Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Ballpark, Finally

After both Brother J and I having to pass up on our tickets to Opening Day, our Sunday ticket plan finally kicked in for a matchup we could attend--today's matchup between the Yanks and the Orioles.

Now, at first this didn't look like a matchup we would actually attend. It's been a rainy weekend in the Big Apple, and it showered pretty hard overnight from Saturday to Sunday. In the old days, this game wouldn't've been playable--Yankee Stadium used to flood pretty easily, and a rain like we had this weekend would've left standing puddles in the Stadium outfield the size of Lake Victoria.

A few years ago, they fixed the drainage under the field, making it relevant that the forecast called for the rain to stop right around game time, with "scattered showers" for the rest of the day. So, soggy or not, J and I trekked up to the Bronx armed with umbrellas and plastic sheeting for the seats.

Stepping into the Stadium, it seemed lots of people hadn't gotten the memo about Yankee Stadium's drainage system, or the forecast. The place was about half-empty, although tellingly, both bleachers were mostly full. How many empty seats you see in the bleachers is probably the best indicator of a game's paid attendance (48,000, at least a third of whom were cleverly disguised as blue plastic seats).

Our seats were in fair territory behind the rightfield fence. As we walked in--after the announced game time--Randy Johnson was still doing his long tossing in front of the gate to the bullpens. The sight of Randy made me worried, since he looked like something was very much wrong with him--after each throw, he was shaking his arm, as if trying to loosen up the shoulder. He walked slowly and uncomfortably. Between the Unit's discomfort and the bad weather I turned to J and said, "Why are they taking a chance, here? Why not start Jaret Wright? He's an animal anyway, who cares if he loses his soul?"

Nonetheless, Johnson was going to start the game. A quick National Anthem later (the flag was at half staff, likely in honor of the deaths of Acosta and Trejo in the Dominican Republic), we were ready to go: the battery of Johnson and Posada, Andy Phillips with a start at first against the lefty, Bruce Chen, and otherwise the lineup pretty much as you'd expect: Cano, Jeter and Alex Rodriguez filling out the infield, Matsui, Damon, and Sheffield from left to right in the outfield. Once the time for first pitch came, Johnson was transformed. He had back his usual windup--if with a slightly lower arm angle than usual, and from the start the gun had his fastball at 92-93 MPH. He struck out his first batter, center fielder Luis Terrero, setting him up with a slider that Terrero must've swung a foot over, followed by heat high and outside.

After Johnson retired the side in order, and the Yanks stranded Gary Sheffield in the bottom of the inning, Miguel Tejada guessed right on a pitch, popping it high down the right field line. From our vantage point, the ball looked to be going foul, foul, and then just curling in to hit the netting on the foul pole. One-nil O's.

Little did we know that that would be the Orioles only run of the day. Giambi took things in hand leading off the bottom of the second, with a line drive homer to right center. Afterward, the bottom of the lineup strung together three singles to give the Pinstripers a 2-1 lead. An inning later, the Yanks ran themselves out of the inning--Jeter getting picked off following a leadoff single, Gary Sheffield caught stealing after a single of his own. With a bizarre sense of equanimity, Melvin "Hands of Stone" Mora couldn't handle Alex Rodriguez's inning-ending grounder. This allowed Giambi another chance at Chen...with the same result as before. 4-1 Yanks.

The highlight of the fourth inning was Johnson's strikeout of Jay Gibbons, who comically swung through the slider so badly I almost expected him to screw his way into the dirt, like a Buggs Bunny cartoon. In the fifth, Jeter followed up a Damon infield single with a double, and Damon ultimately came around to score on an Alex Rodriguez sac fly. The Orioles were then bailed out of the inning by the Yankees second lineout double play of the game (a similar play had saved the O's in the second inning).

Now, by the fifth inning, a steady drizzle was falling, and there looked to be no let-up to the weather. I was looking for the inning to finish so that we could have an official game, while hiding my scorecard underneath my coat between pitches, so it wouldn't get soaked. The rain continued through the sixth inning, coming to an end during the home half of the frame. Once the seventh inning rolled around, the rain was replaced by the sun, suddenly and decisively burning its way through the cloud cover, and beating down on all us poor souls who were wearing layer upon layer of clothing for protection from the elements. As we stripped off our coats, the Yanks put together a rally, on a Derek Jeter single--on which Tejada made a great stop, followed by a horrible throw to the first base seats--a walk by Rodriguez, and an opposite field blast from Giambi to score the runners. That was all the scoring. The Unit went eight innings, throwing fewer than 100 pitches. Mariano Rivera came out and struggled a bit through the ninth. The Yanks take 2 of 3 from a division rival. A good time all around.


Tejada had all four of his team's hits on the afternoon. The only other Oriole to safely reach base was Chris Gomez.

Don't know why folks come to a Yankees-Orioles game wearing their Red Sox gear. I get the folks in their Orioles paraphenalia--they're present to back their team. In case the Sox Boys didn't notice, the Beantowners don't come to the Stadium for a few weeks, yet. Aside from perhaps being a show of support for "Fried Chicken Man" Kevin Millar, what's the message other than "I'm a big, fat jerk, who comes to someone else's ballpark to boo"?

Unintentional comedy in the third inning. Gary Sheffield is doing his foul ball thing, and Larry Bowa--so-called tough guy--keeps backing further and further away. He started off his usual 15 or so feet behind the coaches box, and gradually backed up until he was standing on the dirt track that surrounds the field, only a few feet in front of the bat boy's station. During this interlude, one foul sliced well over Bowa's head and into the stands, hitting some poor guy right in the ear. After the inning, they broadcast the "be alert about foul balls going into the stands" warning, the video now lead off by Johnny Damon, who had ad-libbed in the taped spot, "and if Gary Sheffield's at very careful."

Thanks for warning us, Johnny.

By the way, in the great Yankee Stadium Drinking Game, how many MGD's do you have to chug if Sheffield nails Bowa with one of those foul line drives?

We could call that one, "Pin the Tail on the Bowa."

I'll be back tomorrow with the week in review.

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