The 2007 season couldn't have gotten off to a worse start for Alex Rodriguez. With Carl Crawford on third and two outs in the top of the first, Ty Wigginton hit a foul pop up to the left side. Battling a grey sky and some swirling winds, Rodriguez had to loop around Crawford and come nearly two thirds of the way toward home plate to catch the ball. Meanwhile, Jorge Posada and Carl Pavano stood in place despite the fact that Rodriguez, though in hot pursuit, was not calling for the ball (after the game, Joe Torre said it was the catcher's ball to catch). Rodriguez, for all of the misconceptions about his performance, is indeed awful at catching pop ups. While broadcasting the west coast tilt between the Angels and Rangers on ESPN, Orel Hershiser, who was the Rangers' pitching coach while Rodriguez was in Texas, said pop ups are kryptonite to Rodriguez's Superman. At the last second, the ball swirled back behind Rodriguez, who at that point had clearly overrun it and could only make a pathetic backwards stab at it as it fell untouched on the opening day logo painted outside the third base foul line. Rodriguez's momentum carried him past Posada, who gave him an encouraging pat on the backside, and Pavano retired Wigginton two pitches later on a comebacker, but Rodriguez was nonetheless charged with an error.
In the bottom of the first, Rodriguez came to the plate with one out and Bobby Abreu and Johnny Damon on first and second via a pair of singles. Rodriguez took the first five pitches he saw to run the count full, then struck out on a low fastball that tailed away from him as Damon and Abreu executed a double steal. Jason Giambi then picked up his teammate by singling home both runners to give the Yankees an early 2-0 lead.
The Devil Rays got one back in the next frame after Derek Jeter skipped a throw past Josh Phelps and into the seats for the second Yankee error of the game, putting Akinori Iwamura on second base. B.J. Upton doubled Iwamura home two batters later. Although Jeter patted his chest to indicate "my bad," my first reaction to his error was to wonder if Mientkiewicz or even Jason Giambi, who is rather adept at scooping poor throws provided he doesn't have to move his feet, might have prevented the error had they been playing in Phelps' place. Watching the replay, Jeter bounced his throw several feet in front of Phelps' reach. My concerns were further allayed later in the game when Phelps made several nice scoops on low throws by Jeter and Cano, though he did make a throwing error in the fifth.
Jorge Posada extended the Yankee lead to 3-1 by leading off the fourth with a solo homer into Section 39 of the right field bleachers, but the lead was short lived. After allowing just one run on two hits and two walks through his first four innings, Carl Pavano ran out of gas in the fifth. Elijah Dukes, who had walked in the second in his first major league plate appearance, led off the fifth with a solo home run. B.J. Upton singled, stole second, and was singled home by Carl Crawford. Crawford's hit went into right field and, as Bobby Abreu fired home to try to nail Upton, Crawford didn't even slow down rounding first base. Phelps cut off Abreu's throw and had Crawford nailed at second, but threw the ball past Jeter and into center field. After Ben Zobrist, attempting a drag bunt, was hit in the calf by the ball in fair territory and was called out (he also stepped on the plate while attempting his bunt, so he was out by two technicalities), Rocco Baldelli singled Crawford home to give the Devil Rays a 4-3 lead. That ended Pavano's day and Brian Bruney came on to strike out Wigginton for the second out, but Baldelli stole second on strike three and Delmon Young singled him home for the fifth Devil Ray run. Sick and tired of the Devil Rays stealing on him, Jorge Posada gunned out Young to end the inning.
The Yanks answered back in the bottom of the sixth. After Posada and Robinson Cano led off with singles to put men on first and second for Josh Phelps, Rays manager Joe Maddon pulled his lefty starter Kazmir and brought in righty Shawn Camp. Joe Torre countered with lefty-hitting Doug Mientkiewicz, then had Minky bunt the runners to second and third, a pair of questionable decisions that couldn't have worked out better for the Yankees. Camp's next pitch hit Melky Cabrera, who had come in to play center in the top of the inning because Johnny Damon's calves had cramped up on him, bringing Derek Jeter to the plate with the bases loaded and the tying runs in scoring position (see photo in next post). Jeter took four pitches to go 3-1, then singled up the middle to plate Posada and Cabrera and tie the game. I doubt there was a Yankee fan in attendance who didn't expected Jeter to deliver in that situation.
After Luis Vizcaino retired the side on five pitches and three fly balls, the Yankees got back to work in the seventh. Ending his day very differently from how he began it, Alex Rodriguez singled through Ben Zobrist at short, stole second, was singled home by Jason Giambi with what would prove to be the winning run. As the Yankee bullpen continued to cruise (Bruney, Sean Henn, Vizcaino, Kyle Farnsworth, and Mariano Rivera combined to pitch 4 2/3 scoreless innings allowing three hits and no walks while striking out five), the Yankees extended their lead in the eighth on singles by Mientkiewicz and Abreu, the latter plating the former following a Cabrera sac bunt, and a two-run homer by Rodriguez to deep dead center. Icing the Yankees' Opening Day cake, Mariano Rivera came on in a non-save situation to strike out the side in the ninth (see photo in next post), hitting 97 mph on the clearly juiced stadium radar gun. Yankees win, 9-5.
An even more nutritious treat than cake was Bobby Murcer's appearance at the Stadium. Sporting a Paul Shaffer look (and cracking wise about Rocco "Bald"-elli and Britney Spears' coiffeur), Murcer broadcast three innings as a guest in the YES booth and said that he will work a regular schedule in the Yankee booth this season. He looked and sounded as good as ever and received a huge hand from the crowd when he was shown on the diamondvision following a Bobby Murcer highlights package. Adding to the warm fuzzies, Joe Torre, Ron Guidry, Don Mattingly, Johnny Damon, and Jorge Posada all came to the front of the Yankee dugout to waive to Murcer in the booth.