I received several e-mails just before last night's game from giddy Yankee fans, when it was learned that Pedro Martinez would not start. (Martinez has a mild muscle strain in his lower back, and should be back next week.) Well, those who laugh first, laugh least not last, as the Sox rallied and smashed the Yanks 10-7. I kept expecting to hear Fred Willard show up and say, "Wha happen?"
It didn't look good early on for the Home Nine, as emergency starter Bruce Chen served up a bomb to Alfonso Soriano on the first pitch of the game; fortunately, for Boston, Jeff Weaver couldn't get his act together either. Even better for Boston, they blew the game open against Jose Contreras, the pitcher George snatched away from them last winter. Contreras got out of a jam in the sixth, only to get smacked around in the seventh. (Boston fans know better than to laugh too much at anything, especially this early in the year, and especially with their ace hurting again. That said, it was a sweet night for Sox fans.)
After the game, Torre was still stressing the positive, praising Contreras for throwing confidently after seeming so tentative in April. It is a worthwhile strategy for a sensitive pitcher like Contreras, who admitted before the game that he put too much pressure on himself early on, partly because of his contract.
"I was very pleased," Torre said. "I thought this was more of a plus than a minus, in the long run. I thought his command was much better than when he left. I thought his stuff was better, and he seemed to be more confident in letting the ball go."
..."I faced Contreras once in spring training, and all he was throwing was off-speed pitches," Ortiz said. "I saw him tonight throwing a lot of fastballs. I guess they've been working on that. I guess somebody told him that the big league club is different from whatever he played before. He's got a good fastball; he's got to use it."
That was Contreras's plan, and catcher Jorge Posada was pleased to see him execute it. "I thought he was more aggressive," Posada said. "His stuff was better, and he came after hitters. It's just a matter of time to put it all together."
Ramiro Mendoza didn't fair much better in his first appearence against his former team, allowing 4 consecutive singles to start the fifth inning, and giving up 3 runs. Jason Giambi came up with the bases loaded and just missed hitting a grand slam, skying out to right field instead. So it goes when you are slumping.
There was some minor drama in the first when big Manny was hit in the elbow with a Jeff Weaver pitch. Manny, who leans out over the plate as much as Jeter, Soriano, or any other modern slugger, glared at Weaver and had some challenging words for the Yankees string bean starter as well. God forbid his fat ass could be expected to duck out of the way of an inside pitch. Instead of putting his head down and jogging to first, it becomes a school yard stare-off. The funny part is by the time Manny reached second, he was calmly chatting it up with Soriano.
Jorge Posada lead off the next inning and Bruce Chen pulled a Shawn Estes and threw behind him, missing him all together (which considering the size of Jorgie's rump is no small feat). The ump immediately warned both teams, and the inside pitch was effectively erased for the rest of the game. Joe Torre shook his head disapprovingly. Torre talked earlier this year about how modern players have no conception of game awareness when it comes to getting hit. Every time a slugger is plunked it is a personal affront, a diss. Jim Kaat, announcer for the YES network, could feel Torre's pain.
While the Sox-Yankee rivalry is as heated as ever for us fans, these are not the Carlton Fisk-Bill Lee Sox vs. the Bronx Zoo Yanks. The ballplayers are all friends. Win or lose, they all belong to the same club. Does this make for a watered-down game? I don't know. It just makes for a different game. Sometimes you just want to yell at these batters, 'Get over yourself, and jog down to first tough guy.' Either that, or go nuts and start a fight. But the posturing is tiresome and unbecoming, especially for a great player like Manny.