed through the final out, Nick and I attempted to make our way all the way to the stairwell at the end of the leftfield side, but some psychotic security guards insisted on closing off the exit. I got irate, as did several other fans, but the Rent-A-Cops would give us no explanation.

I'm no claustrophobe, but the idea of sealing off exits under such combustible circumstances strikes me as the height of brazen stupidity. Yankee Stadium has been gradually edging towards police-state status since 9/11, but this was a new level entirely. It took 40(!) minutes to crawl from the upper deck to the subway platform, erasing what good vibes could be salvaged from the victory, and even writing this 48 hours later, my blood is still boiling.

Guess how far up their asses the Yanks can stick the next dollar they try to pry from my wallet.

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