Have you heard about the lonesome loser/
Beaten by the queen of hearts every time/
Have you heard about the lonesome loser/
He's a loser, but he still keeps on tryin'
As I've mentioned several times in this space before, when I worked for Joel and Ethan Coen from the fall of 1996 through the fall of '97, the only Yankee that Ethan liked to any degree was Kenny Rogers. Why Rogers? Well, as you can imagine the Yankees aren't exactly the kind of team for the Coen sensibility and Rogers stuck out like a sore thumb on the Cinderella team in '96. Unlike David Cone or El Duque, Rogers (like Denny Neagle) never fit the Yankee mold. A control specialist, Rogers drove Joe Torre and Yankee fans nuts that summer and never performed up to expectations in New York.
With a wide-jaw and square frame, Rogers looked like Joe Everybody, or Joe Anybody pitching for the Yanks. (Walter Mitty, this is your life.) Rogers resembles a slightly dumpier, plainer version of a Lifetime Network character actor. He's been a good pitcher over the course of his career—and is off to a fine start this season—but in New York, Kenny Rogers was considered a loser. A lovable loser to some, but a loser all the same. That's why Ethan Coen liked him. He is naturally drawn to losers, and Rogers is like a character out of one of the Coen brothers movies; self-satisfied, obstinate and hapless. (Kevin Brown could be a character in a Coen brothers movie too, but he's not a lovable or a loser. He's not calm and agreeable like Kenny; he's too furious. He may not be a loser, but he thinks he's a loser.)
Old lanternjaw Rogers looked sharp over the first couple of innings at the Stadium last night, working the corners, moving in and out, throwing nothing but slop. Going into the game, Rogers was 0-7 in his last 10 starts in the Bronx. But hey, Aaron Sele—another Yankee punching bag—pitched well here earlier in the season, so who is to say that it wasn't Kenny's turn?
In the first inning, the Stadium crowd gave Alfonso Soriano a rousing ovation when he came to bat. As he dug into the batter's box, 'Lil Sori tipped his helmet, and then promptly grounded out to Alex Rodriguez at third. (Rodriguez made a nifty play as the ball took a bad, late hop.)
With two men on in the third Soriano came to bat again and he sliced a fly ball over the right field fence for a three-run home run. The crowd cheered. And I don't mean politely, they gave it up for the kid. Michael Kay, the play-by-play man for the YES network said, "I"m shocked." How often do you hear Yankee fans cheering a three-run homer for an opposing team? It was a special moment, and Soriano's feet must have barely touched the ground. I wonder is how his new teammates felt. (The lovefest was over then and there; the next time Soriano came to bat, the crowd cheerfully booed.) Mark Teixeria added a solo shot later in the frame and Kenny Rogers had himself a four-run lead.
But it wouldn't last long. Derek Jeter beat out a ground ball in the third for an infield single. (He was removed from the game at the end of the inning after experiencing tightness in his groin; he's likely to miss the rest of the weekend series but is expected to play next week.) Bernie Williams followed with a two-run home run to left field and the score was cut in half.
Rogers got into further trouble, allowing a single and walking two to load the bases. But Tony Clark grounded out weakly to the mound to end the inning. However, in the fourth, Rogers left a fastball up and over the plate to Enrique Wilson who pounced on it for a solo shot to left. He came back and retired Miguel Cairo (in for Jeter) and Williams before Alex Rodriguez hit a moon shot deep to left which tied the game. Rogers tried to go up and in on Rodriguez, but the Yankee third baseman used his bat speed and incredible strength to muscle the ball for a homer. Two pitches later, Rogers went down-and-away and Gary Sheffield went fishing, smacking a loud homer to left. Back-to-back jacks and everything was starting to feel rosey in Yankee land.
In the bottom of the fifth, Hideki Matsui lead off with a homer that landed half-way up the right-centerfield bleachers, another shot. Buck Showalter sprinted from the dugout and pointed toward his bullpen with his left hand. It was an almost comic gesture. Showalter looked furious at himself that he had allowed Rogers to pitch to another batter.
But Texas was not finished and they tied the game in the sixth on a walk, a double, a passed ball and an infield single. Texas reliever Jay Howell retired the first five Yankees he faced, but Gary Sheffield—who was suffering from a stomach virus—connected for his second home run of the game in the bottom of the sixth, and the Yanks were ahead for good.
Paul Quantrill worked out of a jam in the seventh, which ended when Enrique Wilson made a sterling play on a Brad Fullmer ground ball that was headed up the middle. (Wilson made like Jeter and strained his groin too and will not play again this weekend either.) Quantrill pitched well in the eighth and Mariano Rivera pitched a one-two-three ninth. It was the fourth straight game that Rivera has appeared in (this was only the second time in his career that he's pitched in four consecutive games).
In all, it was as entertaining a game as the Yanks have played all season. Good defense and six home runs. The injury to Jeter, and to a lesser extent, Wilson, was unfortunate, but it doesn't appear as if either of them will miss too much time. The Yanks have now won ten out of their last eleven games. Ruben Sierra started in right field last night and until the top of the eighth, caught seven fly balls while none were hit toward Bernie or Godzilla.
Can you relate?
I can't believe I am in a relationship with a woman who actually likes baseball. And I don't mean that she simply tolerates it, Emily enjoys it. She's curious, she asks questions, she's grown attached to some of the players. But she's never been drawn to a player like she currently is to Tony Clark. She likes the fact that he's big and slow, and likes his big eyes. Earlier in the week I told her that he wouldn't be starting when Giambi returns and further that he's lucky to be a Yankee at all this year. If Travis Lee didn't get hurt, he would have been history. "Don't say such things," Emily says. When I informed her that this is likely to be the only year that Clark is on the team, she was even more upset. It's getting so that she can't enjoy watching him because she's too concerned with the fact that he'll be leaving at the end of the year.
Clark hasn't been hitting this week, and with each out, Emily seems to get more upset. When Clark came to bat with the bases loaded in the third inning, Emily slide off the couch and got on her knees. "Come on, let's pray." I chose not to join her, but thoroughly enjoyed watching her become one of us. This was the first time Emily had shown such emotion over the outcome of a play. When he tapped out to Rogers, she slammed her hand on the coffee table and shrugged her shoulders. I rubbed her back empathetically.
She's begining to learn. We are off to the Stadium today. I turned 33 this past week and this is my birthday present to myself. With Jason Giambi due to return to the line up tomorrow, it's fitting that Emily will get a chance to see Tony Clark's last start for a couple of games.