Results tagged ‘ New York Yankees ’

Statements, statements

It would almost be too easy to sit here and write about how Saturday’s 8-5 win over the Minnesota Twins was easily the best victory of the 2015 season for the Yankees.

It was. It was a statement win. A statement of resiliency.

How can anyone say differently?

Down by five, with CC Sabathia serving up meatballs, Alex Rodriguez decided to put on a hitting show. Actually, more like a hitting clinic. Two days before his 40th birthday, Rodriguez smashed three home runs. Each was spectacular, but his first tater traveled a remarkable 452 feet and into the third porch in left-center at Target Field.

Now that was a bomb.

Rodriguez’s third home run tied the game at five in the ninth, but it was the young J.R. … sorry, John Ryan Murphy who put the exclamation point on the comeback. Murphy belted a three-run homer over the big wall in right field later in the ninth, helping the Yankees snatch a win in the face of defeat.

Glorious.

But not to be underscored, closer Andrew Miller came in and set the Twins down in order to complete the come-from-behind victory. It marked Miller’s 23rd save of the year, and the 23rd he has converted – yes, he has yet to blow a save.

Despite a stint on the disabled list, Miller has been all but automatic this season. The 6-foot-7 southpaw has 54 strikeouts in just 34 1/3 innings pitched, with an earned run average of 1.57.

Miller has made Yankee General Manager Brian Cashman look good. Cashman’s critics can look at last year’s closer, David Robertson, and his five blown saves on the south side of Chicago for the White Sox. The GM opted to sign Miller over Robertson in the offseason, and so far, it appears Cashman knew what he was doing.

Maybe the signing of Miller was a statement of its own, and it’s silencing the haters.

And as predicted by absolutely no one, it’s now July 26, and the Yankees are in first place in the American League East. Entering Sunday, the Bronx Bombers are 5 ½ games up on the second place Toronto Blue Jays, and 6 ½ ahead of the third place Tampa Bay Rays. The Baltimore Orioles are in fourth, seven games out, and the lowly Boston Red Sox are in the cellar, 12 off pace.

“At the beginning of the season, I called it!” – Nobody.

The Yanks are winners of seven of their last 10, and are 13-5 in the month of July.

During the recent string of success, this writer got an opportunity to catch the Bronx Broskis live and in-person on Sunday, July 19 – a game that ended in a 2-1 pinstriped victory over the Seattle Mariners.

Felix Hernandez pitched well, but ultimately Mark Teixeira got the last laugh. The Yankee first baseman clubbed an eighth-inning solo home run, which was the game’s decider.

On second thought, everyone in attendance, including yours truly, got the last laugh. When you’re in the building and you get to watch Robinson Cano strike out twice and finish 0 for 3, you do tend to get a chuckle or two.

Like tonight, Miller came in to shut the door. And I noticed his entrance music.

Miller jogs in and warms up to “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” by Johnny Cash.

God’s gonna cut you down. Now that is one heck of a statement. Perhaps enough of a statement to induce fear into opponents.

One can’t help but think of Mariano Rivera, and how his entrance music also sent a message. One might also say Miller is pitching a lot like the legendary closer this season, not giving an inch when it comes to sealing the deal.

After they wrap up in Minnesota Sunday, the Yankees go to Texas to take on the Rangers. Following four games in Arlington, the Bombers will head to the windy city to take on their old friend Robertson and the White Sox for  three-game set. Then it’s home for three games against Boston and three against the Blue Jays.

The Rangers, White Sox and Red Sox are each playing sub-.500 ball. The Blue Jays are only one game above .500. Therefore, the Yankees have an opening to take some series and pull further ahead in the AL East.

Putting everyone far behind in the rearview mirror by mid-August? Now that would be a statement.

Twitter: @YankeeYapping

O’ poor Robinson Cano

I’m not a poet. And yes, I know it.

In just a short while, the Yankees will take on the Seattle Mariners. Which means they will see their old friend, Robinson Cano.

You remember him.

The guy who teamed up with Jay-Z. The guy who chose $240 million by way of the Pacific Northwest over the pinstripes. The guy who was this writer’s favorite player not long ago.

But all that is over.

Somehow, for whatever reason, the inner sonneteer in me surfaced and this is what it spurted out. I call it “O’ Poor Robinson Cano.”

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The situation was bad, we had cause to be sad.

A player was going to go.

In the offseason, money was the reason

we said goodbye to Robinson Cano.

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O’ Robinson Cano. O’ poor Robinson Cano.

With Jay-Z in hand, took his money and ran.

No matter to Robinson Cano.

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He stood in the box on a cold night in the Bronx.

The fans, they yelled out ‘you blow!’

Once a cheered hero, now revered as a zero.

Booed off the field was Robinson Cano.

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O’ Robinson Cano. O’ poor Robinson Cano.

Truly with no bother, left us with Brian Roberts.

No matter to Robinson Cano.

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Then a night in Seattle Cano went to battle

With Tanaka, it was a show.

Cano took him deep, still the Yankees did sweep.

Moving on from Robinson Cano.

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O’ Robinson Cano. O’ poor Robinson Cano.

Just two homers procured, faded and obscured.

No matter to Robinson Cano.

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Still nothing contrite ‘tween he and pinstripes;

The Yankees are now a foe.

His beard is not snazzy, money must make him happy.

A sad story for Robinson Cano.

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O’ Robinson Cano. O’ poor Robinson Cano.

His pockets not thin, the Mariners won’t win.

No matter to Robinson Cano.

Bernie Williams Night brings about joy, dynastic memories

There was a nostalgic feeling in the air. The old lions of the Yankee Dynasty of the late 1990s – many of the key players – were on hand.

It brought me back to the days of my childhood and I relished every minute of it.

Bernie Williams Night last Sunday was one of the most amazing and invigorating experiences I’ve had as a Yankee fan. I’d say it was on the same level as the World Series ring ceremony I attended in 2010.

I felt the need to be there, given my past history with this great man.

A.J. Martelli's photo.

The great number 51 at long last took his rightful spot in Monument Park behind the wall in centerfield, where he patrolled for 15 years in pinstripes.

Obviously I could go on and on forever talking about Williams’ accomplishments as a New York Yankee. Instead of that, however, I’ll muse about and share some pictures from his special night.

Thank you Bernie

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Even before stepping foot into the ballpark, you just knew this night was going to be all about number 51.

Stopping to capture a moment from 1998

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While walking to my seat, I happened to stumble across this picture in the concourse of Williams high-fiving third base coach Willie Randolph in a home run trot. Even though I’ve seen it before, having been to the stadium countless times, I had to pause and capture a picture. What with it being his night, I felt it necessary.

Little did I know Randolph would later appear as part of the pregame festivities.

On a side note, in 1998 Williams high-fived Randolph 26 times during the regular season and three more times in the postseason, rounding third in home run trots.

The memento

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All fans received this neat collectible card after making their way through the turnstiles.

The dignitaries

They brought the good guys.

Roy White, Williams’ first base coach for a huge chunk of his career. He was there.

Gene “Stick” Michael, who became the Yankees’ General Manager the same year Williams made his Major League Baseball debut, 1991. He was there.

Joe Torre, Williams’ only manager throughout his career. He was there.

Randolph, and former teammates Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez. They were all there.

David Cone, Williams’ teammate from 1995-2000 and Yankee Yapping shout out artist. He was there.

The great closer, Mariano Rivera, made the drive in from New Rochelle.

And the Yankees saved the biggest surprise for last.

The return of the Captain

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I still kick myself to this day. Sure the tickets were criminally expensive. Of course they would be. It was Derek Jeter’s last game at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 25 of last year.

The price of admission would have been worth it given the way that game ended. Jeter heroically, as he had done many times before, won the game with a clutch hit.

Understandably, I was disappointed I wasn’t there to witness it live. And I was saddened I would never see Jeter at Yankee Stadium again.

But lo and behold, the last guest at Bernie Williams night was Jeter. The captain incarnate. Admittedly, I did not think Jeter would make an appearance so soon after retiring, for that very reason – it was too soon. Jeter always struck me as the type who would wait awhile to return to big ballpark in the Bronx for a special night of this kind.

But, I was wrong. Not only was Jeter there, he strutted out like he owned the place. With the top couple buttons of his shirt unbuttoned underneath his sport coat, he looked like a million bucks.

What made it better, I thought, was the comment from a fan behind me, once Jeter was announced:

“Suit ‘em up!!!!!” the fan yelled, loud enough for everyone within a 10-mile radius to hear.

Not a bad idea, considering his heir at shortstop, Didi Gregorius, had six errors on the season entering Saturday night’s game against the Athletics in Oakland.

Overall it was such a wonderful, indescribable feeling, seeing Jeter at the game. I may not have been there for his last hurrah, but I can say I was there when he made his triumphant return to New York to pay respect to his old friend.

The speech

It was outstanding; maybe the best speech from any of the players that have been honored since 2013, when the Yankees reintroduced retiring numbers and nailing plaques to the hallowed Monument Park walls.

He was sure to thank everyone and spoke directly from the heart.

The game

Williams tossed out the honorary first pitch – a pretty good throw – to boisterous cheers from the crowd.

Unfortunately no magic from number 51 rubbed off on the Yankees. The visiting Texas Rangers had their way with starter Chris Capuano. Texas touched him up for three runs on eight hits over 4 1/3 innings. Capuano finished with four strikeouts and didn’t walk a batter – but also didn’t impress anyone.

The Yanks only plated two runs, both of which came off the bat of catcher Brian McCann. In the bottom of the first McCann singled home Chase Headley and Alex Rodriguez, but that was all the offense the Yankees could muster.

The trend

It continued. You know the trend I’m talking about.

The Yankees losing on special days. At the end of 2013, the San Francisco Giants beat the Yankees on a day the pinstripers exalted their own Mariano Rivera.

Tino Martinez, Goose Gossage and Paul O’Neill suffered the same fate in 2014. They were honored with heartwarming pregame ceremonies and Monument Park plaques, but the team just could not finish the job. The Yankees lost each of those games, most of the time without putting up an offensive fight.

The trend was bucked on Aug. 23 of last year when Joe Torre had his day. The Yanks put an end to the special day losing streak, beating the Chicago White Sox 5-3.

But on Sept. 7 – Jeter’s big day – they went right back to losing. The Kansas City Royals came in and put up two runs.

Two. The same number Jeter wore on his back his entire career. And the same amount of runs it took the Royals to beat the Bronx Bombers. It ended 2-0.

With special days lined up for Jorge Posada (Aug. 22 vs. Cleveland), Andy Pettitte (Aug. 23 vs. Cleveland) and Willie Randolph (June 20 vs. Detroit, also Old Timers’ Day), the Yankees at least have the chance to turn the tables.

But the offense will have to wake up in order for that to happen.

The Yankees have been outscored 29-9 on special days from Rivera’s day in 2013 up to Williams’ day last weekend.

The final thought

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Was it disappointing the Yankees lost on Bernie Williams Night?

No doubt. It would have been nice to see a win.

Is it the end of the world for the 2015 Yankees as we know it?

Not at all.

The Yankees are lucky. Fortunate in the sense that the American League Eastern Division is so poor, that even with a record that barely hangs above .500, they’re in first place. The Boston Red Sox, the Toronto Blue Jays, the Baltimore Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays all have problems.

Each team is struggling, and into the month of June it’ll be interesting to see which team – if any – heats up and pulls ahead in the race.

In the meantime, as I sat in the bleachers and watched the Rangers beat the Yankees after Williams’ nice ceremony, I had this image in my head.

Almost a clear vision.

I pictured the old Yankees who were in attendance. Jeter, O’Neill, Martinez, Cone, Williams, Pettitte, Rivera, Posada and even Torre. All of the dynasty players and their skipper, I imagined, in a luxury suite, watching the current Yankees.

Watching the current Yankees, and laughing. Laughing at how bad they are. Snickering to one another and saying,

“Can you believe they can’t beat these guys? We would’ve won this game in the first inning.”

Which is true. They certainly would have beaten the Rangers down. The Rangers came in at 20-23, and the Yankees of my youth generally never lost to a team of that below .500 caliber.

Then again, the dynasty Yankees could likely have taken down the 2015 Yankees, had they been matched up against one another. In fact, they probably could have beaten any team currently in the league.

They were that good. It was nice to relive those glory days for a night.

Rivalry reinvigorated: Subway Series interesting again

These past few days have been reminiscent of another era.

The old days of Roger Clemens beaning Mike Piazza in the head came to mind. I couldn’t get the image of Piazza standing up to Clemens after he chucked that hunk of broken bat at him during the 2000 World Series. Even my personal memory of attending the very first Subway Series at Yankee Stadium during the regular season in 1997 echoed through my brain. The battle for bragging rights in New York was on this past weekend.

And for the first time in quite a few years, this Yankee fan felt it.

Whether it was in the Poughkeepsie Journal newsroom, listening to sports talk radio in the car, or going on Facebook and Twitter, talk of the showdown between the Yankees and Mets in the Bronx this past weekend dominated my life. Mostly I was forced to listen to how the Mets had won 11 straight games entering the Subway Series, how they are currently the team to beat and how Matt Harvey is the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Believe me, I took it all.

What most folks who talked up the Mets might have overlooked was the fact that, prior to the Subway Series, the Yankees had won seven of 10 on the road. They had taken one from the Baltimore Orioles, swept the Tampa Bay Rays in three games and took three of four from the Detroit Tigers.

Perhaps the hot start the Mets got off to was more impressive, and thus they got a little more ink than the Yankees.

But there the Yankees were on Friday to remind everyone who they are. In particular, Mark Teixeira and Michael Pineda made their presence felt. Teixeira clubbed two home runs of Jacob deGrom, the reigning National League Rookie of the Year, while Pineda tossed 7 2/3 strong innings, giving up one run to the Mets on five hits. Pineda also struck out seven and kept the ball around the plate, walking just one batter.

It brought the Mets’ winning streak to a screeching halt, though it didn’t stop the orange and blue loyalists from reminding the pinstripers that Harvey (excuse me, Jesus Christ) was starting the following day.

Yet, their yapping was backed up and Harvey delivered Saturday. The ace silenced the Yankee bats, giving up just two runs on five hits over 8 2/3 innings. Harvey struck out seven Yankees and walked two en route to his fourth win of the season, proving that yes, he has a bright future and is a bona fide stud.

That brought us to Sunday: The rubber game. The game that decided who got the bragging rights until September, when the Yankees and Mets hook up at Citi Field.

For the first time in a long time, I really wanted the Yankees to win this game. Not that I don’t want them to win any other games; in fact, I want them to win every game, like most passionate fans.

This one, however, I truly wanted. The voices of the trash talk that was spoken, posted and tweeted at me by Mets fans ringed over and over, almost as if they were taunting me. That feeling was only fueled when ESPN opened its broadcast with a shot of a Mets fan holding a sign that read “A-Rod wears Matt Harvey underwear.”

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Cute. But, not really that creative. I’m almost certain I heard that one back in 2005, when Chuck Norris “Facts” were a thing.

Alex Rodriguez, me and the Yanks got the last laugh, as it was. Rodriguez homered off Mets starter Jonathan Niese, his 659th career tater, as he continues to creep up on Willie Mays for fourth place on Major League Baseball’s all-time home runs list. Rodriguez finished the series finale 2 for 4 with two RBI and a run scored.

Now, the Empire State Building is shining in Yankee colors because the Bombers took the series.

The feeling is great, I’ll admit — not just the feeling of the Yankees winning, but the feeling of caring about the Subway Series again. Getting caught up in the rivalry was, in a word, fun this weekend. It’s what baseball is all about.

Maybe the players got wrapped up in it, too. It’s possible. Rodriguez even told the press after the game, “The buzz was incredible. I just felt a lot of energy in the building. It was fun … To feel that energy, it was cool.”

Whomever the social media directors are for both clubs also got enveloped in the cross-town rivalry.

Which, if I’m not mistaken, is a first.

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The Mets are a team that, for at least right now, is competitive. Like 2000, the year they captured the National League pennant and faced off with the Yankees in the World Series, they have good players. More specifically the Mets have solid, young pitchers, and the organization probably feels this is the time to turn it around and return to relevance.

I can say for sure, that’s how Mets fans feel, and in a lot of ways they have the right to feel that way.

At the same time, it’s still April and there are still 143 games remaining on the schedule. Plus, the Mets clearly have other facets of their game to work on. Case and point, their defense. A team usually cannot commit four errors in a game and expect to win.

I can only hope that when September rolls around and the Yankees go to Flushing, it’s just as competitive and the rivalry is once again at a peak.

Not to mention if both the Yanks (11-8) and Mets (14-5) are racing towards a division pennant or a playoff berth when they next meet, it’ll be even more riveting.

Twitter: @YankeeYapping

Yankees remind us why we love “The Sandlot”

Reason number 112,975,921 why we love the Yankees: They reenacted a scene from the classic movie “The Sandlot.”

This past week, Major League Baseball posted the video.

I can remember going on a class field trip as a kid, and on the bus ride there watching “The Sandlot.” I instantly fell in love with it. I think it’s one of my favorite baseball movies because baseball is a kid’s game. “The Sandlot” really portrays how fun it is to get together with your friends and play baseball during your growing years.

Watching it for the first time it reminded me (and still to this day it reminds me) of how I played baseball with my own friends growing up; in a lot of ways I was watching me and my own friends.

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I think many folks who grew up playing the game among friends can probably relate to everything they see in the movie.

There’s always the loudmouth, like Ham Porter. There’s always the shy, new kid on the block who has no idea what he’s doing but he’s too nice so he has to be included, like Smalls. Usually there’s a kid who just goes along with whatever everyone else is saying, like Yeah Yeah. There’s a lovable nerd, like Squints. And generally there’s a gifted athlete in the group, like Benny the jet.

Jacoby Ellsbury made a great Squints. Brett Gardner was OK as Smalls, but not that convincing. It’s easy to tell he’s not an actor, but if Gardner can put on a 20 home run, 80 RBI, .285 batting average and 50 stolen base performance for 2015, we’ll all be fine with it.

The best performance, in this writer’s humble opinion, was that of Brian McCann. His portrayal of Ham was spot-on, from his facial expressions down to his delivery. It was perfect.


I liked the scene the Yankees chose to reenact. It was fitting, I suppose, because the Yankees have obvious ties to Babe Ruth. So much of “The Sandlot” had to do with Ruth, from the signed baseball down to the great bambino visiting Benny the jet in his dreams.

And really, who honestly knew about all of Ruth’s nicknames before they saw the movie? I know I didn’t. “The Sandlot” was there to fill me in.

“The king of crash, man.”

My favorite scene in the movie had to be when they played a “night game” on the fourth of July. Benny rounds up the collection of young ballplayers and tells them, “get your glove, let’s go. Night game.” They leave the fun of the neighborhood block party and go to the sandlot to play a game, using the fireworks to see, given there were no lights at their little “baseball heaven.” I still love Smalls’ grown-up voiceover explaining the scene:


“There was only one night game a year. On the fourth of July, the whole sky would brighten up with fireworks, giving us just enough light for a game. We played our best then, because I guess we all felt like the big leaguers, playing under the lights of some great stadium. Benny felt like that all the time. We all knew he was going to go on to bigger and better games, because every time we stopped to watch the sky on those nights, he was there to call us back.

“You see, for us, baseball was a game. But for Benjamin Franklin Rodriguez, baseball was life.”

The outtakes were just as funny.

It’s good to see the team having fun. Team chemistry is important because as we saw in 2009, it leads to great things.

And speaking of great things, opening day is rapidly approaching. So beat the drum and hold the phone, because the Yankees will be playing ball at 1:05 p.m. Monday at the big ballpark in the Bronx against the Toronto Blue Jays.

The forgotten fight

Everyone remembers the 1998 Yankees for being winners. Winners during the regular season, winners during the postseason and of course winners of the World Series.

The ’98 champions get a lot of credit for what they accomplished on the field, but not enough credit for being feisty and gritty — which, I think, is why they were so successful.

I can recall watching a game with my family on a September night in 1998. The 11th. Just three years to the day before tragedy struck our nation. Yankees vs. the Toronto Blue Jays in the Bronx. Roger Clemens, who a year later would become a pinstriper himself, beaned third baseman Scott Brosius with a fastball.

Afterwards, madness ensued.

The Yankees’ ’98 fight with the Baltimore Orioles is one of the most remembered melees in the Bronx Bombers’ history, but this fight deserves some props:

Checking back

Hello all,

My new job, which was well-documented in my last post, has been keeping me as busy as a bee these days. Thus, leaving me less time for Yankee Yapping.

However, I happen to have a few minutes right now and figured, why not touch on some offseason happenings?

Here goes…

Max Scherzer went to the Nationals. Not surprising the Yankees didn’t sign him, I suppose. I heard rumblings that Stephen Strasburg might be on the trade block on account of this signing. If the Yankees aren’t going to give up Luis Severino or Aaron Judge, who just made baseball’s top 100 prospect list, I’d say try and set a package for Strasburg. Keep in mind James Shields is still out there, too.

Ernie Banks passed away. Rest easy, Mr. Cub. Banks, a true gentleman of the game, hit 512 home runs over the course of his illustrious career. I’ll most remember his hilarious appearance on “Married…with Children.” At the opening of a sports bar, Al Bundy took several photos with Mr. Cub; so many, in fact, that he blinded him with his camera!

Derek Jeter is still retired. We are all still sad. I do need to get my hands on his new book, though, and give it a read.

Stephen Drew is going to be a Yankee next year. Upsetting, I know. However, I’m interested to see if he will perform better from actually participating in spring training this year.

Alex Rodriguez has been strangely quiet. Good. Let’s, uhh, keep it that way.

CC Sabathia says he is healthy. Of course what he says and what’s real are two different things. I say one more setback and it could be time for the big man to pack it in. Yet, I am hopeful he closes my mouth by coming back and winning 20 games.

Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow. Elbow-watch will go into effect on Feb. 20 when pitchers and catchers report to camp. Lord, I don’t ask you for much: Let Tanaka’s elbow be healthy and serviceable for all of 2015.

Ichiro signed with the Miami Marlins. Good for Ich’. I’m pulling for him to reach 3,000 MLB hits – although take into consideration that he has over 4,000 hits if you combine his work from Japan.

There are 65 days until opening day. That’s according to the Yankees official Facebook page, which literally lets us know every single day how many days are left until opening day.

Deflategate happened. And then we heard, “You can’t deflate a baseball.” Hmm. True. But, there are ways to cheat in every sport. Which leads me into my next point…

Tom Brady cannot be compared to Derek Jeter. Not that anyone is comparing them. You can’t compare them. It’s like trying to put Jack Nicholson’s performance as the Joker up against Heath Ledger’s Joker. There is no comparing them. Which also is a nice segue:

The Super Bowl is tomorrow. And Brady is probably thankful he’s not facing Eli Manning again. To me, this game has no appeal. I dislike the Seahawks – mainly because of their “we’re better than you” attitude. Plus, needless to say, I am not a Patriots fan. So whoever wins, I lose. At least after tomorrow it’ll be over. Then soon enough, baseball will be back.

Thanks for reading, folks. I’ll try and have more for you in February!

Turning the page

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The Yankees’ offseason thus far hasn’t been as eyebrow-raising as last year. In fact most has been quiet on the pinstripe front, save for the addition of Didi Gregorius as Derek Jeter’s heir at shortstop, the signing lefty flamethrower Andrew Miller, and the re-signing of Chase Headley to play third base. There have been more significant subtractions than additions, putting it into perspective, what with the departures of Brandon McCarthy, David Robertson and Francisco Cervelli.

Lately the conversation seems to be surrounding big ticket free agent starter Max Scherzer, and whether or not the Yankees will make a run to try and ink him. Your guess is as good as mine. General Manager Brian Cashman has pledged several times that the organization has no plans to pursue Scherzer, but keep this in the back of your head: they are still the Yankees. Just when you think they are nowhere near landing a top tier free agent, they swoop in at the last minute and snatch their man.

And if you don’t believe that, just ask Mark Teixeira. It happened to him nearly six years ago.

While the Yankees haven’t been making the loudest amount of noise this winter, my life was shaken up recently – shaken up in a good way.

For the past three-plus years I have been working for The Examiner, a local newsweekly in Westchester County, N.Y.

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It’s been a great experience reporting on the local sports scene in Westchester. But a few weeks ago a new opportunity presented itself to me, I took advantage, and I am moving on to a new job. I’ll now be a full-time sports reporter for the Poughkeepsie Journal, a daily newspaper a couple counties north of Westchester in Dutchess County, N.Y., which coincidently is where I grew up.

The clichéd phrase I keep repeating to myself is, “Who says you can’t go home?”

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The Poughkeepsie Journal is the oldest paper in the state of New York and the third-oldest newspaper in this country – just to give you an idea of how prestigious and renowned the Journal really is. What’s more, I think I made some history, because I was told I am the first new person PoJo has hired in the sports department since 2006.

These past few weeks have been draining on me; the interview process, waiting to know if I had landed the job. It was certainly a relief when it was offered to me a week and a half ago, although I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous taking on this new challenge. As a professional I obviously gave The Examiner notice that I was leaving and have finished up my duties there.

I won’t soon forget the lessons I learned over the past few years; the opportunities The Examiner has afforded me. From interviewing Eli Manning a handful of times and covering the Hudson Valley Renegades each summer, all the way down to high school hoops and lacrosse – it’s been a blast.

Not only will I remember the lessons and experiences from these past few years, but I won’t forget the wonderful people I’ve met along the way. That’s the beauty of life – those people and what they’ve done for you never leave; they stick with you for the long haul. And since I have the forum here, I’d like to take this time and individually thank those who helped get me to where I am, because I didn’t get here by myself.

First of all, I’d like to take a page out of the great Mariano Rivera’s book and thank God.

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I have been doing what I love to do for a long time now and I wouldn’t be where I am without The Lord’s blessings. He provided me with writing and reporting talent worthy of this new job. I’ve been in constant contact with God by way of prayer these last few weeks, and my prayers have been answered. If I don’t say it enough, thank you, Lord. For everything.

Thanks to my parents. For always believing in me and being patient with my trying ways throughout my life and through this whole process of job changing. Your constant faith in me has gone a long way and will continue to go a long way in the years to come. Stating the obvious, but I wouldn’t be here without both of you.

Thanks to my sisters, and their kids: my nephew Ryan and my niece Avery. The four of you have given me a lot of support and love for the longest time. Ryan and Avery have also shown me that life can be simple and uncomplicated – though that probably has to do with the fact that Ryan is a 3-year-old and Avery just turned 1. Either way, the love hasn’t gone unnoticed.

At the same time, special thanks goes out to both my grandfathers (I lost one of them earlier this year, yet he always loved that I was working and writing, and I know he would be proud). Additionally, thanks to my entire family. You’re all one of a kind, that’s for sure. You have all taken good care of me over the years, and it hasn’t gone unappreciated.

To all my friends; past and present – thank you. There are far too many to name, which is probably a good thing. You can never have enough friends. I may not see or speak to as many of you as I’d like to nowadays; understandable because we’re grown-ups, and time is never on our side. But that hasn’t stopped most of you from reading my articles over the years and giving me feedback. Thank you for always letting me know I’m a good writer. It helped me land this job.

I can’t fill out this list without thanking Mike Perrota, my main journalism instructor from Mercy College. Naming me sports editor of The Impact in my second-to-last year at Mercy was one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me. Perrota, you have taught me the ins and outs, the dos and don’ts. I hope I’ve made you proud since I graduated in 2010, and I am glad we have remained friends ever since.

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A big thank you is owed to Rob DiAntonio. Thanks for bringing me in as a freelancer with North County News on Nov. 5, 2010: the DeMatteo Bowl between Yorktown and Clarkstown North at White Plains high school – I won’t forget that. Thanks for also helping me realize my potential a little bit. I still have this e-mail saved, by the way:

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I can’t go without thanking my friend Sean Faye, an outstanding reporter in his own right and my college newspaper teammate who recommended me to The Examiner. Your word opened the door to a new opportunity that I was able to take advantage of and make my own. I wouldn’t have done it without you.

To Adam Stone, the publisher of The Examiner – thank you. Professionally I’ve been in great hands these last few years. You have been a tremendous boss; as good as they come. I appreciate everything you’ve done for me at The Examiner, including speaking highly of me to PoJo. I would recommend any young sports journalist out there to go to The Examiner to cut their teeth. I know first-hand how much better a reporter can become from working at The Examiner – and not only do I think I became a better journalist working for you, I became a better person. Thanks for everything.

To Andy Jacobs and Ray Gallagher, the two sports editors I’ve worked closely with these last few years: thank you. I hope I didn’t drive you both incredibly nuts – I don’t think I did, because I always met my deadlines accordingly, and we always got along so nicely. The two of you have been a pleasure to work with, keeping me as busy as a bee with games to cover. It’s been an honor, gentlemen.

To my colleague David Propper: many thanks. We spent countless Tuesday mornings chatting about coaches and games; reminiscing on sports coverage, almost as if we were two old time journalists reflecting on the “good ol’ days.” It’s been great, my friend. Stay in touch.

My fellow reporter over at the Yorktown News, Mike Sabini, deserves a thank you for always supporting me and being one of my biggest fans. Likewise, I’ve been a fan of your work. I’ll miss hearing your voice at the Peekskill basketball games, but I will keep reading your bylines in the Yorktown News. Keep in touch, my friend.

Another fellow reporter of mine earned a shout out: Mike Zacchio. You were one of the only ones I really opened up to about going after this new job and you did nothing but encourage me and root for me. I can’t thank you enough for calling me “an awesome reporter who deserves this” and saying PoJo would “be lucky to have me.” I hope to see you at some games down the road that we both might be covering. And don’t think I’ve forgotten about our karaoke night – it will happen and we will sing “Runaround Sue” together.

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There’s a coach out there whom I’ve known for the past few years, and he deserves a real hat tip. Coach Lance DeMarzo of Kennedy Catholic high school in Somers – you are a great man; as classy as it gets. Thanks for staying in touch all the time, making my job easier in the process. When I told you that, if all coaches were like you I’d have it really easy, I meant it 100 percent. I am truly going to miss you telling me that your team loves picking up The Examiner just to read my articles. That sort of spirit gives a reporter a positive feeling.

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I should mention Jared Sandberg, the former manager of the Hudson Valley Renegades, former MLB player with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and nephew of Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg. The second time I interviewed Jared he asked which publication I was with. I told him the obvious, that I was with The Examiner, and he told me that not only did he read my first article about the Renegades, but he liked it. Again, that type of giveback never ceases to give a journalist a wonderful feeling.

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To the readers of Yankee Yapping and all of my work in general, thank you. Thanks to you guys my writing has grown better, and this blog has blown up to the point that David Cone is mentioning it during Yankee telecasts. Suffice it to say, I wouldn’t be anywhere without all of you.

And last but never the least, I’d like to thank everyone at the Poughkeepsie Journal, particularly my friend and new colleague Phil Strum, who recommended me for the position. I can assure you I am going to work as hard as I can to ensure the best sports coverage. I will give it my all.

Now that I’ve exhausted myself of thanks and praise to all those who rightfully deserve it from me, and I’ve all but turned the page, it’s on to the next chapter…

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Drawing Swords

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There were probably moments King Arthur regretted pulling the sword from the stone. It only set off a series of unlikely events when he could’ve just led a normal life, depending on which version of the story you read.

In February of 2009, Alex Rodriguez’s personal sword was pulled from the stone. He was busted for PED use between 2001 and 2003 when he was with the Texas Rangers, and perhaps more accurately he became unstuck to the web of lies he spun in the past. In December of 2007 he sat in front of Katie Couric on 60 Minutes, looked her dead in the eye and claimed he not only never used any kind of performance enhancing drugs, but was never even tempted to try PEDs.

Fast forward to the day he was outed. Or maybe more specifically the day of his interview with ESPN’s Peter Gammons, trying to explain himself. He was asked why he lied to Couric and the rest of the world. A-Rod responded,

“At the time I wasn’t even being truthful with myself. How am I going to be truthful with Katie or CBS?”

Solid answer, right? Maybe for the time. The polarizing third baseman went on to say,

“I’m going to have a sample of 14 years past this Texas era where I get to show and prove to the world, you know, who I am as a player.”

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Many Yankee fans (and even writers and analysts, for that matter) were quick to forgive him; he admitted his wrongdoing, returned to the Yankees and came up with clutch hits that lent a hand in propelling the pinstripers to their 27th World Series title – and he did it clean, free from any kind of steroid, PED or helping of HGH.

A-Rod went on to smack his 600th career home run in 2010, and climb the ranks on MLB’s all-time home run list – he’s currently fifth on the list with 654 mashed taters. It seemed all the nonsense was behind him.

Or was it?

Last year Rodriguez appealed a 211-game suspension laid down on him by Major League Baseball for being involved in the infamous Biogenesis scandal. His suspension was reduced to 162 games and A-Rod missed the all of this past season. Yet he relentlessly fought for himself, feeling he didn’t deserve the type of punishment MLB dealt him.

Rodriguez made that clear when he appeared on Mike Francesa’s radio show in New York about a year ago and denied any further PED use after the 2003 season, even after Francesa asked him several times and in different ways if he was guilty.

His story didn’t change.

What’s more, he fired verbal shots at MLB for trying to take him down personally and vowed he would do anything and everything to clear his name – including filing multiple lawsuits in federal court against those who were supposedly out to get him, including a medical malpractice suit against a Yankee team doctor.

As if this saga couldn’t have gotten any more ridiculous, we come to this week. Tuesday it’s reported that Rodriguez paid his cousin Yuri $900,000 to keep quiet about his history with steroids. And Wednesday we find out A-Rod came clean to the Drug Enforcement Agency in January, saying he used banned substances supplied by the Biogenesis clinic in Florida from 2010-12.

Another sword drawn from a stone. But this time, not a lot of forgiveness to be had.

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Rodriguez proved that not only did he not learn the first time around about the pure stupidity of using PEDs knowing he could surely be caught again, he proved he is a pathological liar. In a way history repeated itself when he sat with Francesa on WFAN and claimed innocence – it was a throwback, if you will, to the Couric interview nearly six years earlier.

The news that broke Wednesday of his confession to the DEA only confirmed what Yankee fans have been hearing from non-Yankee fans since his arrival to the Big Apple in 2004:

A-Rod is a-fraud. There is no way around it.

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In a nutshell Rodriguez’s situation leaves the Yankees in somewhat of a strange position. It has to; the trust level must be completely disintegrated by now. A-Rod has cheated and lied now on more than one occasion. His behavior has made the organization look bad, and when Spring Training hits the whole Yankee scene is going to resemble a three-ringed circus.

And number 13 will be driving the tiny car.

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Every other question Joe Girardi and the Yankee players are going to have to answer this year is going to be about Rodriguez. Thus A-Rod’s mere presence could potentially cause a huge distraction to a team that already has no identity and no clue what the future holds, considering its captain and entire perennial championship foundation (the “Core 4”) has moved on into retirement.

So, why can’t the Yankees just cut him, axe him somehow? The question that will inevitably be asked from now until he doesn’t produce when the 2015 season starts.

Well, plain and simple, he’s still under contract for three more years and is owed $61 million. Only a brain dead General Manager would want to pick up that kind of contract for a 39-year-old (soon-to-be 40-year-old) player whose numbers have declined, who is virus to his team, and would walk in the door mired in controversy.

The bottom line is, A-Rod is still an investment. However, he’s becoming an investment the Yankee have probably regretted making, and they have very few options in terms of ridding themselves of this nightmare.

A-Rod Just Go

In order for the Yanks to get Rodriguez out of their hair, he’d have to show up to Spring Training unable to physically play. Or, he’d have to retire. The more likely of the two options is the former, being that A-Rod has had surgery on his hips more than once. Even if he shows up seemingly healthy, the Yankees will be lucky to get 80-95 games out of him at third base next year – and luckier if he puts up offensive numbers even remotely similar to an average player.

But, he’s not going to retire. He wouldn’t make it that easy for the Yankees.

There’s pretty much no telling where this whole epic is headed next. Is A-Rod going to recreate that scene in The Scout in which Steve Nebraska (Brendan Fraser) is lowered into Yankee Stadium by way of a helicopter? How much more negative attention is he going to project onto himself? What kind of excuse is he going to come up with for being caught again?

What’s the next sword he’s yanking from the stone?


 Some Personal Thoughts

The Boone Identity: Remembering the Radical 2003 Yankees-Red Sox Saga

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If you’re a Yankee fan, Oct. 16 holds a warm place in your heart. The memory of a mighty swing by Aaron Boone in the 11th inning of Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series to crush the dreams of Red Sox Nation has held up, and will continue to hold up forever more.

In honor of the 11th anniversary of this profound piece of Yankee history, this writer is going to take you on a ride back to the past and muse about the goings-on of the 2003 Yankees-Red Sox saga; perhaps point some things out that didn’t necessarily meet the eye to the average fan.

Join me, will you?


 

The background

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It took a long time before the Yanks and BoSox reached the climactic Boone game. A really long time, in fact. The two hated rivals had faced each other 25 times in ‘03 leading up to Game 7 of the ALCS. Their 26th meeting in the decisive game was historic, in the sense that no two teams – in any sport – had faced each other more times in a single season.

But so much more happened before Game 7.

In squaring off against each other so many times, the Yankees and Red Sox had generated some disdain for one another. Earlier in the season on July 7 in the Bronx, Pedro Martinez, Boston’s ace, had plunked both Alfonso Soriano and Derek Jeter – bean balls that were so intense they sent the two hitters at the top of the Yankees’ batting order to the hospital.

Jeter was hammered on his right hand while Soriano suffered a shot on his left hand. The after effects of the HBPs were so great that, after more than two weeks later, both hitters felt the pain of Martinez’s missed location; the captain’s hand was still swollen and Fonsy felt some aches just by checking his swing.

Roger Clemens, the Yankee ace, in return struck Red Sox first baseman and team ringleader Kevin Millar with a pitch. Millar, a colorful and outspoken player who had urged his team to “Cowboy Up,” would later express anger towards Clemens for the Yankees act of retaliation.

The late Yankee owner George Steinbrenner even got in on battle. The Boss was asked if Martinez was headhunting; throwing at the Yankees with intent. His response:

“I can’t answer that. But if he was, he’ll regret it.”

Steinbrenner had every reason to be suspicious about whether or not the hit-by-pitches were deliberate. In the past, 2001 to be exact, Martinez told the Boston Globe,

“I’m starting to hate talking about the Yankees. The questions are stupid. They’re wasting my time. It’s getting kind of old … I don’t believe in damn curses. Wake up the damn Bambino and have me face him. I’ll drill him in the ass, pardon the word.”

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Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino then got his jab in, giving the Yankees a moniker in homage to the Star Wars franchise. He dubbed the Bronx Bombers “The Evil Empire.” Yankee Universe happily (or at least sarcastically) welcomed the nickname.

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So was Jeter Darth Vader? Sure, that makes sense.


 

How we got there

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The physical and verbal blows during the regular season were only the beginning, laying the groundwork for what was to come in the playoffs. The Yankees finished 2003 with a record of 101-61, six games ahead of Boston for the AL East. The 95-67 Red Sox captured the AL Wild Card – keep in mind that in ’03 there was no play-in game; the BoSox were automatically in the eight-team postseason tournament without having to fight their way in the door.

Most fans may not remember that the ’03 Yankees-Red Sox ALCS clash wouldn’t have happened if the Oakland A’s didn’t collapse. In the ALDS the A’s handed Boston a 5-4 loss in Game 1; Oakland winning in the 12th on a walk-off bunt single by catcher Ramon Hernandez. Game 2 wasn’t any better for the Red Sox, as the A’s poured it on and beat Boston 5-1 – Oakland was only one win away from the next round.

Yet, maybe in the spirit of some foreshadowing, the Red Sox fought back.

Boston won Game 3, 2-0. They then took Game 4 by a count of 5-4, and completed the comeback with a 4-3 win in Game 5. The Yankees were already waiting for the winner of the Boston-Oakland series, having disposed of the Minnesota Twins in four games to reach the League Championship Series; the Yanks outscoring the Twins 16-6 in their divisional round.

The rally vs. the A’s and the thrashing of the Twins set the New York-Boston rivalry up for an epic showdown. Yes, the Baseball gods had done it again.

Players on both sides knew the World Series was not just at stake, but bragging rights were up for grabs and in a lot of ways, the ending or the continuation of Curse of the Bambino was on the line.

“Everyone says, ‘we played them towards the end of the year, does it get any bigger than that?’ Well, yeah it does. And this is it,” Jeter told MLB before the ALCS.

The Red Sox took Game 1, beating the Yankees 5-2. However, the first salvo seemed to be fired in the seventh inning when reliever Jeff Nelson hit Red Sox big man David Ortiz with a pitch. The Yanks went on to take Game 2 with a 6-2 win, but in terms of the HBP battle, Boston punched back.

Future hero Boone was beaned by Red Sox starter Derek Lowe and Soriano was plunked by Bronson Arroyo. The ALCS was split 1-1, tensions were at an all-time high, and the teams were beginning to get rather physical.

What’s the worst that could happen in Game 3?


 

And then, everything explodes

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The energy level at Fenway Park on Oct. 11, 2003 was off the charts – not that I was there, but listening to the words of the players and examining everything that had led up to Game 3, everyone from the fans to the media was on edge.

What’s more, the fact that Clemens and Martinez were on the hill for their respective clubs made it even more enticing. During batting practice, Millar was about as hyped up as an 8-year-old after consuming 50 sugar cubes, enthusiastically saying,

“We got Roger and Martinez, Game 3 split, Championship Series, American League, all eyes on the Sox!”

To this day I wonder if even he knew how jumbled that sounded. Mic’d up, he stood next to Ortiz and yelled,

“You’ve got to be going with the Sox! This is the Sox Nation! Two thousand and three! And screw that curse!”

Ortiz couldn’t help but laugh at Millar’s zeal, but a few short innings later, no one was laughing.

In the top of the fourth, Martinez let up an RBI ground rule double to Nick Johnson, which gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead. The very next hitter, outfielder Karim Garcia, took a pitch behind his head which appeared to nick him on the shoulder for another hit-by-pitch.

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Soriano came up next and grounded into a 6-4-3 double play, though another Yankee run scored. Leaving the field, Garcia had some choice words for the Red Sox and a heated exchange ensued.

Yankee catcher Jorge Posada, chest protector and shin guards on, came out of the dugout looking like a Roman centurion ready to attack Martinez. The two feisty foes got into some jaw-jacking and a bit of a “pointing battle” – Martinez using his index finger to point at his temple, as if to say to Posada, “I’ll hit you there.”

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The Yankees, in a nutshell, were unhappy with Martinez’s antics, and had no problem expressing their grief. Yet somehow the umpires settled matters down.

That is, until the bottom half of the inning.

Clemens delivered a high and tight 1-2 fastball to hothead Manny Ramirez, who believed there was intent behind the pitch – when clearly there wasn’t.

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Ramirez angrily tried to approach Clemens with the bat in his hand before being subdued by his teammates when the benches cleared. Needless to say all Hell broke loose at Fenway, but the victim of the fracas wound up being a coach, not a player.

Yankee bench coach, the late Don Zimmer (72 at the time) lunged towards Martinez, who grabbed him by the head and force-fed him to the ground. The Yankee trainers were able to help him up and get him back into the dugout free of serious injury, but the ugly incident further proved how the Yankees and Red Sox were at extreme odds.

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Eventually the situation calmed, and Clemens fanned Ramirez with a fastball on the outer part of the plate to get the game going again; the players back to their professional ways.

But just when it seemed everything was back to normal, it became a mess again.

An altercation broke out in the Yankee bullpen in right field between Nelson and a Boston grounds crew member, Paul Williams. Garcia, stationed in right field, also sampled the action. He hopped the wall into the ‘pen and got involved; a scrum of police officers, security officials, and Yankee relief pitchers creating an unpretty scene.

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Days later the Yankees’ personnel, notably president Randy Levine, defended the New York relief corps. Meanwhile the Red Sox brass were less than happy, and went to bat for their groundskeeper, explaining that he did nothing wrong. The Yankee side relented, though, and contended Williams had antagonized Nelson, and wanted an apology issued from the Boston side.

Yeah. That never happened.

Once the roller coaster ride finally ended, the Yankees escaped with a 4-3 win and a 2-1 ALCS lead. The reaction by a couple of individuals after Game 3, however, was unlike anything this writer had ever seen in sports – ever.

In terms of the Martinez-Zimmer incident, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg went on the record saying, “If that happened in New York, we would’ve arrested the perpetrator. Nobody should throw a 70-year-old man to the ground, period.”

That would’ve been quite a sight: the Red Sox ace being cuffed and escorted off the Yankee Stadium diamond by New York’s finest.

BoSox skipper Grady Little only had this to say:

“I think we’ve upgraded it from a battle to a war.”

The war raged on. The Red Sox won Game 4, 3-2, to even the series, then the Yankees grabbed Game 5 with a 4-2 win, taking a 3-2 series lead back to the Bronx. The Red Sox raised the eyebrows of the world by beating the Yanks 9-6 in Game 6, overcoming both Andy Pettitte and a raucous Yankee Stadium crowd.

Game 7. Roger and Pedro, again. He we are.


Is this happening?

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Before Game 7 took place, Boston sportswriter Howard Bryant caught up with Willie Randolph, a longtime pinstriper who had endured the “Bronx Zoo” era of the late 1970s as a player, and enjoyed the year-by-year success of the dynasty of the ‘90s as the Yankees’ third base coach.

Bryant asked Randolph what he thought about the deciding game. What do you think?

“Listen,” Randolph said. “Every single time we’ve had to beat them, we’ve beaten them. Tonight’s not going to be any different.”

But in the early going, it was  different – a lot different. Clemens struggled, surrendering a second inning, two-run home run to Trot Nixon. Later in the frame a throwing error by starting third baseman Enrique Wilson allowed Jason Varitek to come in, making it 3-0 Red Sox.

Clemens pitched into the fourth, although “the rocket” was all but gassed by then. Millar backed up some of his talking by sending Clemens’s offering into the seats in left field, a solo blast to give the Red Sox a 4-0 lead. Yankee manager Joe Torre had told starter Mike Mussina that he might use him out of the bullpen, which would’ve been the first time in his MLB career he would’ve pitched in relief.

A caveat, though:  Torre had told “Moose” that, if he were to use him, he’d bring him into the game when nobody was on base. That plan went by the wayside, as Mussina was summoned to mop up a first-and-third, no out mess.

Number 35, cleanup on aisle four.

Mussina was brilliant, striking out Varitek by utilizing his patented knuckle curveball, and followed by getting Johnny Damon to bounce into an unassisted 6-3 double play to skim out of further peril.

After the game Mussina teased Torre, inquiring, “I thought you said you were only bringing me in if there weren’t going to be men on base.”

Torre quipped back: “I lied.”

Jason Giambi, whom the Yankees had acquired after the fall of the dynasty in 2001, kept the Yanks close with two solo home runs off Martinez – a bomb in the fifth and another in the seventh.

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The Yankees trimmed the deficit to 4-2 but in the top of the eighth, Ortiz played pepper with the short porch seats, homering off another starter playing the role of reliever that night, David Wells. The solo job (that left Wells in utter disgust, putting it mildly) gave the Red Sox a run right back, making it 5-2 in favor of Boston.

Now Martinez, his pitch count over 100, came out to toss the bottom half of the eighth with a three-run lead, and while most members of Red Sox Nation thought this might ultimately be the year the Curse of the Bambino would be vanquished, some fans back in Beantown were not so convinced.

Baseball historian and Red Sox fan Doris Kearns Goodwin explained:

“When Pedro came back out in the eighth inning, we all started screaming ‘No! No! You can’t be doing it!’ I mean, fans think they know more than the managers – and often we don’t – but at that point everybody knew the pitch counts that Pedro would suddenly fall off the cliff, if he were over that pitch count.

“He was way over that pitch count, and so there was this huge sense of dread when he came to that mound.”

That dread was well-founded and soon realized.

Jeter pounded a one-out double off the wall in right field. Bernie Williams brought him in with a well-struck single in front of Damon in centerfield, cutting Boston’s lead to 5-3. The RBI base hit prompted a mound visit from Little, who shockingly stuck with his ace; Martinez not leaving the mound after the powwow, even with hard-throwing righty Mike Timlin and lefty specialist Alan Embree going double-barreled in the Red Sox bullpen.

Hideki Matsui, a left-handed hitter, was due up next. Embree would have been the obvious choice to match up with Matsui, but Embree could only watch from the ‘pen as Matsui ripped a ground-rule double down the line in right field off a tired Martinez, passing the baton to Posada.

The switch-hitting Yankee catcher, batting from the left side, punched a blooper into centerfield, falling in the middle of shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, second baseman Todd Walker and Damon to bring both Williams and Matsui to the plate. Posada reached second base – getting the last laugh off Martinez, thinking back to their chinwag in Game 3 – and Game 7 was tied, 5-5.

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Martinez then departed to a Bronx cheer; there was no undoing the damage the Yankees had done. The decision to keep Martinez in the ballgame haunted Red Sox Nation for a year. Fans were outraged at Little for not removing Martinez before the game turned, but Martinez – and others – have defended the move.

“I was just trying to do it,” Martinez said. “That’s what a lot of people don’t understand. Why didn’t Pedro give away the ball? Well, they didn’t ask me to give away the ball. They asked me if I could face the guys. I said yes! Of course I can! I’m in the middle of the game; I’m here to do this.

“When Grady came out, the simple question was whether I could pitch to Matsui or not. And I said yes.”

Former Red Sox favorite Johnny Pesky (for whom the foul pole in right field at Fenway Park is named) also was a proponent of allowing Martinez to stay in the game, and was quoted as saying,

“When he’s your best pitcher, and he tells you, ‘skipper, I got enough left in my tank’ you’re not going to take him out.”

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The fans on the other hand turned their ire on the call, and even went as far as constructing a poem about it, penned by Boston loyalist James Bair:

Why Did You Keep Pedro In?


We couldn’t have got there without you.
We were five outs away from a win.
You were the smartest guy in the stadium.
But why did you keep Pedro in?


We don’t believe in those curses.
We could care less about old Harry’s sin.
But with such a powerful bullpen,
Why did you keep Pedro in?


Oh, Pedro was awesome for seven,
And it looked like he could hang in.
Those two liners showed he’d become shaky—
Why did you keep Pedro in?


Though whacked cold, Johnny Damon kept waving;
The guys always want to stay in.
Of course, Pedro’d say he could blow them away,
But why did you keep Pedro in?


He could have left the hill as a hero—
We’d say Pedro had smoked them again!
You could not deny that his pitch count was high,
Why did you keep Pedro in?


We know there is one consolation:
We know you’ll never do it again.
Still the cry rises from Red Sox Nation:
Why did you keep Pedro in?


With each move you had out-managed Torre.
Yankee cheering was growing quite thin.
With such talented benches for backup,
Why did you keep Pedro in?


You made us now root for the Marlins,
And we hardly know how to begin.
You almost upended the Empire,
Why did you keep Pedro in?


You brought new pizzazz to the clubhouse:
The crew found the cowboy within.
You did so much for the guys, but with tears in our eyes,
We say, why did you keep Pedro in?

 

The question could be asked until the end of time. But it was moot. The game was knotted at five, and the Yankees used the unflappable closer Mariano Rivera for the 9th, 10th, and 11th innings. The stage was set. The question was no longer, “why did Grady leave Pedro in?” Rather it became “how is this saga going to finally end?”


 Sleeping on the X-Factor

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What probably gets lost in the shuffle was the fact that Boone had come into the game as a pinch-runner during that eventful bottom of the eighth. He took over at third base for Wilson on defense, who was surely not the Yankee fans’ favorite player that evening, because remember – he committed that costly error in the third which led to a Boston run.

It’s funny to me because, personally, I can recall the “due up” graphic in the middle of the 11th inning, watching in my Yankee pajamas from my bed in Beacon, New York; soon to be a droopy-eyed high school junior the following day, but the exhaustion coming with the excitement of a possible World Series berth. I even said to myself,

“Aaron Boone. Forget it, easy out. The next few guys have to hit, though! Let’s win this game!”

Perfectly logical assumption. In 31 postseason at-bats, Boone collected just five hits. The Yankees, however, had a lot more faith in Boone than this scribe did. Before he went into the on-deck circle while knuckleballer Tim Wakefield was warming up, Torre told Boone,

“Just hit a single. It doesn’t mean you won’t hit a home run.”

Randolph then issued the ultimate sign of faith:

“That inning, he came to the dugout and I met him at the top step. I patted him on the back and I said, ‘listen. You’re my sleeper pick. You’re the x-factor of the series.’”

Keith Olbermann – a bright sports pundit and someone for whom I have respect, albeit I disagree with him on plenty of topics – analyzed Boone’s at-bat this way:

“The odds were favoring a hitter in a slump. Because a hitter in a slump’s timing is already off. A knuckleball pitcher throws your timing off. Put a guy with bad timing, and add more bad timing to him, suddenly he has good timing – it’s a zero sum game in terms of timing.

“So you’re thinking, who on earth is going to get the base hit for the Yankees? Who can do anything against Tim Wakefield? Boone.”

Sure enough, the timing worked out. Everything worked out.

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Aaron Boone after hitting homerun in 2003 ALCS

Boone slaughtered Wakefield’s first pitch for a home run deep into the New York sky; the ball landing behind the wall in left field to give the Yanks a 6-5 win, sending the Bronx Bombers to their 39th World Series in franchise history. Pandemonium commenced; Yankees Stadium completely erupted, became unglued.

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The Red Sox were crushed, the pennant was won, and the Curse of the Bambino was alive and well.

Boone was speechless after clubbing the death blow, and managed just a few words:

“Derek told me the ghosts would show up eventually. And they did.”

The Captain verified those words postgame, saying,

“I believe in ghosts, and we got some ghosts in this Stadium!”

Torre went on to admit he thought there was some divine pinstriped intervention, later saying,

“It is weird to me that certain things happen that don’t seem logical. Yeah, you have to believe we’re getting some help from somewhere.”

What’s also not well known is that, after the bliss of a love-fest at home plate for Boone and the champagne celebration; after the presentation of the Will Harridge Award, and after Rivera was named ALCS MVP, the Yankee players made a pilgrimage out to Monument Park, donned with championship hats soaked in champagne. Specifically, they made a visit to Babe Ruth’s monument.

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“Look, he’s smiling! He’s smiling!” the Yankees gleefully exclaimed, whilst rubbing the forehead of the Great Bambino’s likeness on the monument.


 The aftermath and the impact of another curse

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While Little was quickly fired by the Red Sox and the image of Boone’s home run was tattooed on the minds of Red Sox fans everywhere, the Yanks were in the 2003 fall classic, matched up with the Florida Marlins – who Chicago Cubs fans felt had snaked their way in on account of fan interference in the ’03 NLCS. The Cubs had been winning 3-0 in the eighth inning of Game 6, and had they held on would’ve punched their first ticket to the World Series since 1945.

Steve Bartman, a Cubs fan sitting in the front row of the left field stands, accidently reached for a foul ball that was perhaps catchable for left fielder Moises Alou near the wall. Bartman got his hand on it, and the ball took a wrong bounce back into the seats, not going for an out – much to the infuriation of not only Alou, but every Cubs fan in the ballpark. Almost right after the gaffe, the Marlins wound up rallying to score eight runs to win the game, and carried on to win Game 7 by a count of 9-6.

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Not unlike the Red Sox and their Curse of the Bambino, the Cubs had the Curse of the Billy Goat hanging over their heads – a long story about a Chicago bar owner, who in 1945 was asked to leave Wrigley Field because the stench of the pet goat he brought to the park was bothering other fans.

He proclaimed, “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.”

Subsequently the Cubs haven’t won the World Series since 1908.

I can’t help but think how the ’03 World Series would’ve gone had it been Yankees-Cubs, the matchup America wanted to see, instead of Yankees-Marlins – a bland fall classic that ended in a six-game series win for the fish.

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Would the Yankees have been able to beat the 1-2 punch of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior? Would they have been able to silence the bat of Sammy Sosa, who just five seasons earlier had smashed 66 home runs, and had hit 40 during the ’03 regular season? Would the Curse of the Billy Goat been upheld in the fall classic, the same way the Yanks kept up the Curse of the Bambino in the ALCS?

Would 2003 have been the year of title number 27 in the Bronx, if only the Yankees faced the Cubs and not the pesky Marlins, equipped with the likes of scrappers Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, Josh Beckett and Juan Pierre?

We’ll never know.

To this writer, though, the ALCS was the World Series in 2003. Passion, heat, unmitigated physicality, the will to win intense rivalry games, and excitement that puts you on the edge of your seat – you want nothing more than that as a fan, or at this stage in my life as a journalist.

Hopefully we see it again, in baseball, sometime soon.

And hopefully, again, it’s between the Yankees and Red Sox.

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 SOURCES FOR THIS PIECE: Websites: Baseball Almanac, Baseball Reference.

DVDs: The Boston Red Sox vs. The New York Yankees: The Ultimate Rivalry (2005)

Ken Burns: The Tenth Inning (2010)

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