On yet another Fourth of July weekend with the Yankees facing the Red Sox, both teams are looking up at the Tampa Bay Rays, who may be end up being the craziest worst-to-first story in the Expansion Era. After today's discouraging loss the Yankees are nine games behind the Rays. Thursday night's 7-0 debacle featured the following elements that rightly incurred the wrath of manager Joe Girardi:
• It marked the 28th time this season that the Yankees scored two runs or less.
• It was the third start Andy Pettitte made against a divisional opponent where he went five innings or less, gave up at least five runs and eight hits.
• LaTroy Hawkins tanked another mop-up appearance in what may or may not have been a showcase for a trade or release. One thing is sure is that his body language on the mound indicates that he does not want to be a Yankee, and a palpable sarcastic, "Oh, great, Hawkins," feeling permeates the stadium when he enters the game.
• It gave us the following sequence, buried near the bottom of GAK III's writeup in the New York Post:
"It looked like we didn't have a chance. After we got down it seemed like there was nothing there. We are not playing up to expectations and that's not good. The Steinbrenners spent $200 million on us and we haven't shown what we are made of." — Johnny Damon
The scary thing is that maybe this is what the Yankees are — a 45-41 collection of expensive parts incapable of an extended hot streak due to an inconsistent hitting and a rotation that stunningly includes Sidney Ponson.
"We have to get better. That's the bottom line. Everyone has to get better and it starts with me. I'll take responsibility for where we're at. It's my job and we have to get better." — Joe Girardi
* * *
I can't even comprehend the A-Rod-Madonna / Cynthia Rodriguez-Lenny Kravitz love rhombus. The coverage is only going to intensify; it will only become a distraction if the Yankees continue to languish in mediocrity.
* * *
To the main focus of today's column: My top 5 Fourth of July (or close to the actual day) Yankee Stadium moments. I wanted to limit it to games that I've seen and/or have occurred in my lifetime. Obviously, the most powerful moment is Lou Gehrig's speech in 1939. That may have been the most memorable moment in the Stadium's history.
The point of lists, though, is to spawn comment, and perhaps fuel argument. I'm curious to see your responses and editions to this list:
1. 1983: Dave Righetti's no-hitter against the Red Sox. The day was a lot like today: muggy, overcast, threat of rain, sun mixed in. I asked Bobby Murcer about this game, and the story he told me involved Phil Rizzuto leaving the broadcast booth in the seventh inning to beat the traffic over the George Washington Bridge, and listening to the events unfold on the radio, with Frank Messer's call.
2. 2004: It was July 1, but the game will forever be known as the "Jeter Dives Into the Stands Game." For me, it ranks as the greatest regular season baseball game I've ever seen. It had everything – Brad Halsey standing tall against Pedro Martinez, lead changes, great defense by both teams, and Joe Torre exhausting his roster to the point that he lost the DH. The unlikely hero: John Flaherty. For me, the most memorable moments, aside from Manny Ramirez's two home runs, Jeter's dive, and Flaherty's hit, were A-Rod's play in the ninth inning that had everyone in the ballpark thinking they'd seen a triple play, and Nomar Garciaparra's conspicuous absence.
3. 2003: The Red Sox pounded the Yankees, 10-3. This game was memorable to me, though because in my opinion, it put David Ortiz on the map as a dangrous hitter. He hit two mammoth home runs on the Fourth, one off David Wells and another off Jason Anderson that would have been out in any MLB stadium. He hit two more home runs in the following game — a 10-2 Red Sox rout — beginning his reputation as a Yankee killer.
4. 1989: It was the 50th Anniversary of Lou Gehrig Day. The promotional giveaway was a 32-ounce plastic cup with a diagram of the stadium featuring some of the Stadium's greatest moments. The Yankees faced the Tigers and won, 1-0. My greatest memories were watching Don Mattingly go 3-for-4, Luis Polonia getting picked off of first base in the first inning, and Jesse Barfield throwing a runner out from the right field corner.
5. 1998: A 4-3 victory over the Orioles that was the fifth victory in a 10-game run that spanned the All-Star break. There was bad blood from earlier in the season (the bench-clearing brawl that saw Darryl Strawberry pummel Armando Benitez following his plunking of Tino Martinez). Chad Curtis's base hit in the sixth inning put the Yankees on top, and El Duque, making just the sixth start of his career, shut the O's down.
Honorable mention: 2002: This game is memorable to me, not for anything that happened on the field — Raul Mondesi hit his first home run as a Yankee as part of a 7-1 victory that capped a three-game sweep of the Cleveland Indians — but for a goofy family bonding episode. I was editing that day's game for YES Network.com, and during a break in the postgame while waiting for my writer to file, I was playing with my nephew — he was five months old at the time. In a moment while I held him over my head, he gave me a look as if to say, "Gotcha, Uncle Will," and he spit up onto my face. I closed my eyes and mouth just in time.
Next week: Yankee Panky is on vacation, trying not to get seduced by the Kaballah workings of a pop icon.