"He's as tough as nails. It doesn't surprise you everytime he does something like that. He's been incredible, and what he's had to deal with all year — uncomfortable, hurt, whatever you want to call it — the players just love having him around."
The Yankees won another game in dramatic fashion last night at the Stadium. It was a rousing win for New York and a painful loss for Oakland. It isn't getting dull for me yet, how 'bout you? I was frustrated watching the A's beat the Yanks around for most of the game. I commiserated with Emily about the pitching staff, and cursed at Esteban Loaiza, Bernie Willaims and Kenny Lofton. As much as I try to keep perspective, when the Yankees play good teams like the A's and Angels, I get all worked up. The Yankees spoil you. Is it wrong for a fan to want your team to win every game? Last week I received the following e-mail from Brain Gunn:
With the Cards doing so well, I'm finally beginning to understand what it's like to be a Yankees fan. I mean, you always hear people say shit like, "Why do you care if the Yankees win again? Haven't they won enough?" But that's sorta like saying, "You've read so many great books, haven't you had enough?" or "You've heard so many great songs, why would you want to hear another one?" When you're in the presence of excellent things it makes you insatiable for more. Actually that's not quite right -- it's not like you're gluttonous or anything; it's more like you glimpse a certain ideal of perfection and you want to see it again.
Gary Sheffield tied the game with a two-run dinger off of Oakland's new closer Octavio Dotel in the bottom of the ninth, and Alex Rodriguez ended it with a two-run homer of his own two innings later. Mariano Rivera pitched two innings and got the win. Mo threw 51 pitches and wasn't especially sharp, but he was good enough.
The late-inning comeback helped take Esteban Loaiza off the hook. In his first game as a Yankee, Loaiza did not pitch well. He walked too many batters, made a poor fielding play, and gave up two home runs, including a three-run bomb to Eric Byrnes. Byrnes looks like the youngest kid from the movie "Parenthood" all grown up. His nickname is "Captain America" and he's been one of the hottest hitters in the game of late. In the past two games, he's murdered pitches off of the plate. (Note to the league: time to start busting this guy inside.) Loaiza has an easy delivery and like Jon Lieber, works quickly. His motion makes him look like a pitcher from the 1970s, like Mike Torrez.
Rich Harden throws extremely hard, but he wasn't that impressive either. Hideki Matsui was all over him, hitting three vicious line drives--one went for a double, then a fly-out, then a home run. With men on second (Matsui) and third (Posada) and nobody out in the second inning, Bernie Williams came to the plate. Williams was 1 for his last 17 at that point. A weak ground-ball--Bernie's recent specialty--would do just fine. So what does he do but pop the first pitch up to short? (Bernie had a bloop single later on, and battled against Ricardo Rincon late in the game, before striking out.) Fortunately for the Yanks, John Olerud followed and in his first at-bat for New York, slapped a single through the right side for a 2 RBI single (Olerud singled in his next at-bat and ended the night 2-5).
It was great seeing Olerud in a Yankee uniform. I've always appreciated his quiet intensity. Watching him on the bench, he has a thousand-yard stare that makes me wonder where his mind is. But he doesn't seem to be a flake like Bernie Williams. He's just slightly removed. Maybe having a near-death experience will do that to you. Regardless, he's reminds me of a benign Travis Bickle. My girlfriend thinks he looks like a stork. All-Baseball.com's Mariners man, Peter White likens him to a hawk at the plate, "Silently watching everything, patient for just the right meaty morsel." Further, White explained to me in an e-mail:
I'd have to disagree with [Steven] Goldman's take that because the Mariners dumped Olerud that there's reasons to be suspicious of his skills.
I daresay it's akin to thumbing through a stack of vinyls at a garage sale and finding "Rubber Soul" for a quarter from some poor soul who's never heard of the Beatles. Sure, there's some scratches; it's not a flawless disc. But for crying out loud, it's "Rubber Soul" for a quarter!
The Yankees gained a game on Boston who fell to the Devil Rays, 5-4. New York's lead is now nine games.
Get Well Soon
Following up on something I noted yesterday, the Daily News has an article about how some of Jason Giambi's former teammates have reacted to Giambi's illness.
Derek Jeter is often praised for his baseball smarts, and rightly so. However, he has developed a distressing habit of laying down sacrifice bunts in the first inning this year. I don't know why Joe Torre allows him to get away with it. Jim Kaat praises his intelligence on YES, while Michael Kay bites his tounge. I'm sure in his mind Jeter believes he's being a team-player, but early in the game, with the kind of line up the Yankees have, it isn't just a poor play, it is a dumb play. In his first eight full seasons Jeter compiled 34 sacrifices. His career high came in 1997 when he had eight; he had eleven from 2001 through 2003. So far this year, Jeter has eleven sacrifices. I believe this habit began during Jeter's early-season slump. If I have one criticism of Jeter this year, this is it. Anyone else notice this?