"The Bambino's kicking our ass right now, but we're going to get that ass back,'' David Ortiz, "The Cookie Monster." (Boston Herald)
The Yankees came into Shea Stadium last night as not-ready-for-prime-time-players after their draining three-game series vs. the Red Sox. Derek Jeter was in the starting line-up though. He had a bandage on his chin and a nice shiner under his right eye and was greeted by a mix of boos and a standing ovation during his first trip to the plate. Jeter's right eye was blinking steadily all night, but it didn't keep him from playing. With one out in the first, he made a nice back-hand stab and with some help from Tony Clark, threw out the speedster Kaz Matsui. That was as good as it would get for the visiting Bombers. Mike Piazza followed with a ground ball that took a funny hop and skipped past Alex Rodriguez for a single. Then Hideki Matsui dropped a long fly ball by Cliff Floyd for an error; Bernie Williams followed by taking a poor route to a fly ball by Richard Hidalgo and the Mets quickly led 2-0.
With two out in the second, Miguel Cairo apparently robbed Jose Reyes of a hit to end the inning, but Reyes was called safe, the ump blew the call and Kaz Matsui followed with a three-run shot, his first of two homers on the night. That was the kind of night it was going to be. But while the Yankees were half-asleep, give credit to the Mets, who were in good form.
Steve Trachsel had a nasty splitter going and he continues to be an excellent pitcher at Shea Stadium. Richard Hidalgo added another dinger off of Mike Mussina--who is no doubt pleased that he won't have to face Hidalgo again this season.
Just like last Friday, the Mets opened with a bang vs. the Yankees. Fortunately for the Bombers, the Red Sox lost another heartbreaker in extra innings; this time, 6-3 in Atlanta. The Bombers remain eight-and-a-half ahead of Boston. Curt Schilling goes for the Sox this afternoon.
In every way, the Nomar Problem has reached a critical mass. The Red Sox know they can't sign him at the end of the season. He's already turned down boatloads of money ($60 million over four years before the 2003 season), and is admittedly (and rightfully) wounded by the offseason attempt to replace him with Alex Rodriguez. Garciaparra says he wants to stay here, but virtually no one believes him and his demeanor suggests he'd rather stick needles in his eyes than sign on for another tour of duty at Fenway.
... This is hardly a groundbreaking idea, but for the first time, management can make a Nomar deal that might improve the ball club and won't be universally deplored by the Nation. A whopping 70 percent of 6,893 reponses to a Boston.com survey Thursday said Nomar should be traded. Stunning. And that was before Garciaparra took the night off in the most important game of the season.
One has to wonder why it always ends like this for Boston's star baseball players. Go back through time. Mo Vaughn. Roger Clemens. Mike Greenwell. Jim Rice. Bob Stanley. Wade Boggs. Bruce Hurst. Carlton Fisk. Fred Lynn. Rick Burleson. All home-grown stars who left the franchise spitting nails at the front office. Nomar Garciaparra played harder and was more popular than any of them. Ted Williams compared Nomar with Joe DiMaggio. Now this. Everybody's favorite Red Sox appears to have become a wildly unhappy ballplayer, struggling to return from an injury, resentful of the front office, and determined to walk at the end of the season.
Thursday in New York? Garciaparra deserves the benefit of the doubt, just as Pedro Martinez deserved it last summer, when it was suggested in some places that Martinez might have been ducking the Oakland A's when he was, in fact, suffering from an infamous case of pharyngitis. Martinez took such assertions personally, just as Garciaparra is taking them now, eight years into a Red Sox career during which Garciaparra has routinely played with a familiar bounce.
...Earlier this week, amid escalating rumors that Garciaparra might be on the trade market, Red Sox officials privately denied they have any such interest. The Red Sox are better with a healthy and focused Garciaparra than they are without him, and the trick now is to get him healthy and focused. When those things have happened, after all, Garciaparra has demonstrated a unique and uncanny ability to play the game of baseball.
As Jack Nicholson asked himself in Prizzi's Honor: "Do I ice her, do I marry her? Which one of dese?"
Meanwhile, Jack Curry gives props to the Bronx Bombers:
There are endless reasons for hating the Yankees. They have won more World Series titles than any team. They have a $180 million payroll that is at least double that of all but a few clubs. They have a principal owner in Steinbrenner who can be a bully and who often thinks others are plotting against him. To so many teams and fans, the Yankees really are the Evil Empire.
But for today and maybe a lot longer, it could be difficult for even the most ardent Red Sox or Mets fans to hate the Yankees. Anyone who saw Jeter risk a serious injury for a catch that could have maybe been the difference between the Yankees being a whopping eight and a half or a still comfortable six and a half games ahead of Boston had to appreciate the brilliance, had to acknowledge the desire to see their favorite player care that much.
"That's who he is," Rodriguez said. "He sets the tone for the team. You see something like that, you say, 'O.K., we have to win now.' ''