The weather finally broke in New York this weekend, and so may have the Yankees slumping ways, as they swept the visiting St. Louis Cardinals.
Let's start on Friday night. I had time to go home changed my clothes, and grab some dinner before heading back out to the game. I live about 70 blocks north and several miles west of Yankee Stadium. It takes about 30-40 minutes for me to get there via subway, but I have to take three different trains. It was gray and rainning lightly and I prepared for a long, soggy night.
I met several groupings of Cardinals fans on the subway and they were all eager and upbeat. For many of them, it was their visit to The Stadium, and I welcomed them accordingly. I warned them not to take any taunting too seriously, and apologized in advance for any drunken louts they may encounter.
I was surprised at how much congestion there was getting into the park. It was like a playoff game, and I enjoyed catching glimpses of conversations as we all huddled together like cattle, waiting to get inside. At one point I got close to two older gentlemen---a tall one with a crisp-looking Cubs hat, and his partner, who was a dead-ringer for Carl Reiner. They had been to two of the three games in Boston, and were going to attend two games in New York over the weekend. Ron, was a Cubs fan, and Dick was a Cards fan. We finally made it inside, and as it turned out, they had tickets way up in the upper tier, just like me. (I was in row U, for Utica.)
I had a great time chatting with my baseball elders as we schlepped upstate New York to our seats. The good thing about sitting in row U is that we were covered from the rain, and considering that it came down steadily all night, it was a beautiful thing. The place was sold out though there were a couple of thousand no-shows because of the weather; lots of red shirts in the house.
The first order of business was Clemens notching his 4,000th strike out. Rocket didn't waste much time, striking out the side in the first. The after giving up a solo home run to Jim Edmonds and a double to Scott Rolen, Clemens faced Edgar Renteria while ex-Yank Tino Martinez waited on deck. It was a strange moment. There was a huge part of the crowd that was at the game to give Tino a welcome-home ovation. What if he faced Clemens as the potential 4,000th strikeout? That would have been bizzare. Fortunately, it didn't come to pass. With the flashbulbs flickering throughout the Stadium with each two-strike pitch, the crowd was on their feet, and Clemens struck out Renteria to become the third pitcher in history to reach 4,000 K's.
Then Tino geeked. Before the Yankees could flash Rocket's milestone on the scoreboard, Martinez was at the plate ready to go. It's understandable that he was nervous and that he wanted to get the moment over as quickly as possible, but Tino inadvertantly stepped on Rocket's applause. He should have waited on deck for a moment, or 30 seconds, allowed Clemens his due, and then walked to plate to get his. Instead, the Rocket's ovation morphed into cheers for Tino himself. It was awkward, but the fans didn't seem to mind. Clemens struck out Martinez.
It was a good, close game, and the Yanks held a 3-2 lead in the middle innings, thanks to homers by Ruben Ruben and Godzilla Matsui. Clemens got through the sixth, one-two-three which was huge, because his pitch count was starting to get high. Rocket got the first two men out in the 7th, and had thrown 120 pitches, when Joe Torre came to get him. Before Torre reached the mound, Chris Hammond was jogging in from left field and the crowd started to boo intensely. Cries of outrage could be heard all around us, but it seemed like the right move from where I was sitting. This wasn't Acevedo in the sixth in Chicago. Miguel Cairo, the last batter Clemens would face, fouled off several pitches, and with a one-run lead, I thought the Yankees were better off with the Bugs Bunny slow pitch against the likes of JD Drew, Pujols and Edmonds.
Clemens received a standing ovation as he left the field and Torre was booed loudly again. I wonder if he's ever been booed like that at Yankee Stadium? Cardinals fans must have been scratching their heads. So this is what they talk about when they talk about New York fans. JD Drew reached on a bunt, and Pujols muscled a single through the right side before Edmonds weakly grounded out to Soriano.
Raul Mondesi added a two-run home run, and when Mariano came on in the ninth, the Yankees were in the drivers seat. Rivera shut the Cards down in order, and Clemens finally had his 300th win. Rocket came back out on the field, and got the royal treatment for the fans. His boys scampered to the mound and collected some dirt. All of the Cardinals fans I saw were standing clapping.
Unfortunately, the game ended on a sour note for me. Leaving the Stadium was even worse than getting in. There was bumper-to-bumper traffic all the way down, and it took at least 25 mintues to get out of there. Pedestrian traffic is a nightmare for a New Yorker, and between all of the out-of-towners and suburban Yankee fans, it was an ugly scene. Too many drunks, too close together.
Of course, we filed out hearing the usual chants: "Cardinals suck, Cardinals suck." Now I know that even when the Sox are in town, most of these seemingly mean-spirited taunts are meant in good fun. But I just can't get with it. Why chant that somebody sucks? Why not say, "We're great!" instead? Anyhow, it's par for the course, and groups of drunken Yankee fans jumped all over any wearing Cardinals gear. The lowest was, "Cardinals take it up the ass, do-dah, do-dah." It's bad enough that this kind of thing goes, on but when you can't escape these mooks, there is an edge, a mob-like intensity to the scene which makes for a particularly uncomfortable experience.
I was so unimpressed.
Not only that, I was personally embarrased to be a Yankee fan. And this is how we act when the Yanks win. Can you imagine if we had lost? (I can only imagine how ugly it got by Sunday afternoon.) I was also ashamed as a New Yorker, but you know what? Although there are plenty of obnoxious Yankee fans from New York, most of the morons are distinctly suburban---dudes from Long Island, Jersey and Westchester.
I felt so badly about it, that when I finally made it to the subway, I apologized to the first St. Louis fan I could find. The kid I spoke with didn't seem to think the abuse was all that bad, or at least nothing that wasn't expected, so perhaps I'm just sensitive to that kind of thing. Still, Yankee fans could learn a thing or three from Cardinals fans about class and respect, that's for sure.
It was still sloppy in New York on Saturday, and the game was delayed for over an hour in the first inning, just long enough for the Yanks to run Cards ace Matt Morris from the game. Jason Giambi hit two homers and so did Tino Martinez, as the Yanks bombed St. Louis 13-4 on the Fox game of the week. Joe Torre didn't get to bask in the glow of Rocket's big win as the tabliod machine kept rolling.
According to Lee Sinins:
According to the Newark Star Ledger, "George Steinbrenner recently told some associates he's seriously considering firing Joe Torre because of the Yankees' uneven play and for what the owner claimed to view as belligerent behavior on the part of his manager.
"According to multiple Yankees executives, Steinbrenner told confidants that Torre has been refusing to return his phone calls or participate in organizational strategy sessions for weeks and that he suspects Torre is intentionally creating the opposite impression -- that it is Steinbrenner who is ignoring and excluding him -- as a way of making him look bad publicly.
"Steinbrenner has also told confidants he believes Torre is behaving this way so the owner will fire him and he can collect the more than $7 million remaining on his contract, which expires after next season. That possibility is complicating Steinbrenner's decision-making. Steinbrenner told at least one associate that he would prefer that Torre resign and forfeit the money, but that he doesn't believe it will happen soon enough for his desires."
I'm still convinced that if the Yankees win the World Series, Torre is going to say he's done enough and will step down and if they don't, he's going to be fired.
The Times reported:
"I don't think our relationship has changed one bit," Torre said. "Comfortable, I have never been, because I think that's something you reserve for your time out of the game and not working anymore. I'm secure, that's a better word. I don't feel any less secure than I did before. You deal with what you have to deal with, but you know that you're constantly on the hot seat."
The hot seat cooled down just a little bit on Sunday as the Yanks completed the three-game sweep beating Woody Williams and St. Louis, 5-2. Mike Mussina pitched eight strong innings, Woody Williams walked six, and Robin Ventura and Hideki Matsui led the Yankees offense.
The ninth inning gave Yankee fans some confidence that they still root for a formidable team. Mariano Rivera came on to face the great Albert Pujols, and plunked the Cardinals young star on the first pitch. It was an inside heater that got away from Rivera, and it knicked Pujols' uniform. Not the worst thing that could happen in that situation, especially with Tino Martinez on deck. Martinez swung at Rivera's first offering and weakly grounded into a 6-4-3 double play. Jim Edmonds pinch hit next, and hit the first pitch to second, where Alfonso Soriano made a nifty play to end the game.
To their credit, the Yankees defense actually made some nice plays on Sunday (Matsui deftly tracked down a fly ball in the 7th). Jeter makes routine plays look harder than they are, but when the Yankees defense is helping the pitching out, things are good in the Bronx.
And not for nothing, but it's always good to beat up on a team managed by Tony LaRussa. I still remember how arrogant his Oakland teams were in the early '90s and how they used to stick it to the Yankees. The Cards have a likable team, but I don't have any sympathy for their skipper.
The Red Sox kept pace with the Yanks, sweeping the Astros in Boston. More exciting games for Red Sox Nation, as their bullpen stepped it up big time yesterday and rookie Freddy Sanchez dazzled Fenway with the leather on Saturday.
It should be interesting to see if the Yankees can continue to build some momentum over the next few weeks as their schedule gets considerably lighter.