Monday, July 07, 2008

34 Games Left: Sunday Night Lights

During Friday's Independence Day game, at some point shortly after the the Sox took a 6-3 lead en route to a 6-4 victory, a friend emailed me with a one-sentence note:
Why are there so many Red Sox fans at this game?
There are many answers to this question. As I've complained before, a mind-boggling number of Yankee "fans" can think of nothing better to do with their tickets than to bring a Red Sox fan to the Stadium, to cheer against their team. Corporate ticketholders seem to love giving their tickets to fans of whichever opposing team is in town, and online services like StubHub have made scalping tickets safe and sanitary for any New Englander who wants to make the drive down I-95. Moreover, the Red Sox seem to have attracted a fan base with no connection whatsoever to New England, composed of Dominicans who come out to honor Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, and others who jumped on the bandwagon circa 2004, adopting the Boston "B" as their non-conformist symbol for hatred of the Yankees, and/or New York in general. All told, that makes for a lot of people in the stands to chant "Youuuuuk" when Boston's whiny firstbaseman comes to the plate.

The simpler answer to my friend's question is that the Red Sox fans, from wherever and however they got into the Stadium, came to preside over a funeral. A funeral for the Yankees. They'd come into town on Thursday like they owned the place--they absolutely beat down Andy Pettitte and Jon Lester held the Yankees lineup impotent--and on Friday, the roll continued behind Josh Beckett. The Yankees, losers of five of their last six, actually fell behind Baltimore into fourth place at the end of action on Friday.

Since Wang went down, I've been coming to terms with the thought that this isn't the Yankees' year. Not that I've given up, but the twists that it would take for the Yankees to overtake the Rays and Red Sox--much less perform well in the playoffs--seem to range toward the improbable. Everyone knew that this was a risky season, with the Yanks counting on their young players rather than making yet another move for a top-shelf talent like Johan Santana. That young talent has largely disappointed, with Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy on the shelf with injuries (and before they were injured, they were ineffective); Robinson Cano having a half-season to forget, and Melky Cabrera openly making some of us question whether he belongs in the major leagues.

So I was bracing myself for a Boston sweep, or three-out-of-four on the upside. Then, on Saturday, there was a nice surprise from Mike Mussina--he picked the Red Sox apart with precision pitching and chutzpah, and the Yankees barely survived some ninth-inning trouble for Mariano Rivera. Still, coming to the Stadium for last night's Joba Chamberlain-Tim Wakefield matchup, I wasn't optimistic--sure, Joba's probably the best thing the Yanks have going this season, but he hasn't faced an offense like Boston's as a starter.

Again, tonight proved a pleasant surprise. Joba pumping mid-90s heat at the opposition wasn't surprising, but the Red Sox pounding those balls into the ground was, a little (it shouldn't have been, given that Chamberlain recently induced 10 or more grounders against the Astros and Pirates as well). Chamberlain was excellent outside of the fifth inning, which went 38 pitches long and featured control trouble. I was glad that they let Joba pitch himself out of the mess, despite the fact that he looked fatigued as the inning wore on.

Robinson Cano's seventh-inning triple, which tied the game, was another pleasant surprise, and Kyle Farnsworth making it through the eighth inning without giving the Red Sox the lead was outright shocking. The biggest, and most surprising moment in the game came in the ninth. The Red Sox got a runner to third base with two outs, and Manny Ramirez, who'd spent the game on the bench, came to the plate to face Mariano Rivera. I expected an intentional walk, to face rookie Jacoby Ellsbury rather than the most dangerous batter on the team. Rivera had other ideas, and took down the dreadlocked slugger with a perfect, three-pitch strikeout. Ramirez never took the bat off his shoulder.

At that point, things stopped being surprising. There was a palpable feeling that the worm had turned. The crowd in the left field stands stayed on their feet for the bottom of the ninth, expecting that one of the trio of Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, and Jorge Posada would send us home with a bang. It didn't happen, but then the top of the Red Sox lineup didn't find much to do with Rivera in his second inning of work. When Robinson Cano singled to start the inning, blood was in the water, a sac bunt and a Wilson Betemit whiff later, the game was in the hands of rookie Brett Gardner, who's concluding his first week in the majors. Against Jon Papelbon, the rookie hanged in there, fouling off Papelbon's big fastballs en route to a eight-pitch groundball single up the middle. Welcome to the Show, kid. Thanks for rescuing our week.

NOTES:
  • In the second inning, Alex Rodriguez tied Mickey Mantle on the All-Time home run list, thwacking a Wakefield knuckler down the left field line. Rodriguez had a hard week, with rumors of an affair with Madonna following rumors that his wife had fled to Paris, to be with Lenny Kravitz, in turn followed by the official announcement, tonight before the game, that his wife will seek a divorce.
  • I'm perplexed by Madonna's role as the catalyst that set this chain of events in motion. I remember Madonna at her peak, in the 80's: the photos of her published in Penthouse and Playboy were perhaps the most anticipated thing in the history of published nudity. She was attached or rumored to be attached to dozens of prominent figures of the day, from JFK, Jr. to Jose Canseco and Warren Beatty. But with over-exposure, her reputation as a sex symbol began to wear thin, and it outright died, in my opinion, with her performance in the Basic Instinct rip-off Body of Evidence. The movie cast her as a dangerous sexpot, in a cast that included quality performers like Willem DaFoe, Joe Mantegna, Frank Langella and Julianne Moore. She was hamstrung by an awful, awful script, but it was just shocking that Madonna couldn't manage to convince anyone that she was seductive, or even terribly desirable, in the role. Her coming back from motherhood and marriage to bust up A-Rod's marriage is a bit like if Don Mattingly came out of retirement today and went on to win the batting title.
  • Girardi got booted from the game in the sixth, for arguing balls and strikes right before the Gardner single that set up the Yankees' second run of the night. The guy in front of me remarked "He [Girardi] is the only one in that dugout with any fire." Tough judgment, given that Jeter and Posada are in that dugout, too, but I'm not sure I disagree.
  • Words of encouragement to Kyle Farnsworth: "Kyle! Pretend that Mike Lowell is a beautiful five-point buck. Or six points, whatever. Just take him out!"

1 comment:

Bronx Bomber said...

Seeing Rodriguez tying Mantle's record was great. As a Yankee fan it's a great hallmark but you feel Arod doesn't match up to the class of Mantle.

I was thinking about how the old stadium is getting torn down the other day and my buddy told me about this. You might want to check it out

http://www.pinstripewishescometrue.com/