The below are my largely unedited notes taken during last night's season opener . . .
I'm oddly grumpy about tonight's game. I guess the late start and fear of rain has soured my mood some. Perhaps watching last night's disappointment has also contributed to my grouchiness. Still, it looks sunny in Oakland and we've got Randy Johnson facing Barry Zito. I can't not get geared up for this, no matter how much I've come to despise the sound of Michael Kay's voice.
Joe Torre announced what he expects to be his everyday lineup on Sunday and he's written it onto today's line-up card:
L - Johnny Damon (CF)
R - Derek Jeter (SS)
R - Gary Sheffield (RF)
R - Alex Rodriguez (3B)
L - Jason Giambi (1B)
L - Hideki Matsui (LF)
S - Jorge Posada (C)
S - Bernie Williams (DH)
L - Robinson Cano (2B)
The A's, meanwhile, line it up a bit differently than I had expected. Here's their opening day nine:
R Mark Ellis (R)
L Mark Kotsay (CF)
R Bobby Crosby (SS)
L Eric Chavez (3B)
R Frank Thomas (DH)
S Milton Bradley (RF)
R Jay Payton (LF)
R Jason Kendall (R)
S Nick Swisher (1B)
With the lefty Randy Johnson on the mound, lefty Dan Johnson hits the bench, righty Jay Payton takes over in left, and Nick Swisher moves to first.
This is the Yankees' only trip to Oakland this season. Weird. They've only opened a season in Oakland once before and have opened on the west coast just five times prior to this, the other four being split evenly between Anaheim and Seattle, four of the previous five west coast openers coming in consecutive seasons from 1997 to 2000.
Damon steps up to hearty boos from the fans of his former team.
First pitch fastball inside low. Slider outside, 2-0. High outside corner strike. Check swing on a slider in the dirt, 2-2. Crazy looping Zito curve heads for Damon's head and drops right into the zone, bulls eye, strike three.
Jeter pops up to first on a 1-0 count.
Crazy swing from Sheffield on an 83 mile per hour pitch up in the zone. Big curve misses very high due to a lack of break. Another 83 mile per hour pitch high, then again at 80 MPH. Slider right on the inside ties Sheffield up 3-2. Big curve stays up, ball four.
Alex Rodriguez's first at-bat of the season is a two-outs, runners on situation, of course. Zito quickly falls behind 3-0. I'm already in love with this line up, even though having Giambi batting ahead of Matsui will screw him over due to the opposition's ability to bring in their lefties to face the two of them. Rodriguez walks, here's Giambi against the lefty Zito. First pitch is a crazy curve that crosses up Kendall something awful almost looping around Giambi's head, ball one. 2-0, Zito's thrown seven straight balls, then gets a called strike on a nice slider low and away. He tries the same pitch but it's further low and away for ball three, 3-1 to Giambi with men on. Please, Joe, don't hit and run. Giambi gets fooled badly on an 83 MHP change that would have been ball four high, the then swings through another 83 MPH pitch that looks like a high slider that finishes just off the plate waist high.
Something tells me Big Hurt vs. Big Unit is going to be a key matchup tonight. Johnson starts off throwing easy. That or the YES gun is all messed up, which after a 78 MPH pitch from Johnson, I think is more likely the case. That explains the bizzare pitch speeds for Zito in the first inning.
Ellis hits a high fly to center.
Kotsay hits a broken bat bloop to the left of the mound, Rodriguez almost catches it on a fly, but traps it, flips low to first base and the ball bounds past Giambi, who could have had it. Error Giambi, Kotsay's on second with one out. The Yankee defense strikes again. Just wait until Chien-Ming's start Wednesday.
Bobby Crosby looks like his former teammate Tim Hudson. He Ks looking on a high fastball. Two outs. Chavez makes good contact on a line-out to deep right, stranding Kotsay.
Zito goes full on Matsui, Matsui fouls off a curve right at the top of the zone, another high finishes Zito's third walk of the game. The Yankees have now had three baserunners, but no hits.
Posada takes a decent cut on the first pitch low and away. He's still got a bit of a shiner under his left eye. Pitch low for a ball, 1-1. Zito checks Matsui at first. Another foul makes it 1-2. This seems like a very typical Posada at-bat. I'd expect Zito to strike him out on a curve now. Big curve, but it stays high to run it to 2-2. Slider at Posada's ankle runs it full. Zito checks Matsui again. Changeup just barely outside at the waist, barely, ball four number four, men on first and second with one out but the underbelly of the line-up is coming up, Bernie and Cano.
Bernie's right-handed stance looks different than what I'm used to. His knees aren't bent as much and he's leaning over the plate some. And there you go, Bernie cracks an RBI single over a leaping Crosby for the first hit and RBI of the Yankees season. How about that! Bernie really just dropped his bat on the ball, but it did the trick.
Cano, with runners on first and second and no outs, bunts the first pitch. Kendall goes to third, but Posada beats Chavez retreating to the bag by a hair. Chavez actually steps on Posada's foot trying to make the force. Bases loaded none out for the top of the order.
Damon looks foolish on a 0-1 changeup. He then waits for a curve to drop into the zone and smacks it into right for an RBI single. You could see Damon start his swing, identify the curve, stop and wait for that pitch. You know, for all the bitching about his age, his arm, his contract, and his mouth, this guy can hit.
Bases still loaded, still none out. Saarloos is up in the bullpen. Jeter's at the plate. He fouls off a 2-0 pitch up in the zone to go 2-1. Sticks his butt out to take a ball just inside, 3-1, then swings through a slider in about the same spot. Full count. Weak foul tapped up the third base side. Zito's just busting him inside time and again. Look for an inside out swing on the next one. No, he yanks it past Chavez! Another RBI single, 3-0, bases still loaded, Sheffield's turn. Chavez was playing in even with the bag on that play.
Big curve for a ball high. Sheff spins and falls fouling off the next pitch, 1-1. Another curve stays high for ball two. That curve just isn't dropping into the zone anymore. Slider fouled back, 2-2. He tries the curve lower and it bounces in the dirt. Full count. Fifty-five pitches for Zito thus far, 29 balls. A slider in on the hands draws a check swing for strike three.
One out, bases loaded for Rodriguez. Bingo! Rodriguez sees the curve as well as Damon did and serves it over the left field wall for a Grand Slam. 7-0 Yanks. That was almost too easy. Indeed, Alex's bomb drives Zito from the game after just 1 1/3. That's the shortest outing of his career. Wow.
Saarloos is in and falls behind Giambi 3-1. Giambi then fouls one off to go full. So what's new? Saarloos, who struck out 2.99 per nine innings last year gets Giambi looking on a pitch at the knees on the outside corner, Giambi's got one K of each kind thus far.
Matsui up for the second time this inning, both times with the bases empty. This time he almost takes off Saarloos's head with a single up the middle.
Saarloos returns the favor by hitting Posada in the right shin, just above the guard, first and second for Bernie, who pops the first pitch to deep center for the final out.
The Big Hurt looks lithe in his A's uniform and hits a foul home run on a 0-2 pitch from the Big Unit. I don't remember Thomas moving this much in the batters box, it's almost like he's a new player. There it is. Thomas goes deep. I hate to say I told you so.
Bradley strikes out on three pitches so quickly I missed his whole at-bat.
Payton flies out to center.
Jason Kendall is one of the most annoying hitters to watch in baseball, now he's added goggles to his icky beard and odd high-hands bat wiggle. Can we get a vote on who's more aggravating to watch, Kendall or Craig Counsell?
Kendall strikes out swinging for Unit's third of the game. Thirty-two pitches, 21 strikes, three Ks, no walks, one homer. That's Johnson's day thus far.
Cano waits on a pitch and loops it into left for a lead-off single. He's seen just two pitches all year, but has reached base twice.
Damon waits on one down 0-2 and hits a nice shot into right that floats right into Milton Bradley's glove for the first out.
Jeter gets ahead 3-1 as Saarloos repeats Zito's strategy of busting him inside. Kendall throws out Cano on what could have been a busted hit and run (of course). Cano slides right onto Bobby Crosby's glove, spiking his left hand and slicing his index finger at the top knuckle, stopping the hearts of A's fans everywhere who remember Crosby landing on the DL with a back injury half-way through last year's opener. He stays in the game and Jeter strikes out looking on the next pitch.
The Yanks may have a seven run lead and the game may be over an hour old, but it's still very, very early. It's on the Unit to stay focused and nail it down. Fortunately, Frank Thomas should only get three or four more at-bats.
Speaking of which, this is Nick Swisher's first at-bat of the season. He's got a very, very hairy goatee rockin'. Swisher hits a very slow roller in the same spot as Mark Kotsay's broken bat bloop in the first. Rodriguez charges and throws a strike to Giambi, but Swisher reaches safely.
Ellis hits another towering fly to center. Odd to see him taking those kind of swings against Johnson.
Kotsay wraps a clean single into left to put men on first and second with no outs for the heart of the order.
Here's Crosby, hitting with his sliced finger (why do guys keep that finger out of the glove anyway, I could never figure that out myself, it always felt weird). Johnson throws some heat up in the zone ball one. Gets him to chase a second pitch even higher, 1-1, then falls behind 3-1. Johnson goes full then gets another high fly to center. Swisher tags and moves to third on Damon, who throws to second, but no where near Jeter, who went to shallow center to serve as the cutoff man. I wonder if Damon hits Jeter if they were both in camp for all of March rather than playing in the WBC with Damon in a corner field and then on the bench with a sore shoulder.
Chavez flies out on the first pitch to end the inning. Still 7-1.
Sheffield hits a worm burner that scoots under Crosby's glove for an error. Alex Rodriguez does the same to Nick Swisher, though his hot shot hops over and off Swisher's glove, but is ruled a hit. Sheffield takes third.
Corners and none out for Giambi, who comes up with two Ks in two at-bats on the year. First pitch fouled back. Next pitch taken low for a ball, 1-1. There it is, a hard single up the middle for an RBI. During his at-bat, YES shows footage of Giambi's first major league base hit. The site of a lean, athletic, long-haired rookie Giambi is even more startling than I would have expected.
Men on first and second, no outs for Matsui. On a 1-1 count, Matsui lifts a towering bomb to right on a pitch right down the middle. That's three more for the Yanks, 11-1 Bombers in the fourth. Still no outs.
Posada makes nice contact on a pitch to right, but Bradley makes a nice running catch about knee high followed by a casual roll. He's then shown up by Mark Kotsay, who makes a sliding backhanded catch on a gapper by Bernie for the second out. Payton tries to join the party on a tailing opposite field flare by Cano, but the ball is jarred out of his glove when he hits the ground and Cano makes it to second for a double. Three pitches, three times on base. He's not going to learn this way.
Damon gives Payton an easier play for the final out.
During a bathroom break for the puppy (she still needs to be watched, though she's more or less housebroken at this point, a very quick learner) Thomas pops up and Bradley singles. Payton lines out to Jeter who makes a causal leap for the ball. Rodriguez then adds a nice diving play on a Kendall grounder up the line to his grand slam. A nice night for the reining MVP.
Antonio Perez takes over for Crosby at third. No point in forcing Crosby to play down 11-1 in the seasons' first game.
Jeter grounds out to third. Seems like the Yanks have been at the plate all game. The time of possession ratio must be severely skewed. Credit Johnson, who has thrown just one more pitch in four innings than Zito threw in 1 1/3.
Sheffield hits one barely an inch foul down the left field line, then follows it up with a rocket past Chavez for a one-out double. Rodriguez hits the Dickens out of the next pitch, but right at Ellis for the second out.
That brings out Ken Macha who signals for my man Brad Halsey, who trots in wearing Bernie's number 51.
Halsey's first pitch to Giambi is low, he then battles back to 1-2 via a called strike and a foul. His fourth pitch hits Giambi hard on the right (bottom) hand. Fortunately it appears to hit the fleshy bottom of his hand as he was bringing his hands forward to check his swing.
Watching Halsey it strikes me that none of the three players the Yankees sent to Arizona for Randy Johnson are still in purple pinstripes. Dioner Navarro was flipped to the Dodgers right away in the Shawn Green deal. Javier Vazquez went to Chicago this winter for El Duque, and Halsey came over to the A's last week for Juan Cruz, who was part of Oakland's take in the Hudson deal.
Against the lefty Halsey, Matsui picks up his fourth RBI with a single to center.
First and second, two outs for Posada, who is the only hitless Yankee at this point in the game. Halsey quickly gets ahead 0-2, then hits Jorge to the left of the number 2 on his back, loading the bases.
Bernie up with the bases loaded and two outs. Weak foul to the third side. Ball low. Another foul up the third base line, 1-2. Close pitch called a ball, 2-2. Bernie fouls one off home plate ump Tim Welke's mask on a check swing. Ball low, full count. The three A's pitchers have thrown 127 pitches through 4 2/3. High, ball four, Giambi scores. 13-1 Yanks. Bases still loaded for Cano. Will he take a pitch?
Yes! But it's a questionable strike low and away. He fouls off the next one, 0-2, then hits a dribbler to Swisher in the hole. Swisher flips to Halsey who barely beats Cano to the bag for the final out of the inning. That'll teach him to take a pitch!
Swisher falls down making an ugly check swing on a slider, popping up to first. Ellis hits a foul pop in front of the first base dugout and Giambi nearly levels Posada to make the play. Kotsay singles to left.
Here's Perez's first at-bat of the year with two out and Kotsay on first. Johnson blows one by him. The fact that the radar gun is still reading 77 MPH on Johnson's pitches has gone unaddressed by the YES Network. If the readings are wrong either fix them or stop showing them. At least with the new info strip at the top of the screen the pitch speed doesn't replace the count when it pops up. I have to say, I much prefer the strip to the old YES box. FOX has used the strip for years now and it's one of the few things they do right. Using the strip gives the game a letterboxed feel and, to my eye, interferes less with the now rectangular picture than the large and clunky box did by covering up a portion of the more square picture that resulted from its use.
Perez hits into a fielder's choice to end the inning.
With the game official, it starts to drizzle in Oakland. Damon grounds out to Perez at short. Jeter grounds to Swisher at first. Sheffield pops to Perez. 1-2-3 for Halsey, the first such half inning of the game.
Chavez grounds out to Cano. Johnson buzzes Thomas up and in, then throws inside at the hands, then gets a strike on the inside corner, 2-1. After a pair of fouls, Thomas scalds one down the third base line but is robbed by an even better play by Rodriguez, diving to the line and reacting well to the single hard hop. Rodriguez easily throws out the gimpy Thomas for the second out. Bradley flies to shallow right to end Johnson's first 1-2-3 inning of the night.
Another ex-Yank, Jay Witasuck . . . er, sick is in for the A's.
Rodriguez grounds to short courtesy of a nice scoop by Swisher.
The YES team just explained the patches on the A's right sleeves, which feature a microphone and the late Bill King's catchphrase "Holy Toledo."
Bobby Murcer explains that the change Giambi made with Donny in the cage last year was to correct his back leg, which was collapsing and causing him to uppercut too much. The effect was similar to the problems he had late in 2003 and during that postseason when his back leg was collapsing due to a knee that would require offseason surgery. In both instances, Giambi was unable to catch up to the high fastball in part because he wasn't swinging level with the pitch. In other words, he was swinging across the pitch's flight path rather than along it.
Giambi walks and Andy Phillips comes in to pinch run. Looks like Phillips will indeed be taking over Tino Martinez's role from last year.
Matsui singles. He still hasn't made an out this year. If I recall correctly, Matsui started spring training with something like six consecutive times on base.
Posada flies out to the wall in the left field corner but falls victim to Jay Payton's range to stay hitless. Bernie goes full, but strikes out on a check swing.
Footage of Jimmy Rolling extending his hitting streak reveals that the Cardinals are indeed sticking with their blue caps on the road, much to my relief (they had worn red caps on the road all spring).
Bubba Crosby's in for Sheffield in right, Phillips is at first having pinch run for Giambi. Both will bat in the ninth if not before. Johnson, at 93 pitches, is still in the game. Payton makes things easy on him by flying to shallow left on the first pitch.
Johnson buzzes Kendall up and in on a 1-2 pitch. Kendall responds by grounding out to second.
Sturtze is warming up in the pen. I can dig that, better find out what he's got up 13-1 than in a close game. Also better to take a look at Sturtze than burn Farnsworth in a game like this.
In my living room right now I have a couch facing the television with an end table to the left of it and a chair in front of the end table angled toward the TV. I've been sitting in the chair throughout the game thus far but just decided to shift to the couch. Apparently my vision gives out somewhere in the three feet between my old position and my new one as the game is suddenly all fuzzy. Where did I put those damn glasses . . .
Swisher grounds out to end another 1-2-3 for Johnson.
Johnson appears done after 106 pitches, here's his line:
Cano takes the first two pitches, the second his first ball of the year, he then fouls off a couple and grounds out to second.
Damon doubles down the right field line. Jeter singles up the middle to drive him home, 14-1 Yanks.
Here's Crosby ahead of schedule. He takes all five pitches form Witasuck to draw a walk. Very nice, Bubba!
With men on first and second, Rodriguez singles home Jeter, 15-1 Yanks, runners still on first and second with one out for my man Andy Phillips, who takes a tremendous cut at a high fastball from Witasick, missing for strike one. He then takes a breaking ball low for strike two. Phillips then puts good wood on the third pitch, but flies out to right for the second out. As long as Phillips can avoid striking out in front of Torre there's hope.
Bidding for a five-hit night, Matsui works the count full, then takes ball four, which nearly skips off his shoetops. That loads the bases for the hitless Posada with two outs. Witasick isn't coming close to the plate, going 3-0 on Posada, then finally getting a strike on the outside corner. Posada grounds the next one to first to leave the bases loaded.
Top of the order for Sturtze, who had an ugly spring (8.31 ERA, 0-2, 8.2 IP, 15 H, 2 HR). The ray of hope is Sturtze's 7:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Here's hoping he's finally rounding into form. Kelly Stinnett is in for Posada behind the plate.
Ellis hits a slow roller to the right of Jeter for a single. One could wonder if another shortstop gets to that ball. Jeter's great at the jump throw from the hole, but has anyone ever seen Jeter make a diving play to his right (his leap into the stands doesn't count)?
Kotsay flies out to center. Perez strikes out swinging on a 2-2 fastball. Chavez lifts the first pitch he sees to center. Good stuff from Sturtze. Let's see if he can do it again in the ninth.
Kiko Calero, who had an ugly spring of his own (9.64 ERA in just 4 2/3 IP, 5 H, 2 HR), is on for the A's. He gets Bernie looking on four pitches. Cano fouls off the first two, takes two balls, then fouls off another and takes a breaking pitch up in the zone for strike three. Damon doubles off the third-base bag on the first pitch he sees.
In addition to their 17 hits, the Yankees have eight walks, three hit batsmen and once reached on an error. That's 29 baserunners.
Jeter draws a full-count walk to make it 30 even and give Bubba Crosby his second at-bat of the game. Not bad for a guy who came in as a defensive replacement in the bottom of the seventh. Crosby takes a sixth straight pitch, then fouls one off at the plate to even the count. After taking ball two he hits what would have been the first double play of the game for the Yanks, but given that there were already two outs, goes down as a fielder's choice.
Man, this game has really mellowed me out. It was over early. There hasn't been any trouble from the rain. It's only 1:15 EST entering the bottom of the ninth (that's a very reasonable hour for a night owl like me). Other than that busted hit and run with Cano there hasn't really been a play or a move that has given me much reason to complain.
Torre's going to Villone in the ninth. That's also fine by me. Get a look at Villone against the righties in the heart of the order with the game at a safe distance.
But wait, lefty Dan Johnson is pinch-hitting for Thomas? I guess there's no point in testing the Big Hurt's big hurts down 14 runs in the ninth. Down 1-2 in the count, Johnson hits a nubber in front of the plate and Villone pounces on it to retire him.
Bradley, also down 1-2, serves one into left for a single. Payton singles into right on a 1-1 count to put runners on the corners. Kendall then creams one to Damon on the lip of the warning track for a sac fly RBI. So this is what Villone does against righties.
0-2 on switch-hitter-batting-right Swisher. One more strike . . .
There it is!
Game over, 15-2 Yankees.
Johnson gets the win, Matsui finishes 4 for 4 with four RBIs, three on a homer, and two walks, Rodriguez goes 3 for 5 with five RBIs, four on a grand slam, a walk, and two great plays at third, Damon goes 3 for 7 with a pair of doubles. Cairo and Nieves are the only position players who don't see action. The only sour note was Villone's rocky ninth.