The Fenway Faithful had been waiting all winter to let out some much-needed steam in the general direction of the New York Yankees, and last night, in the first meeting of the year between Boston and New York, they had their chance. The Yankees continued to play sloppy baseball, trailed from the first inning on, and never really made it a game, falling to the Sox by the score of 6-2. Tim Wakefield's knuckler was operating in fine form, as he shut down the Yankee offense, while Javier Vasquez wasn't particularly sharp at all.
Things started off poorly for the Yanks and stayed that way for the duration of the game. In the first, Jason Giambi muffed an easy ground ball off of the bat of Johnny Damon to start the game. Next, Bill Mueller lined a high fastball into the right field seats to give Boston a 2-0 lead. Vasquez came back to strike out the Cookie Monster, David Ortiz, and for Yankee fans used to the struggles of Jeff Weaver, it was a relief to see that Vasquez hadn't lost his composure. He pitched Ortiz aggresively, and blew the fastball by him for the third strike. He blazed a fastball past Manny Ramirez for a first-pitch strike too. But on the 0-2 pitch, Ramirez sliced a ball into the short right field corner. The ball bounced off of the top of the wall, but the umpire called it a home run.
And that's just the way things have been going for New York. What should have been a triple became a homer. Manny smiles! and the Sox lead, 3-0. Kevin Millar followed and blasted a single off of the Green Monster. It was the hardest hit ball of the inning; a true Fenway Park single. Vasquez couldn't get his pitches down, and the Sox were making him pay. He threw two good splitters past the next hitter, Ellis Burks, and then Burks slapped one to the left side.
Derek Jeter moved to his right, dove and stabbed the ball. He rolled over onto his right knee (his left leg extended) and fired the ball side-arm to second base. Ha! Take that Jeter-haters of the world. A nifty play from the World's Worst Shortstop. But Vasquez walked Mark Bellhorn, and then Doug Mirabelli tapped an easy grounder to short, but Ho! it bounced off of Jeter's glove, and through his legs. Burks scored Boston's fourth run and the Jeter-haters were rolling, "Right back at you!"
Once again, the Yankee offense had their opportunities. With runners on first (Alex Rodriguez) and second (Jason Giambi) and one out in the sixth, Gary Sheffield was ahead in the count, 3-1. Joe Torre put the hit-and-run on and after Sheffield took strike two, Rodriguez was thrown out at third. The announcers assumed that Rodriguez was stealing on his own--a big no-no in that situation--but after the game, Joe Torre said that he had put a play on. Down 5-2, Tim Wakefield threw a magic knuckler on the next pitch to strike Sheffield out looking.
In the next inning, the Yankees had two runners on again, and just one out. But pinch-hitter Tony Clark struck out and Kenny Lofton grounded out to first. And in the eighth, with two out, Manny Ramirez muffed an easy pop-up. Jason Giambi, who hit what looked like a routine out, was so discouraged that he didn't run hard at all. He sulked with his head down. Instead of winding up on second, he was on first. It was truly a horrible play on Ramirez's part, and an awful one on Giambi's part as well. The next two batters walked, and the Yankees, down 6-2, brought the tying run to the plate.
Alan Embree came in to face Hideki Matsui and struck him out on three pitches. And so it goes. I don't think there is anything to be alarmed about. If the Yankees keep putting men on base, eventually, they will start knocking them in.
Alex Rodriguez played poorly and the Fenway Faithful were all over him. The crowd chanted "Bal-Co" and "Ster-iods" at Giambi and Sheffield each time they came to bat. Every time the Sox squashed a Yankee rally, the crowd erupted. It wasn't so much joy that was coming from them, but the "In-Your-Face: USA, USA," Homer Simpson brand of adreneline.
As I mentioned, they are entitled. After another long, uncomfortable winter, this was just the kind of game to help Red Sox fans feel a little bit better about themselves. Not all of the crowd was acting like this was a playoff game. There are plenty--nay, a majority?--of Sox fans who are way too cautious to go in for that kind of celebrating. After Ramirez's error, when the Yankees loaded the bases, you could feel the crowd bracing themselves for the worst.
I didn't find the game upsetting. (What was upsetting was the pathetic "kids-friendly" computer graphic that Fox showed off.) Frankly, it's always easy for me to rationalize early-season losses to Boston. I almost invite them. Let Red Sox fans be happy now. Let them kick the Yankees around and feel good about themselves in April, May, June, and July. Come August, things will start to change. Happens every year, like the seasons.
Now, I'm not saying it's going to happen like this every year forever, but so far, that's what happens. The happier Sox fans are now, the more miserable they will be later. I'm just going on what I know. Last night a good time was had by (almost) all at the Fens, but remember the saying about those who laugh first.
I don't mean to be downer here, but I wouldn't be surprised to see more of the same from the Yankees today. I expect Schilling to be terrific this afternoon. Hopefully, Mussina can build on his last start, and continue to regain his form.