About a month before September 11th, 2001, a new spanish restaurant opened on Broadway between 231rst and 232nd streets. It is one of at least a dozen joints in the city called Malecon, which I believe is a beach town in the Dominican. This particular Malecon was a cleaner and smarter version of the rice and beans place directly across the street---naturally the food wasn't as good.
But no matter, it became my new stop for chicken, plantains and rice. Run by two brothers who love the Yankees---or J'ankees as it were---we spent a lot of time during that emotional 2001 post season talking baseball. But the day after the Diamondbacks tripped up the Bombers in Game 7, Javier, the good looking brother--well dressed, and heavily cologned---was devastated.
Of course, I had been up half the night myself, but come the next day, I tried to put a positive spin on it all. And I put all my hopes in one basket: the Yanks needed to go out and sign Jason Giambi. I pleaded with Javier to relax because the Bombers were going to get this slugger and we would be OK.
But he didn't want to hear it. He didn't want to feel better. So I left him alone. During the following weeks, when I came through to get some grub, I kept up the Giambi talk. Pretty soon, everytime I walked through the door, Javier and the boys working the counter greeted me as Giambi.
Except it sounded more like, "G'om-Bee." Then of course, Giambi signed with New York, and the nickname stuck. As time passed, the pronounciation became more exaggerated, more sing-songy. Each time I stepped foot into the Malecon, about eight guys greeted me with a chorus of "Gee-oh'mm-beee." I felt like Norm from "Cheers." I called each one of them "G'om-bee" in return to make all things equal. It reached the point where they didn't remember what my real name is and vice versa. We were all "G'om-bee."
I've pulled for Mr. Giambi hard, ever since he came to New York. In fact, I wrote him an eight-page, welcome-to-New York letter during his first spring training. It was the first fan letter I've ever written to a ballplayer. I can't fully explain why I felt the need to connect with the big lug, but perhaps after losing key figures like O'Neill, Martinez and Brosius, I wanted to believe the Yanks would be in good hands.
I'm proud of the way Giambi has played through injuries this season, and hope that the whispers of his decline are premature. But as one AL scout told Ken Rosenthal this week:
"He's starting to break down physically — that's why he's cheating as much as he is," a scout said. "If you can locate a good fastball inside, he has no chance. If they had to play the Cubs, those guys would maul him. They'd break his thumbs."
It was downright painful to watch Giambi fishing for pitches way out of the strike zone in Game One, and when he whiffed last night in the fifth inning, on another fastball that was clearly a ball, I felt awful for him. While I freely curse out other Yankees, I'm protective of Giambi.
Giambi had another shot to redeem himself in the pivotal 7th inning. The Yanks had taken a 2-1 lead, on Alfonso Soriano's RBI single. Brad Radke, who was brilliant for six innings, started the seventh by plunking Nick Johnson, and was replaced by LaTroy Hawkins, one of Game One's stars.
There may be some second-guessing about Radke being yanked, but he may have started to tire in the sixth. After getting two quick outs, Radke walked Matsui. He had been ahead 0-2, but lost him. Then Aaron Boone fell behind 1-2 but fouled off several pitches (five, maybe six?). Boone missed a juicy change-up, a mistake that was high in the zone, and eventually struck out.
So Hawkins came on in the seventh, and Juan Rivera sacrificed Johnson to second, Sori slapped a 3-1 fastball past Christian Guzman to break the tie. Derek Jeter then chopped a ball to Hawkins, who rushed his throw to first; the ball got away, and suddenly runners were on second and third with just one out.
Giambi had been booed when he struck out in the fifth, and Hawkins threw two fastballs, low and right over the plate past him (Giambi fouled one of them off). I was pacing and cursing at this point, telling my girlfriend Emily, "That's it, those are his pitches. He missed them. He's done." She scoffed at me and told me to settle down and have some faith.
And then Hawkins, who was so effective with a high heater the other day, threw him the same pitch---fastball, low in the zone--again, instead of climbing the ladder. This time Giambi didn't miss, as he drove a single through the middle, scoring two insurance runs.
Ohhhhh, bacon. I jumped and screamed, and there was little Emily, pointing at herself with both of his thumbs as if to say, 'It was my blessings that made this Hallmark moment possible.'
Whatever it was, it helped the Yanks even the series with a 4-1 win. Andy Pettitte pitched seven innings, allowing four hits, and striking out ten. His only mistake was a giving up a monstrous solo shot to Torii Hunter. He was unscathed by some more sloppy defense in the fifth---via the usual suspects, Soriano and Mr. Jeter---and made big pitches all night long. It was a clutch performance, one that helped erase the taste of his last two post season outings.
Jeter could be seen in the Yankee dugout late in the game trying to stretch out his weak shoulder. There were a couple of plays were he extended it during the game---on a diving stop up the middle, and on a head first slide into third. Was something wrong? Was it just the cold? Suddenly, I had visions of Will Carroll saying, "I told you so," dance around in my head. Just two days ago, Carroll wrote:
Jeter famously overcame a shoulder injury that he suffered on the first day of the season, and has done well without surgery. And yet, I think the playoffs will be a problem for him. I can see Jeter diving for a ball on turf in Minnesota and popping the shoulder just enough to keep him out. Sure, I could be wrong, but it's been a possibility all season. It's just as likely that Jeter won't dive, knowing the risk as he has all season, letting one squeak through.
We Yankee fans will just have to hope for the best...
Mariano Rivera pitched two innings, something I felt uneasy about initially. But Mo retired all six batters he faced, which just goes to show how much I know. In the cold New York night, the Twins didn't stand a chance against him.
The Yankees--and their fans---can breath a bit easier this morning as the team heads to the heartland for the weekend. I know Gee-oom-bee, and his fans, slept well last night.