When I was a kid I had an Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez poster hanging on my wall. To me he was one of the most unique pitchers the Yankees had, with his unorthodox leg kick and wild arm angles. The fact that he dominated opponents and led the Yankees to victory countless times also made me take a liking to him.
This past Tuesday, ESPN ran its 30 for 30 piece on El Duque and his brother Livan Hernandez entitled Brothers in Exile. There was so much more to the two brothers from Cuba that met the eye. For anyone that missed it or didn’t care to watch it, here’s (sort of) a BuzzFeed style article filled with did-you-knows and tidbits from the documentary.
The film was jam-packed with the Hernandez brothers’ story, so bear with me in terms of the length of this article and such. Maybe it’ll be so good BuzzFeed will pick it up and hire me, and I’ll get one of those special blue check boxes next to my Twitter name…
Dare to dream.
Anyway, here goes.
1) Orlando and Livan Hernandez are half-brothers
They share the same father, but not the same mother. Their father was a semi-pro pitcher, so you have to figure the baseball genes were passed down. Orlando is 10 years older than Livan, and the two didn’t meet until Livan was five years old.
2) The Duke of Havana
Long before Orlando Hernandez was fooling MLB hitters he was a stud in his native land, Cuba. He racked up 126 wins in the Cuban league throughout his career. His winning percentage was .728, good enough to give him the record for highest winning percentage by a pitcher – a record that still stands today in Cuba.
Orlando pitched for the Industriales, a team much like the Yankees. The Industriales had the best players, were tremendously successful, and maintained a huge fan base. What’s more, Orlando pitched for the Cuban national team from 1988-95. During that span, the team was undefeated in international play.
Becoming a superstar, as it was, Orlando went to visit Livan in school in later years. Livan’s classmates went insane; “fan-boyed” for his brother, because he was the best pitcher in Cuba.
He was the Duke of Havana. El Duque.
3) Times got tough
Cuba was economically dependent on the Soviet Union up until 1990, when the Soviet Union dissolved. Fidel Castro, the Cuban President, declared a “special period” on the island, although the only aspect of this period was poverty – and there is nothing special about that.
The special period didn’t just impact regular folks; baseball players were affected too. Orlando was paid three Cuban pesos per game, and if he played a doubleheader, he was only compensated for one game.
“That was tough,” El Duque described.
To combat poverty, ballplayers strived to play for the international team. That way, they could compete overseas and sell their jerseys for money, as well as accept gifts from fans in private. Players had to accept favors privately, because taking from fans was not permitted.
Resources were so scarce that Livan had to take soap and shampoo from hotels to bring back home. By 1994 the special period morphed into an economic crisis. Tons of people started leaving Cuba on makeshift rafts and boats, in hopes of reaching the United States.
4) Defection by way of Joe Cubas and Juan Ignacio Hernandez
A man by the name of Joe Cubas was the agent that recruited players to defect to the United States – and yes, it is indeed ironic that his last name is Cubas and he dealt with Cuban ballplayers.
His cousin, Juan Ignacio Hernandez was his helper, and would follow the Cuban national team around the world to scout potential defectors. El Duque said, “The thought of playing baseball in the majors was intriguing. But the thought of defecting also scared me.”
Orlando’s family was a priority. He had a wife and two daughters who he’d lose if he defected.
“I didn’t want to do it because I have two daughters. It was hard, it really was.”
Livan on the other hand was single and was growing tired of the poor conditions in Cuba.
5) Livan defects
In 1995 Livan was pitching for the Cuban national team. The Cubans went over to Japan to work out with the Tokyo Giants; Livan spent 45 days there. Of those 45 days (along with baseball) he spent 20 collecting soap and shampoo to bring back home. Security told him, though, that if they found anything that he was trying to sneak back to the island in his suitcase, he’d no longer be allowed to travel. He had to throw away all the soap and shampoo he’d gathered – which made him angry.
“I don’t want to go through this, anymore,” he said.
On the next trip – which was to Monterrey, Mexico – Livan started the process of defecting. He obtained Cubas’s phone number from a woman asking for autograph, which just goes to show how strict conditions were. Everything had to be done discreetly.
Livan was picked up by Juan Ignacio Hernandez in Monterrey and went to the Dominican Republic from there. In the D.R. all he had to do was gain residency in order to become an MLB free agent. He did just that, and was on the board.
6) Orlando’s thoughts
Livan was free; out of Cuba and about to be taken by an MLB team. He told his brother what was happening and that his mind was made up, to which El Duque responded,
“Don’t worry. I support you no matter what. If that’s what you want to do, go for it.”
7) Livan went to the Marlins, but other teams wanted him
In the Dominican Republic Livan was showcased and sought by the (then) Florida (now) Miami Marlins. A few other teams were watching him, namely the Yankees (shocking, right?) and the Toronto Blue Jays.
Coming from Cuba, the Marlins made the most sense. Miami is a Spanish-speaking city and Livan would likely be most comfortable there. The right-hander signed for $6.5 million with a $250,000 signing bonus. At the time it was the biggest contract given to a Cuban baseball player.
8) After landing the deal, Livan went splurging
Livan never had money before. When he came into the big bucks on account of the contract, Livan bought cars and lived the lifestyle most young, rich and foolish people live; spending money on expensive material. He also started gaining weight; eating at fast food joints such as McDonald’s.
The Marlins kept Livan in the minors for the bulk of the 1996 season as not only way of getting him to shape up, but also a way to spread some discipline on him.
It worked. Livan eventually wised up and everything panned out for him.
9) Back at home, things got unfair
The Cuban government began to feel Orlando might follow in Livan’s footsteps and defect, even though Orlando had a family and made it clear he was afraid to defect. It didn’t matter. He was harassed by Colonel Mesa – the man in charge of security for the national team.
El Duque told Mesa he didn’t support his brother’s decision (in contrast to what he told Livan) but nonetheless he respected him.
After that, Orlando started to suspect something was up.
Juan Ignacio Hernandez cut ties with Cubas, and got arrested for holding false travel documents, hoping to use them to get Orlando to defect. Police found the fake visas and they turned their attention to El Duque.
In fact, they brought him in and interrogated him.
The government wanted Orlando to testify against Juan Ignacio Hernandez, but he wouldn’t do it. Yet, even without El Duque’s testimony, they sentenced Juan Ignacio Hernandez to 15 years behind bars.
El Duque was also sentenced, but not to serve prison time. He was given a lifetime ban from Cuban baseball, essentially for not doing anything.
One cop even went as far as asking him for identification while he was sitting on his own front porch. When Orlando asked why he needed ID, the rude officer said,
“You used to be El Duque, now you’re a nobody.”
10) He wasn’t making a living playing ball – but he still played
Orlando’s feelings were not just hurt; they were shredded and left for dead. When he was banished, he vowed that he would play baseball again. It didn’t matter if “he was 65 or in Haiti,” he said he was going to play baseball again no matter what.
Since he couldn’t step foot on an official field, like the Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana, El Duque played in unofficial pickup games on Cuban sandlots.
Orlando was basically the Benny “the jet” Rodriguez of his group: the best of all of them, who went on to play bigger and better games, as Scotty Smalls described it in the movie. El Duque didn’t pitch in these pickup games because it wouldn’t have been fair to the other players, but he hit and played the field.
11) Livan makes his mark
In 1997 Livan got the call to the show – and he was impressive, to say the least. He started the year with a 9-0 record, which was the best start from a rookie pitcher since Whitey Ford in 1950. The Marlins captured the National League Wild Card in ’97, and Livan pitched brilliantly.
Brilliant, in fact, was the operative word. In Game 5 of the National League Championship Series he went the distance and pitched the Marlins to a 2-1 win, striking out 15 Atlanta Braves along the way. He took advantage of home plate umpire Eric Gregg’s Grand Canyon-like strike zone. Livan’s 15 strikeouts in Game 5 set an NLCS record for most Ks in a single game.
He had also picked up the W in Florida’s 5-2 victory in Game 3. When it was all said and done, he was named NLCS Most Valuable Player.
It only got better for Livan in the ’97 World Series. He won Game 1, won Game 5 and was subsequently named World Series MVP. In hoisting the trophy over his head, Livan declared,
“I love you, Miami!”
12) A thought provoking World Series win
El Duque watched most of Livan’s excellence from back in Cuba. He was proud his brother was succeeding, but felt bittersweet about it. Orlando thought he could’ve been in the same position Livan was in: playing baseball freely.
He listened to Game 7 of the World Series on the radio, and rejoiced when the Marlins walked off to win the title. But after Livan became a winner, El Duque’s thought process changed; he considered defecting himself.
13) Help from an unlikely source
Cuba’s relations with the Catholic Church improved in ’97. Pope John Paul II visited the island and President Castro allowed the Christmas holiday to legally be celebrated in Cuba for the first time since 1960.
El Duque decided that, since everyone would be preoccupied with the holiday, he would stage his escape on Christmas night; the members of the Coast Guard wouldn’t be as alert and he’d be able to narrowly depart. His best friend Osmany Lorenzo helped orchestrate his flight from the island.
But, give an assist to the Pope.
14) Nerves were in the way
Just because El Duque decided he was fleeing Cuba didn’t make the idea of defecting any less scary. A study showed that between 1959 and 1994 an estimated 16,000 people died at sea attempting to leave Cuba for the United States.
Orlando could’ve made it to the U.S.A. or he could’ve become just another statistic.
He also had to leave his mother and two daughters behind, which pained him.
15) Not an easy exit
On Christmas night ’97 Orlando, his (now second) wife Noris, Lorenzo, and a smattering of other escapees set off for Caibarien – a city in Cuba where many defectors went to try and leave the island. They left Caibarien in a small fishing boat at 7 a.m. on Dec. 26, and had to hit the deck as to not be seen upon departure.
If hiding face down in order to leave the island wasn’t bad enough, the motor on the boat stalled not long after they left, and thus the owner of the boat wanted to turn back. El Duque protested, and the man swam into the water to fix the engine. After he managed to correct the malfunction, they continued on.
Jeesh. Not as simple as just speed-boating away.
16) Like Robinson Crusoe, it was as primitive as can be
The boat took El Duque and the group of runaways to a Bahamian island called Anguilla Cay. There they were to await another boat that was to come and ferry them to the U.S.A.
Seemingly everything was working out, as the first part of the plan had been executed, but they weren’t in the clear just yet. The second boat never came. The group was basically stuck, Gilligan’s Island style waiting for help that wasn’t showing up. El Duque’s wife Noris even noticed makeshift crosses on the island – figuring they were graves.
People had come to Anguilla Cay and never left. The thought struck terror into Orlando and everyone involved. Four days passed before the Coast Guard discovered them and brought them to Nassau, Bahamas.
17) More help
If you were a Cuban refugee, the Bahamas were not where you wanted to be. Cuba had a treaty with the Bahamas stating all refugees in the Bahamas were to be extradited back over to Cuba. When the Coast Guard brought El Duque to the Bahamas, they arrested him.
But he used his phone call wisely.
He dialed up Cubas, who was able to help him. He set up a press conference on Orlando’s behalf, and El Duque finally got to tell his side of the story to the media and the world; that he was trying to reach the United States in hopes of obtaining the freedoms and rights that were stolen from him in Cuba.
By Cubas’s doing, Orlando and his wife were approved for visas. He made sure Lorenzo, his friend, was approved for one as well. From there El Duque gained residency in Costa Rica, thus making him eligible to become an MLB free agent.
Just like Livan, El Duque was set up. But what team would get his services?
18) The big deal
Scouts from multiple MLB teams attended an El Duque tryout staged by Cubas. Orlando wasn’t particularly lighting up the radar guns, topping out around 88-90 mph, but the fact that he wasn’t throwing hard didn’t negate his value.
Gordon Blakeley, a scout for the Yankees, took an interest in him. However, General Manager Brian Cashman was a bit iffy about signing him, coming off a bust in the form of inking Japanese pitcher Hideki Irabu. Blakeley assured him not to be afraid to go after him – and added if the Yankees didn’t grab El Duque, they could’ve been missing out on a potential Cy Young Award winner.
El Duque proclaimed his Yankee fandom, and when the Bombers offered him four years and $6.6 million, he gladly took it.
19) Reunited and it feels so good
When everything fell into place for El Duque, he eventually reconnected with Livan. They attended a press conference together, and when they saw each other they embraced. They cried tears of joy. They had a Kodak moment, if you will.
One reporter asked what kind of advice Livan would give Orlando, now that they were both major leaguers living in freedom. Livan’s answer:
“Stay away from McDonald’s!”
20) The Duke of New York
On June 3, 1998 Orlando made his MLB debut at Yankee Stadium. He was nervous, but when he looked up to the stands walking in from taking his warm ups in the bullpen – and saw Cuban flags fluttering around in the stadium’s upper deck – he calmed down. The show of support even brought tears to his eyes.
The first batter he faced in MLB was Quinton McCracken of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. El Duque pitched seven innings, and puzzled every hitter he faced, giving up just one earned run on five hits. He walked two and struck out seven on the way to his first big league win, the Yanks pounding Tampa Bay 7-1.
“He’s a warrior,” Livan said of his brother’s first MLB outing. “He proved it in that game.”
21) Not a simple catch
Jorge Posada mostly caught El Duque in 1998. And in looking at his record and ERA on paper, one would think they had an easy go of it most of the time when they went to work: Orlando finished 1998 with a 12-4 clip and an earned run average of 3.13.
Yet, much like El Duque’s path to the US, it wasn’t smooth sailing through calm seas.
“He wasn’t easy to catch,” Posada said, adding Orlando would shake him off a lot. “I’d go to the mound … Orlando, what do you want to throw?
“I called for the fastball twice and you said no both times!”
Apparently El Duque didn’t want to throw a fastball when Posada called it. He wanted to throw a fastball when a hitter least expected it, to get inside his head.
Very tactical, El Duque was. His numbers and approach gave him a fourth place finish, in fact, for ’98 American League Rookie of the Year.
22) Like brother like brother: playoff hero
The Yankees won a record 114 regular season games in 1998, and made it to the ALCS, where they were pitted up against the team that had eliminated them the year before, the Cleveland Indians. Down two games to one, they turned to El Duque in Game 4, who came up with a spectacular performance of seven shutout innings to lead the Yankees to a 4-0 win, keeping the pinstripers from going down 3-1 in the series.
Unlike Livan, Orlando didn’t capture the LCS MVP in ’98 – that honor went to David Wells. But El Duque did pick up the award the next year, winning the ALCS MVP in 1999 after the Yankees beat the Boston Red Sox in five.
El Duque went on to start Game 2 of the ’98 fall classic against the San Diego Padres. The Yankees were up 1-0 in the series thanks to some grand Game 1 heroics off the bat of Tino Martinez. The Cuban import made sure the Yanks stayed on point, tossing seven innings and letting up just one earned run on six hits.
He walked three and fanned seven on the way to a 9-3 Yankee win.
“He looked like a veteran of 15, 20 years,” teammate Mariano Rivera said.
23) Family first
The Yankees continued their assault on the Padres in Game 3 of the World Series, teetering on the brink of a world title. Yet El Duque’s thoughts were elsewhere. He couldn’t get his daughters, his ex-wife and his mother off his mind, thinking about their hardships back home.
Then finally, he got his chance to reunite with his family.
A woman by the name of Pamela Falk lobbied to bring his daughters, his mother and his daughters’ mother to the states. Falk used the positive relations between Cuba and the Catholic Church to her advantage, reaching out to New York Cardinal Archbishop John O’Connor.
After his conversation with Falk, O’Connor spoke to President Castro about the possibility of El Duque’s family coming to New York. Long story short Castro obliged, and even spoke highly of Orlando, calling him “a good muchacho; one of the glories of Cuba.”
And the rest was history. El Duque’s family was cleared to embark for the Big Apple.
24) A reunion in Teterboro, then a parade down the canyon of heroes
The Yankees swept the Padres in the 1998 World Series, giving the franchise its 24th world championship in history. El Duque found out his family was coming the night the Yanks clinched the series.
Doesn’t get much better than that, does it?
The next night his family landed at the Teterboro airport in New Jersey. El Duque walked right up the runway, to the plane to greet his family. He said he wasn’t nervous, just excited; he hadn’t seen his girls in about a year.
“I’m complete,” he said, embracing his daughters on the steps of the plane. “Finally happy.
His daughters then rode with him in the victory parade in New York City the following day.
“During the parade he was so happy that his family was there to celebrate with him,” Posada described. “He was so emotional during that time; we won but more importantly his family was there.”
His wife Noris couldn’t believe toilet paper rained down from the skyscrapers into the streets of New York – being that in Cuba they didn’t even have toilet paper, whereas in New York it was being thrown from windows.
When the Yankees reached City Hall, El Duque made the brotherly connection:
“I just want to tell you … Last year my brother shouted ‘I love you, Miami!’ And this year I declare, I love you, New York!”
Livan went on to say,
“There are players with 20-year careers who never won the World Series. But my brother and I did.”
25) Never going back
Both Livan and Orlando went on to have careers in MLB that anyone would sign up for. El Duque won three more world titles (two more with the Yankees, 1999-2000; 2005 with the Chicago White Sox) while Livan pitched in over 500 games and became a two-time All-Star.
Both are retired now, but maintain that sibling love. They live near each other in Miami, and both are doing well these days with their families. They can sit on the porch on hot summer nights and smoke fine Cuban cigars together, and share life stories from here on out; reflect on the good ol’ days pitching in the big leagues.
Oh, and neither has since gone back to Cuba – and they’ll never have to.
If you’re a Yankee fan, Oct. 16 holds a warm place in your heart. The memory of a mighty swing by Aaron Boone in the 11th inning of Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series to crush the dreams of Red Sox Nation has held up, and will continue to hold up forever more.
In honor of the 11th anniversary of this profound piece of Yankee history, this writer is going to take you on a ride back to the past and muse about the goings-on of the 2003 Yankees-Red Sox saga; perhaps point some things out that didn’t necessarily meet the eye to the average fan.
Join me, will you?
It took a long time before the Yanks and BoSox reached the climactic Boone game. A really long time, in fact. The two hated rivals had faced each other 25 times in ‘03 leading up to Game 7 of the ALCS. Their 26th meeting in the decisive game was historic, in the sense that no two teams – in any sport – had faced each other more times in a single season.
But so much more happened before Game 7.
In squaring off against each other so many times, the Yankees and Red Sox had generated some disdain for one another. Earlier in the season on July 7 in the Bronx, Pedro Martinez, Boston’s ace, had plunked both Alfonso Soriano and Derek Jeter – bean balls that were so intense they sent the two hitters at the top of the Yankees’ batting order to the hospital.
Jeter was hammered on his right hand while Soriano suffered a shot on his left hand. The after effects of the HBPs were so great that, after more than two weeks later, both hitters felt the pain of Martinez’s missed location; the captain’s hand was still swollen and Fonsy felt some aches just by checking his swing.
Roger Clemens, the Yankee ace, in return struck Red Sox first baseman and team ringleader Kevin Millar with a pitch. Millar, a colorful and outspoken player who had urged his team to “Cowboy Up,” would later express anger towards Clemens for the Yankees act of retaliation.
The late Yankee owner George Steinbrenner even got in on battle. The Boss was asked if Martinez was headhunting; throwing at the Yankees with intent. His response:
“I can’t answer that. But if he was, he’ll regret it.”
Steinbrenner had every reason to be suspicious about whether or not the hit-by-pitches were deliberate. In the past, 2001 to be exact, Martinez told the Boston Globe,
“I’m starting to hate talking about the Yankees. The questions are stupid. They’re wasting my time. It’s getting kind of old … I don’t believe in damn curses. Wake up the damn Bambino and have me face him. I’ll drill him in the ass, pardon the word.”
Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino then got his jab in, giving the Yankees a moniker in homage to the Star Wars franchise. He dubbed the Bronx Bombers “The Evil Empire.” Yankee Universe happily (or at least sarcastically) welcomed the nickname.
So was Jeter Darth Vader? Sure, that makes sense.
How we got there
The physical and verbal blows during the regular season were only the beginning, laying the groundwork for what was to come in the playoffs. The Yankees finished 2003 with a record of 101-61, six games ahead of Boston for the AL East. The 95-67 Red Sox captured the AL Wild Card – keep in mind that in ’03 there was no play-in game; the BoSox were automatically in the eight-team postseason tournament without having to fight their way in the door.
Most fans may not remember that the ’03 Yankees-Red Sox ALCS clash wouldn’t have happened if the Oakland A’s didn’t collapse. In the ALDS the A’s handed Boston a 5-4 loss in Game 1; Oakland winning in the 12th on a walk-off bunt single by catcher Ramon Hernandez. Game 2 wasn’t any better for the Red Sox, as the A’s poured it on and beat Boston 5-1 – Oakland was only one win away from the next round.
Yet, maybe in the spirit of some foreshadowing, the Red Sox fought back.
Boston won Game 3, 2-0. They then took Game 4 by a count of 5-4, and completed the comeback with a 4-3 win in Game 5. The Yankees were already waiting for the winner of the Boston-Oakland series, having disposed of the Minnesota Twins in four games to reach the League Championship Series; the Yanks outscoring the Twins 16-6 in their divisional round.
The rally vs. the A’s and the thrashing of the Twins set the New York-Boston rivalry up for an epic showdown. Yes, the Baseball gods had done it again.
Players on both sides knew the World Series was not just at stake, but bragging rights were up for grabs and in a lot of ways, the ending or the continuation of Curse of the Bambino was on the line.
“Everyone says, ‘we played them towards the end of the year, does it get any bigger than that?’ Well, yeah it does. And this is it,” Jeter told MLB before the ALCS.
The Red Sox took Game 1, beating the Yankees 5-2. However, the first salvo seemed to be fired in the seventh inning when reliever Jeff Nelson hit Red Sox big man David Ortiz with a pitch. The Yanks went on to take Game 2 with a 6-2 win, but in terms of the HBP battle, Boston punched back.
Future hero Boone was beaned by Red Sox starter Derek Lowe and Soriano was plunked by Bronson Arroyo. The ALCS was split 1-1, tensions were at an all-time high, and the teams were beginning to get rather physical.
What’s the worst that could happen in Game 3?
And then, everything explodes
The energy level at Fenway Park on Oct. 11, 2003 was off the charts – not that I was there, but listening to the words of the players and examining everything that had led up to Game 3, everyone from the fans to the media was on edge.
What’s more, the fact that Clemens and Martinez were on the hill for their respective clubs made it even more enticing. During batting practice, Millar was about as hyped up as an 8-year-old after consuming 50 sugar cubes, enthusiastically saying,
“We got Roger and Martinez, Game 3 split, Championship Series, American League, all eyes on the Sox!”
To this day I wonder if even he knew how jumbled that sounded. Mic’d up, he stood next to Ortiz and yelled,
“You’ve got to be going with the Sox! This is the Sox Nation! Two thousand and three! And screw that curse!”
Ortiz couldn’t help but laugh at Millar’s zeal, but a few short innings later, no one was laughing.
In the top of the fourth, Martinez let up an RBI ground rule double to Nick Johnson, which gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead. The very next hitter, outfielder Karim Garcia, took a pitch behind his head which appeared to nick him on the shoulder for another hit-by-pitch.
Soriano came up next and grounded into a 6-4-3 double play, though another Yankee run scored. Leaving the field, Garcia had some choice words for the Red Sox and a heated exchange ensued.
Yankee catcher Jorge Posada, chest protector and shin guards on, came out of the dugout looking like a Roman centurion ready to attack Martinez. The two feisty foes got into some jaw-jacking and a bit of a “pointing battle” – Martinez using his index finger to point at his temple, as if to say to Posada, “I’ll hit you there.”
The Yankees, in a nutshell, were unhappy with Martinez’s antics, and had no problem expressing their grief. Yet somehow the umpires settled matters down.
That is, until the bottom half of the inning.
Clemens delivered a high and tight 1-2 fastball to hothead Manny Ramirez, who believed there was intent behind the pitch – when clearly there wasn’t.
Ramirez angrily tried to approach Clemens with the bat in his hand before being subdued by his teammates when the benches cleared. Needless to say all Hell broke loose at Fenway, but the victim of the fracas wound up being a coach, not a player.
Yankee bench coach, the late Don Zimmer (72 at the time) lunged towards Martinez, who grabbed him by the head and force-fed him to the ground. The Yankee trainers were able to help him up and get him back into the dugout free of serious injury, but the ugly incident further proved how the Yankees and Red Sox were at extreme odds.
Eventually the situation calmed, and Clemens fanned Ramirez with a fastball on the outer part of the plate to get the game going again; the players back to their professional ways.
But just when it seemed everything was back to normal, it became a mess again.
An altercation broke out in the Yankee bullpen in right field between Nelson and a Boston grounds crew member, Paul Williams. Garcia, stationed in right field, also sampled the action. He hopped the wall into the ‘pen and got involved; a scrum of police officers, security officials, and Yankee relief pitchers creating an unpretty scene.
Days later the Yankees’ personnel, notably president Randy Levine, defended the New York relief corps. Meanwhile the Red Sox brass were less than happy, and went to bat for their groundskeeper, explaining that he did nothing wrong. The Yankee side relented, though, and contended Williams had antagonized Nelson, and wanted an apology issued from the Boston side.
Yeah. That never happened.
Once the roller coaster ride finally ended, the Yankees escaped with a 4-3 win and a 2-1 ALCS lead. The reaction by a couple of individuals after Game 3, however, was unlike anything this writer had ever seen in sports – ever.
In terms of the Martinez-Zimmer incident, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg went on the record saying, “If that happened in New York, we would’ve arrested the perpetrator. Nobody should throw a 70-year-old man to the ground, period.”
That would’ve been quite a sight: the Red Sox ace being cuffed and escorted off the Yankee Stadium diamond by New York’s finest.
BoSox skipper Grady Little only had this to say:
“I think we’ve upgraded it from a battle to a war.”
The war raged on. The Red Sox won Game 4, 3-2, to even the series, then the Yankees grabbed Game 5 with a 4-2 win, taking a 3-2 series lead back to the Bronx. The Red Sox raised the eyebrows of the world by beating the Yanks 9-6 in Game 6, overcoming both Andy Pettitte and a raucous Yankee Stadium crowd.
Game 7. Roger and Pedro, again. He we are.
Is this happening?
Before Game 7 took place, Boston sportswriter Howard Bryant caught up with Willie Randolph, a longtime pinstriper who had endured the “Bronx Zoo” era of the late 1970s as a player, and enjoyed the year-by-year success of the dynasty of the ‘90s as the Yankees’ third base coach.
Bryant asked Randolph what he thought about the deciding game. What do you think?
“Listen,” Randolph said. “Every single time we’ve had to beat them, we’ve beaten them. Tonight’s not going to be any different.”
But in the early going, it was different – a lot different. Clemens struggled, surrendering a second inning, two-run home run to Trot Nixon. Later in the frame a throwing error by starting third baseman Enrique Wilson allowed Jason Varitek to come in, making it 3-0 Red Sox.
Clemens pitched into the fourth, although “the rocket” was all but gassed by then. Millar backed up some of his talking by sending Clemens’s offering into the seats in left field, a solo blast to give the Red Sox a 4-0 lead. Yankee manager Joe Torre had told starter Mike Mussina that he might use him out of the bullpen, which would’ve been the first time in his MLB career he would’ve pitched in relief.
A caveat, though: Torre had told “Moose” that, if he were to use him, he’d bring him into the game when nobody was on base. That plan went by the wayside, as Mussina was summoned to mop up a first-and-third, no out mess.
Number 35, cleanup on aisle four.
Mussina was brilliant, striking out Varitek by utilizing his patented knuckle curveball, and followed by getting Johnny Damon to bounce into an unassisted 6-3 double play to skim out of further peril.
After the game Mussina teased Torre, inquiring, “I thought you said you were only bringing me in if there weren’t going to be men on base.”
Torre quipped back: “I lied.”
Jason Giambi, whom the Yankees had acquired after the fall of the dynasty in 2001, kept the Yanks close with two solo home runs off Martinez – a bomb in the fifth and another in the seventh.
The Yankees trimmed the deficit to 4-2 but in the top of the eighth, Ortiz played pepper with the short porch seats, homering off another starter playing the role of reliever that night, David Wells. The solo job (that left Wells in utter disgust, putting it mildly) gave the Red Sox a run right back, making it 5-2 in favor of Boston.
Now Martinez, his pitch count over 100, came out to toss the bottom half of the eighth with a three-run lead, and while most members of Red Sox Nation thought this might ultimately be the year the Curse of the Bambino would be vanquished, some fans back in Beantown were not so convinced.
Baseball historian and Red Sox fan Doris Kearns Goodwin explained:
“When Pedro came back out in the eighth inning, we all started screaming ‘No! No! You can’t be doing it!’ I mean, fans think they know more than the managers – and often we don’t – but at that point everybody knew the pitch counts that Pedro would suddenly fall off the cliff, if he were over that pitch count.
“He was way over that pitch count, and so there was this huge sense of dread when he came to that mound.”
That dread was well-founded and soon realized.
Jeter pounded a one-out double off the wall in right field. Bernie Williams brought him in with a well-struck single in front of Damon in centerfield, cutting Boston’s lead to 5-3. The RBI base hit prompted a mound visit from Little, who shockingly stuck with his ace; Martinez not leaving the mound after the powwow, even with hard-throwing righty Mike Timlin and lefty specialist Alan Embree going double-barreled in the Red Sox bullpen.
Hideki Matsui, a left-handed hitter, was due up next. Embree would have been the obvious choice to match up with Matsui, but Embree could only watch from the ‘pen as Matsui ripped a ground-rule double down the line in right field off a tired Martinez, passing the baton to Posada.
The switch-hitting Yankee catcher, batting from the left side, punched a blooper into centerfield, falling in the middle of shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, second baseman Todd Walker and Damon to bring both Williams and Matsui to the plate. Posada reached second base – getting the last laugh off Martinez, thinking back to their chinwag in Game 3 – and Game 7 was tied, 5-5.
Martinez then departed to a Bronx cheer; there was no undoing the damage the Yankees had done. The decision to keep Martinez in the ballgame haunted Red Sox Nation for a year. Fans were outraged at Little for not removing Martinez before the game turned, but Martinez – and others – have defended the move.
“I was just trying to do it,” Martinez said. “That’s what a lot of people don’t understand. Why didn’t Pedro give away the ball? Well, they didn’t ask me to give away the ball. They asked me if I could face the guys. I said yes! Of course I can! I’m in the middle of the game; I’m here to do this.
“When Grady came out, the simple question was whether I could pitch to Matsui or not. And I said yes.”
Former Red Sox favorite Johnny Pesky (for whom the foul pole in right field at Fenway Park is named) also was a proponent of allowing Martinez to stay in the game, and was quoted as saying,
“When he’s your best pitcher, and he tells you, ‘skipper, I got enough left in my tank’ you’re not going to take him out.”
The fans on the other hand turned their ire on the call, and even went as far as constructing a poem about it, penned by Boston loyalist James Bair:
Why Did You Keep Pedro In?
We couldn’t have got there without you.
We were five outs away from a win.
You were the smartest guy in the stadium.
But why did you keep Pedro in?
We don’t believe in those curses.
We could care less about old Harry’s sin.
But with such a powerful bullpen,
Why did you keep Pedro in?
We know there is one consolation:
We know you’ll never do it again.
Still the cry rises from Red Sox Nation:
Why did you keep Pedro in?
You made us now root for the Marlins,
And we hardly know how to begin.
You almost upended the Empire,
Why did you keep Pedro in?
You brought new pizzazz to the clubhouse:
The crew found the cowboy within.
You did so much for the guys, but with tears in our eyes,
We say, why did you keep Pedro in?
The question could be asked until the end of time. But it was moot. The game was knotted at five, and the Yankees used the unflappable closer Mariano Rivera for the 9th, 10th, and 11th innings. The stage was set. The question was no longer, “why did Grady leave Pedro in?” Rather it became “how is this saga going to finally end?”
Sleeping on the X-Factor
What probably gets lost in the shuffle was the fact that Boone had come into the game as a pinch-runner during that eventful bottom of the eighth. He took over at third base for Wilson on defense, who was surely not the Yankee fans’ favorite player that evening, because remember – he committed that costly error in the third which led to a Boston run.
It’s funny to me because, personally, I can recall the “due up” graphic in the middle of the 11th inning, watching in my Yankee pajamas from my bed in Beacon, New York; soon to be a droopy-eyed high school junior the following day, but the exhaustion coming with the excitement of a possible World Series berth. I even said to myself,
“Aaron Boone. Forget it, easy out. The next few guys have to hit, though! Let’s win this game!”
Perfectly logical assumption. In 31 postseason at-bats, Boone collected just five hits. The Yankees, however, had a lot more faith in Boone than this scribe did. Before he went into the on-deck circle while knuckleballer Tim Wakefield was warming up, Torre told Boone,
“Just hit a single. It doesn’t mean you won’t hit a home run.”
Randolph then issued the ultimate sign of faith:
“That inning, he came to the dugout and I met him at the top step. I patted him on the back and I said, ‘listen. You’re my sleeper pick. You’re the x-factor of the series.’”
Keith Olbermann – a bright sports pundit and someone for whom I have respect, albeit I disagree with him on plenty of topics – analyzed Boone’s at-bat this way:
“The odds were favoring a hitter in a slump. Because a hitter in a slump’s timing is already off. A knuckleball pitcher throws your timing off. Put a guy with bad timing, and add more bad timing to him, suddenly he has good timing – it’s a zero sum game in terms of timing.
“So you’re thinking, who on earth is going to get the base hit for the Yankees? Who can do anything against Tim Wakefield? Boone.”
Sure enough, the timing worked out. Everything worked out.
Boone slaughtered Wakefield’s first pitch for a home run deep into the New York sky; the ball landing behind the wall in left field to give the Yanks a 6-5 win, sending the Bronx Bombers to their 39th World Series in franchise history. Pandemonium commenced; Yankees Stadium completely erupted, became unglued.
The Red Sox were crushed, the pennant was won, and the Curse of the Bambino was alive and well.
Boone was speechless after clubbing the death blow, and managed just a few words:
“Derek told me the ghosts would show up eventually. And they did.”
The Captain verified those words postgame, saying,
“I believe in ghosts, and we got some ghosts in this Stadium!”
Torre went on to admit he thought there was some divine pinstriped intervention, later saying,
“It is weird to me that certain things happen that don’t seem logical. Yeah, you have to believe we’re getting some help from somewhere.”
What’s also not well known is that, after the bliss of a love-fest at home plate for Boone and the champagne celebration; after the presentation of the Will Harridge Award, and after Rivera was named ALCS MVP, the Yankee players made a pilgrimage out to Monument Park, donned with championship hats soaked in champagne. Specifically, they made a visit to Babe Ruth’s monument.
“Look, he’s smiling! He’s smiling!” the Yankees gleefully exclaimed, whilst rubbing the forehead of the Great Bambino’s likeness on the monument.
The aftermath and the impact of another curse
While Little was quickly fired by the Red Sox and the image of Boone’s home run was tattooed on the minds of Red Sox fans everywhere, the Yanks were in the 2003 fall classic, matched up with the Florida Marlins – who Chicago Cubs fans felt had snaked their way in on account of fan interference in the ’03 NLCS. The Cubs had been winning 3-0 in the eighth inning of Game 6, and had they held on would’ve punched their first ticket to the World Series since 1945.
Steve Bartman, a Cubs fan sitting in the front row of the left field stands, accidently reached for a foul ball that was perhaps catchable for left fielder Moises Alou near the wall. Bartman got his hand on it, and the ball took a wrong bounce back into the seats, not going for an out – much to the infuriation of not only Alou, but every Cubs fan in the ballpark. Almost right after the gaffe, the Marlins wound up rallying to score eight runs to win the game, and carried on to win Game 7 by a count of 9-6.
Not unlike the Red Sox and their Curse of the Bambino, the Cubs had the Curse of the Billy Goat hanging over their heads – a long story about a Chicago bar owner, who in 1945 was asked to leave Wrigley Field because the stench of the pet goat he brought to the park was bothering other fans.
He proclaimed, “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.”
Subsequently the Cubs haven’t won the World Series since 1908.
I can’t help but think how the ’03 World Series would’ve gone had it been Yankees-Cubs, the matchup America wanted to see, instead of Yankees-Marlins – a bland fall classic that ended in a six-game series win for the fish.
Would the Yankees have been able to beat the 1-2 punch of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior? Would they have been able to silence the bat of Sammy Sosa, who just five seasons earlier had smashed 66 home runs, and had hit 40 during the ’03 regular season? Would the Curse of the Billy Goat been upheld in the fall classic, the same way the Yanks kept up the Curse of the Bambino in the ALCS?
Would 2003 have been the year of title number 27 in the Bronx, if only the Yankees faced the Cubs and not the pesky Marlins, equipped with the likes of scrappers Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, Josh Beckett and Juan Pierre?
We’ll never know.
To this writer, though, the ALCS was the World Series in 2003. Passion, heat, unmitigated physicality, the will to win intense rivalry games, and excitement that puts you on the edge of your seat – you want nothing more than that as a fan, or at this stage in my life as a journalist.
Hopefully we see it again, in baseball, sometime soon.
And hopefully, again, it’s between the Yankees and Red Sox.
SOURCES FOR THIS PIECE: Websites: Baseball Almanac, Baseball Reference.
DVDs: The Boston Red Sox vs. The New York Yankees: The Ultimate Rivalry (2005)
Ken Burns: The Tenth Inning (2010)
The Yankees are five games away from complete postseason elimination, yet have somehow hung in the AL Wild Card race just enough to have a microscopic chance at a run. Every player on the roster not named Derek Jeter, surely, would love to give The Captain one last go at some autumn baseball in New York.
While it doesn’t appear likely at the moment, and Jeter’s baseball career will probably end on enemy soil at Fenway Park a week from Sunday, last night the Yanks emerged walk-off winners for the eighth time this year, beating the Blue Jays 3-2.
Tied 2-2 in the ninth, Chris Young led off with a single to centerfield and was promptly lifted for Antoan Richardson. The speedy pinch-runner swiped second and moved to third on a Brett Gardner sac bunt. Chase Headley, who already had two walk-off hits under his belt as a Yankee this year, then delivered the death blow with a sharp liner past Adam Lind at first base for the win.
Headley may have notched the big hit in the ninth – and got to take the “Gardner Gatorade Cooler Challenge” so-to-speak – but the hit everyone buzzed about after the game was Jeter’s solo home run in the bottom of the sixth. It marked The Captain’s fourth round-tripper of the year, and his first bomb of 2014 at the big ballpark in the Bronx.
The fans were so amped up after Jeter’s long liner over the wall in left field that everyone on hand stood cheering, hoping he would come out for a curtain call and tip his cap.
Jeter would modestly say postgame, “Mac (Brian McCann) was in the middle of his at-bat, so I didn’t want to disrupt anyone’s hitting at the time.”
It was quite a nice way to begin Jeter’s last career homestand, but he isn’t even focused on the finality of it all, and basically said he just wants the Yankees to win out the rest of the way.
“I’m trying not to think about it being the last homestand,” Jeter added. “I’m going to go out there and play hard like I’ve done my entire career until there are no games left.”
The Captain might be trying not to think about the end, but in reality, last night we may have seen the final home run of his legendary career. Jeter has had plenty of significant helpings of
“mashed taters” (if you will) in his lifetime; World Series home runs, a home run in 2001 All-Star Game. He’s clubbed game-winning homers, and who could forget the pitch he sent into the left field bleachers at Yankee Stadium for his 3,000th hit that beautifully historic July Saturday in 2011.
Perhaps the most ironic aspect of it all: Jeter isn’t exactly, and was never, really, a home run hitter. Still, he will finish with 260 homers (barring another home run between now and Sept. 28) and 20 postseason homers – three of which were smacked in the Fall Classic.
Off the top of my head I was able to personally remember six games I’ve attended over the course of my fandom in which Jeter has homered. All of these homers I’ve seen Jeter hit live were solo home runs – or “2olo 2hots” – in the Bronx. What’s more, each homer tied the game, gave the Yankees a lead, or started them off on a rally.
Indulge me if you will, as I take a stroll down memory lane and share these Jeter home runs I have witnessed firsthand.
June 29, 2002 – vs. the New York Mets
It was a hot day at the beginning of summer ‘02, as well as the middle game of a Subway Series. Those pesky Mets brought some gusto with them to the Stadium that afternoon, and took a 1-0 lead on Ted Lilly in the first.
But into the box stepped Jeter, batting third that day. The Captain sent Al Leiter’s offering deep and gone to knot the time game up 1-1 right away.
Lilly however couldn’t keep his team in it. Mike Piazza, Vance Wilson and Mo Vaughn each hit homers of their own, and the Yankees didn’t muster much more offense, making this the only game the Yanks lost in which I beheld a Jeter home run.
Final: Mets 11, Yankees 2.
Jeter Home Run Total in 2002: 18
June 21, 2005 – vs. Tampa Bay Devil Rays
This particular game was almost a lost cause. Randy Johnson made the start for the Yanks, and was fully expected to give the Devil Rays hell. That couldn’t have been further from what happened, as the likes of Damon Hollins, Jorge Cantu, Carl Crawford and Johnny Gomes turned the Big Unit into a small component.
Believe it or not, the Yankees trailed 10-2 in the fourth inning.
Yet, you can never count them out. Jeter kick started his boys in the sixth inning, knocking a solo homer off Chad Orvella, who was on in relief of washed up Tampa Bay starting pitcher Hideo Nomo.
The Yankees chopped it to 11-7 going into the bottom of the eighth and scored 13 (yes, 13!) runs in the bottom half of the frame, going on to win. Thirteen runs by the Yankees in a single inning of a game was indeed possible at one point in time, although it is hard to believe now, given the foibles of the offense these past two years.
Balls also left the yard that night off the bats of Gary Sheffield (who in fact smacked two homers that night), Alex Rodriguez, Hideki Matsui, and Jorge Posada.
Final: Yankees 20, Devils Rays 11.
Jeter Home Run Total in 2005: 19
Aug. 2, 2006 – vs. Toronto Blue Jays
In a rather delicious dose of irony, Jeter had a chance to get back at Lilly in this game from the June 29, 2002 shellacking by the Mets’ hand. The Yankees had traded Lilly to Oakland after ’02 and in exchange were presented with Jeff Weaver (with Jeremy Bonderman ticketed for Detroit, because it was a three-way deal)…
But anyway, Jeter came up in the third inning and sent Lilly’s delivery out of the park, his eighth homer of ’06, to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead. They tacked on with more runs later; the additional offense highlighted by a Posada two-run homer in the sixth (also off Lilly) to run away with a win. A lights-out pitching performance by Chien-Ming Wang also contributed to the victory.
Final: Yankees 7, Blue Jays 2.
Jeter Home Run Total in 2006: 14
April 22, 2009 – vs. Oakland A’s
Not only was this my first game live at the new Yankee Stadium, it was only the Yankees’ sixth game in the new house built by George Steinbrenner and company.
I guess it was only fitting The Captain offered me a fond memory of my first game across the street.
Jeter came up in the fourth inning and smacked a solo shot over the wall in right-center off Jason Anderson; his fourth home run of the young ‘09 season and his second in the new ballpark. His round-tripper gave the Yankees a 5-4 lead, but they didn’t win the game until the 14th inning, when Melky Cabrera sent everyone home happy with a walk-off bomb.
Cabrera also homered in the second inning, as did Matsui; the ball jumping off the bats that blustery day.
Final/14: Yankees 9, A’s 7.
Jeter Home Run Total in 2009: 18
May 15, 2009 – vs. Minnesota Twins
Less than a month later I found myself back at the new Yankee Stadium to see the Bombers host the Twins. For the most part it was a battle, the Yanks and Twins trading blows. Justin Morneau homered. Joe Mauer homered. Minnesota led 3-0 going into the bottom of the fifth.
The Captain blasted one off Francisco Liriano, cutting the Twinkies’ lead to 3-1. Gardner shocked everyone with an inside-the-park home run in the seventh, and Cabrera came through in the clutch with the game-winning hit, capping a three-run ninth to give the pinstripers a win.
The Yankees would go on to win the following two games against the Twins in walk-off fashion, and beat Minnesota in their final at-bat in Game 2 of the ALDS that October, by way of a Mark Teixeira walk-off homer.
But that night – the night that started it:
Final: Yankees 5, Twins 4.
April 13, 2010 – vs. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
It was a day of celebration. Euphoria. Happiness. Rings.
A wonderful ceremony took place before the game; the Yankees being honored for what they had accomplished some five months earlier – beating the Philadelphia Phillies in the ’09 World Series. Jeter was given his fifth ring, while so many others around him were receiving only their first.
After the touching, sentimental moments the ceremony provided, the Yankees had a game to play. They grabbed an early 1-0 lead over the Halos. In the third inning Jeter came up and took Ervin Santana way out and gone for a solo homer, his first of the ’10 season.
Nick Johnson also homered, but how is this for a nod to the days of old:
Yes, Jeter homered. But Andy Pettitte started the game and recorded the win. Mariano Rivera saved Pettitte (his third save of the year to that point), and Posada went 3-for-4 with two doubles and an RBI.
Talk about efficiency from the members of the “Core 4.”
Final: Yankees 7, Angels 5.
Jeter Home Run Total in 2010: 10
How nice it was, sharing these special moments Jeter gave me.
What are some The Captain gave you…?
In light of the tragic events in Newtown, Conn. this morning – a tragedy that hit rather close to home – I thought it might be nice to blog about something good, or at least go back to Yankee matters. Instead of ending the day on a sad note, it might be nice to write about something positive, because positivity is what we all need right about now. Once again, thoughts and prayers are with those affected here in Newtown.
Within the last 72 hours, the unfathomable has occurred. Longtime Yankee nemesis, third baseman Kevin Youkilis, has jumped ship. The former member of the Red Sox signed a one-year deal valued at $12 million, and will indeed play for the “Evil Empire” in 2013. Youkilis will be filling the void at third base which will be left by an aging and ailing A-Rod, who will not return to the team from rehabbing from his hip surgery until mid-season.
Yes, it’s really happening.
Youkilis joins a number of former Red Sox who have made the switch from Red Sox Nation to Yankee Universe, and even he admitted he was shocked that he’s changing teams – coming to the Yanks being painted so heavily with Red Sox colors. According to Yankee beat writer Bryan Hoch, Youkilis was said to be “humbled” and “amazed.”
It’s important to keep in mind Youkilis was moved to Chicago last season and played for the White Sox before becoming a free agent this off-season, and the Red Sox never made him an offer to return. That might take a little bit of heat off him in the eyes of the Boston fans, but the reaction he receives when the Yankees first visit Fenway Park on July 19 this season will be interesting.
What will also be interesting will be his relationship with (now) teammate Joba Chamberlain.
Youkilis and Chamberlain have a noted past – and by “noted” I mean hostile. Chamberlain has thrown at Youkilis multiple times over the years, and the so-called “Greek god of walks” never took too kindly to it. However, I did read earlier today that Chamberlain has already reached out to Youkilis on the phone – but Youkilis has said he hasn’t had time to return the call.
Now, the Yankee fans can only hope Youkilis will help them, as oppose to punishing them, as he has in the past wearing the Sox; do some great things for them rather than against them. With Boston and Chicago Youkilis smacked 13 lifetime home runs vs. the Bronx Bombers, including one of the loudest blasts this writer has ever heard on April 24, 2009 – when he smashed a walk-off home run over the Green Monster off Damaso Marte; a well-struck shot to lift the Red Sox past the Yankees.
If history shows us anything, this move could be good for the Yankees and has the potential to pay dividends. A few noted former BoSox have gone on to thrive in pinstripes.
It all started with
Yes, the Sultan of Swat. The Colossus of Clout. The King of Crash…and every other one of his nicknames we learned in “The Sandlot.” The Babe brought his power and might to the Yankees, as we all know, after a stint in Boston.
It seemed almost instantly when Ruth joined the Yankees they became relevant. The Bombers won their first World Series in 1923 and the rest is basically history. His presence made the Yankees a better team – and before he got there, he was a member of the Red Sox.
Of course later in the century there was
Boggs brought his six batting titles from Beantown to the Bronx, where he rode off into the sunset in 1996. The one picture that remains printed in everyone’s mind is undoubtedly Boggs on the back of the horse after the World Series that year.
Then after Boggs was
Like Youkilis, Clemens spent time with another team after his time in Boston – the Toronto Blue Jays – before making his debut in New York in 1999. The Rocket accomplished with the Yankees what he couldn’t with the Red Sox: winning the World Series (in ’99 and 2000).
Clemens also captured the AL Cy Young in 2001, and remains the last Yankee to ever win the coveted award (CC Sabathia won the AL Cy in 2007, but as a member of the Cleveland Indians).
It might even make sense for Youkilis to take Clemens’s number, 22. I don’t think there’s a chance they give him number 20, which belonged to Yankee fan-favorite Jorge Posada for 16 years.
Anywho, the next notable BoSock to turn heel was
Or, as the Red Sox fans called him, “Judas DamoNY.”
In making the leap from Boston to New York, Damon had to shave his beard and cut his hair; and it obviously didn’t affect his play on the field. The outfielder gave the Yanks four remarkable years of service, capping it off by stealing the show in the 2009 World Series.
Damon, in one of the most heads-up plays of all-time, stole second base and third base in one deft move, putting himself in scoring position to line the Yanks up for a 7-4 Game 4 win over the Phillies.
There are also a number of other players to go from Boston to New York and vice versa: Derek Lowe, Ramiro Mendoza, Alan Embree, Doug Mientkiewicz, Mark Bellhorn, Mike Myers, Don Baylor…the list can go on and on. Some have made lasting impressions, other haven’t.
Of the players mentioned, Ruth, Mendoza, and Damon are three that have won the World Series with both Boston and New York. Youkilis, a World Champ in 2004 and 2007 with Boston, will look to add his name to that list.
If the history among Ruth, Boggs, Clemens, and Damon is any indication, it’s certainly possible. And from a fan’s perspective, maybe Youkilis can serve as a lightning rod; spark the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, which was in a lot of ways dormant for most of 2011 and all of 2012.
In other news
Ichiro has decided to return to the Yankees, agreeing to come back on a two-year deal worth between $12-13 million.
The Yankee Stadium outfield, through 2014, can be called “Area 31.”
It surprised me to see Ichiro get two years, being 39 years old. The reason may have been because of the Phillies – they might have forced the Yanks’ hands.
From what I gather, Philly was ready to offer Ichiro two years and close to $14 million, probably looking to fill one of their outfield holes. Last year Philadelphia traded away center fielder Shane Victorino to the Dodgers – and now Victorino has signed with Boston for three years.
Lucky the Yanks were able to negotiate with Ichiro and get him back before Philly snagged him, being that Nick Swisher is basically gone and the option of signing Josh Hamilton is off the table. Not that I expected the Yankees to make a run for him, anyway, but nonetheless the option no longer exists with Hamilton’s agreement with the LA Angels yesterday afternoon.
Next year’s Yankee outfield is looking like:
CF Curtis Granderson
LF Brett Gardner RF Ichiro
If nothing else, the Yanks will have an awful lot of speed and athleticism in the outfield.
F-18 Navy Hornets, gigantic American flags, player introductions, the Mayor and…
Kermit the Frog!
All the wonderful elements of the Yankees’ home opener this afternoon against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. What sweetened the whole deal? A 5-0 shutout of the Halos behind a brilliant outing from new Yankee Hiroki Kuroda.
The Japanese-born starter twirled an absolute gem, tossing eight-plus innings while not allowing a run. Kuroda allowed just five hits, walked two, and struck out six.
Talk about a fine way to introduce yourself to the Yankee faithful.
Kuroda probably would have finished the game had he not given up a leadoff infield single to Bobby Abreu in the top of the ninth, but he was at 109 pitches, therefore gave way to David Robertson.
Robertson got Albert Pujols to ground into a 6-4-3 double play before fanning Kendrys Morales for the final out.
Kuroda and Robertson were backed by a solid amount of run support, started by a bases-clearing double off the bat of Nick Swisher in the bottom of the first. The two-base hit plated Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, and Mark Teixeira.
Up 3-0 in the bottom of the third, Rodriguez added a run with one swing. The slugging third baseman crushed a leadoff home run deep to centerfield, a shot that landed in the netting above Monument Park. With that homer, A-Rod tied his former Seattle Mariner teammate Ken Griffey, Jr. for fifth place on the all-time home runs list with 630 career round-trippers.
Curtis Granderson put the icing on the cake with a screaming line drive bullet home run over the right field wall in the fifth. Granderson’s solo blast gave the Yanks all the offense they needed to put the Angels away and boost their win streak to four.
The Yankees couldn’t have asked for more out of their number two starter. The bullpen had thrown 11.1 innings in the final two games the Bombers played in Baltimore, and after an off-day yesterday, the relief corps basically received another day of rest.
Length was key, and Kuroda gave the Yanks more than enough.
It was a nice rebound start for Kuroda, having given up six runs in 5.2 innings in Tampa Bay last Saturday. He used his fastball to his advantage and his slider was dancing all over the strike zone.
Not even the mighty Albert Pujols could figure Kuroda out.
He didn’t utilize his split finger much, but he didn’t need to; he neutralized the strong hitters like Pujols and Morales without giving an inch.
In Japan, the best pitcher on the staff wears the number 18. Kuroda chose to wear number 18 upon his arrival in the Bronx and today he earned the right to wear that number. A crackling fastball, a moving slider, six K’s against a deep Angels’ lineup, and a win – that’s enough to sell me on him.
Now at 1-1 on the year, he will look for his next win Wednesday at home vs. the Minnesota Twins.
Manager Joe Girardi chose to bat Alex Rodriguez third in the lineup today. Having only collected three hits in the first five games of the season without knocking in a run or hitting a homer, it was clear A-Rod needed to move from the cleanup spot on account of lack of production.
All that changed today. The move clearly had an impact.
A-Rod went 3-for-4 this afternoon and belted his first home run of the year, a bomb that landed in Monument Park – not a cheap homer.
With the home run, Rodriguez tied his old buddy Ken Griffey, Jr. for fifth place on baseball’s all-time home runs list. It was A-Rod’s 630th career homer. He also raised his batting average from .174 to .259.
That’s the beauty of baseball: one day can turn everything around.
The Yankee right fielder is becoming a valuable asset to the team in the early-going. Nick Swisher has reached base in every game this season. He’s hit safely in six games and in the one game he didn’t reach base by way of a hit, he drew two walks.
Last Saturday against the Rays, it looked as though the Yankees were done in the ninth when Swisher stepped up to the plate. He proceeded to cream the ball for a home run to keep the Yankees alive, although they eventually lost 8-6.
In the series finale at Camden Yards vs. the Orioles, Swisher came up huge with what proved to be the game-winning home run, a two-run blast that gave the Bombers a 6-4 lead they held onto for the victory.
Today Swisher had the huge double in the first to clear the bases and give the Yankees an early lead and a ton of momentum.
So far this year Swisher has two homers, nine RBIs, has seven hits, has drawn five walks, and has scored three runs.
If there is a Yankee hero at this moment, it’s Swisher. Right now, he can do no wrong.
Honorary First Pitch
A special dignitary tossed out the honorary first pitch this afternoon: recently-retired catcher Jorge Posada. The Yankees stood behind the mound out of respect to their former teammate and watched as he threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
There was a lot of speculation as to what was going to transpire during this particular part of the Opening Day festivities. I had heard a rumor Posada was going to go to the mound, then one of his teammates would switch with him – and he would actually catch the honorary pitch rather than throw it, because that’s what he is most known for in Yankee lore.
But that didn’t happen.
While his teammates and family watched, Posada threw the first pitch to his dad who stood behind the plate to catch it. Following the first pitch, Posada emotionally hugged each of his Yankee friends.
It was a touching moment and Posada received a well-deserved standing ovation from the Yankee Stadium crowd.
It was a promising win for the Yankees. The Angels are the only team with a lifetime winning record against the Bombers and with the additions of Pujols and starter C.J. Wilson (who the Yankees will get a look at tomorrow afternoon) they only got stronger; more difficult to beat.
But they got beat today – stifled by a lights-out performance from Kuroda.
Curtis Granderson’s bullet home run marked the second year in a row he has gone yard in the Yankees’ home opener. He homered last year in the Yanks’ win over the Detroit Tigers at Yankee Stadium.
Phil Hughes toes the rubber tomorrow against the Angels, gunning for win number one on the year. Hughes threw the ball well in his first start on Sunday in Tampa Bay, but came up just short.
He will look to pick up his first win and roll the Yankees’ win streak over to five games.
On a side note, is anyone else growing tired of the promos for the new “3 Stooges” movie?
If the three stooges walked up to me and paid me $50 to see this abomination, I would hand them a $100 bill and simply say, “Let’s pretend this never happened.”
I understand it’s totally irrelevant to the Yankees, but the TV spot kept popping up during YES’ broadcast of the game this afternoon. I just know a bad movie when I see one – and I won’t be seeing the “3 Stooges.”
This afternoon I found myself organizing a bunch of documents on my laptop. School assignments from my College years, newspaper articles from the school paper, and all of my recent work assignments were stockpiled in my computer folder.
I came across a personal experience story I had to write for my feature writing class in May of 2009. It should come as no shock that I wrote about my experience from the first trip I took to the new Yankee Stadium.
Reading this back, I felt like a little kid. It was priceless. I figured it might be nice to share it on here; put it on the blog. Most of the pictures in this entry are ones I shot that day.
I was exhausted as I looked out the window on the train ride home. As a die-hard baseball fan, I had just been through an absolute whirlwind. The day of my baseball-loving life.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009 was a very special day for me. I was privileged enough to make my first trip with my friends and family to the new Yankee Stadium.
In only the sixth regular season game at the new ballpark, the New York Yankees hosted the Oakland Athletics in an afternoon game.
Wearing my pinstriped Mariano Rivera jersey on my back and one of my many fitted Yankee caps on my head, I met up with my friends, Brian and Jenn, and my cousin Joe for what would be a memorable day.
On the train ride to the Bronx, we really did not know what to expect, other than a great time. I, for one, was not sure if the new Stadium would live up to the hype.
Sure, it looks incredible on television and in the newspapers, but how is it going look in-person? Will it be the same feeling as enjoying a game at the old Stadium? I couldn’t help but think.
We walked off the number four subway in the Bronx to an overwhelming site: The new Yankee Stadium in all its glory.
As we approached the building, we did not know what we were in for.
“The Kingdom of Heaven!” I exclaimed, while I was glaring at the building.
“This place looks absolutely amazing, and we are not even inside yet.”
The first thing we had to do was take pictures. I reached into my bag and pulled out my camera. I shot the façade of the stadium. I snapped pictures of the new Babe Ruth Plaza outside the Stadium.
And I got a picture of the new electronic game day board that read, “Oakland Athletics vs. New YorkYankees Today1:05.”
With seats in the bleachers, we were unsure of where to enter. If you had seats in the bleachers at the old Stadium, you could only enter through the back of the building. But we wanted to see everything in the new stadium. We walked up to Gate Six, and asked where to go.
“As long as you have your ticket, you can enter at any gate,” the gentleman informed us. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in the bleachers. We treat everybody equally at this Stadium!”
We happily entered the gate, right into the Great Hall. What I saw left me in disbelief. Yankees everywhere I looked.
“Wow,” I said in amazement. “I…I just can’t believe this. This place is unreal.”
Of course we had to take more pictures. My friends got a shot of me standing in the Great Hall with all the Yankee banners behind me.
Reggie Jackson. Paul O’Neill. Thurman Munson. Me. What a picture.
After walking around and snapping a ridiculous amount of photos, we finally settled into our seats. Left field bleachers, Section 236, row five, seat 16. That was mine.
It was about11:00 a.m.by the time we made it to the seats. The A’s were out on the field, stretching and taking batting practice.
I noticed so many baseballs fly out of the park. One flew right over our heads, landing about 20 feet away. Not long after that, one came within ten feet of Joe’s seat, landing directly in the glove of the kid next to him.
“Holy cow,” I said. “Pretty close!”
I then took a few minutes to take it all in. I looked at the frieze which now surrounds the top of the entire stadium. I looked out at the field. I looked at the flags around the top of the stadium, indicating the league standings.
“We are in second place right now,” I noted. “Right behind Toronto.”
And then I beheld the press box, which is located in the mezzanine behind home plate.
“I’ll be there someday,” I quietly said to myself.
“I just need my journalism degree, which I’ll be getting very soon, and a little bit of time to work my way up. I’ll be sitting up there with the rest of the writers, eventually.”
It had started to lightly rain during batting practice, and I began to feel very skeptical as to whether or not the game was going to be played. There was rain in the forecast, and I was not certain they were going to get it in.
But the grounds crew thought differently. They did not come out to put the tarp on the field. They chalked the lines and the batter’s box, raked the mound, and put the bases in, as if they were starting the game on time.
Then I noticed CC Sabathia chug from the dugout to the outfield to play long toss with the bullpen catcher. Pitching Coach Dave Eiland and Jorge Posada soon followed Sabathia out to centerfield.
I felt a little more confident now that the pitcher was warming up.
“If the game was not going to start on time, they would not have CC out there throwing,” I thought to myself. “We’ll see some baseball today.”
It got to be 1:00, and the P.A. announcer gave us the starting lineups. Oaklandfirst. The visitors are always announced first. Then the home team.
“…And for the Yankees: led by their manager, number 27, Joe Girardi. Batting first, the shortstop, number two, Derek Jeter!”
I could not contain myself as each Yankee was announced. I am a passionate Yankee fan, and I marked out for every single Yankee in the lineup.
“YAY, Derek! YAY Johnny! YAY BigTex!” …and so on.
Then came the National Anthem. And after the on-the-field warm-ups, the start of the game.
The first pitch was so exciting. Everybody was up and cheering. The roar of the crowd gets to you, even as a fan. I don’t know how the players handle it, but as a fan, it’s extremely intense.
After the first pitch, which was ball one from Sabathia, we heard it.
“Bald Vinny,” the main bleacher creature who always sits in right field, started the Yankee roll call. He did this for every game in the old Stadium and apparently the tradition lives on.
“Some things will never change,” I said with a smile on my face.
I watched as the fans standing in the bleachers cried out for every Yankee until they were acknowledged. I could only laugh as I watched right fielder Nick Swisher turn around, face the bleacher creatures, and salute them, as if he was an Army soldier.
In the top of the second inning, Oakland catcher Kurt Suzuki slaughtered Sabathia’s offering to left field. Brian, Jenn, Joe and I all stood up as we gazed at the ball flying out to left field.
It carried far enough for a fan sitting in the front row to snatch the ball. He closed his glove and caught the ball for a three-run Oakland home run.
As the boos reverberated throughout the Stadium, Girardi came out to argue that the fan interfered.
“Here we go again,” I said. “Just like Sunday against Cleveland – bring on instant replay!”
The umps went into the tunnel for what seemed like only five minutes to decide whether or not the ball was a home run.
“Here come the umps,” Brian said to me as they walked from the third base tunnel out onto the field. “I hope it gets overturned!”
Third base umpire Brian Gorman twirled his index finger, signaling that the ball was indeed a goner. The Yankees were now down, 3-0.
A little depressed, we knew the Yankees needed a spark. Being down 3-0 early on in the game never puts any fan in a good mood.
But the bottom of the second inning lifted our spirits in a great way.
Hideki Matsui stepped up to the plate, and cracked a long, solo homer into the right field seats, putting us back within two runs.
“YES! I joyfully cried out. “We’re back in it!”
After Matsui’s blast, I high fived everyone around me, including two Yankee fans I had never met.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t know the other fans when a Yankee hits a home run. We’re all Yankee fans, which makes us family at the game.
“That’s what I’m talking about,” one of the fans said to me as I slapped his hand.
The next batter was Melky Cabrera. We had just seen one Yankee home run, and Cabrera made it two.
Back-to-back jacks – the first set of back-to-back home runs in the new house, in fact. Cabrera clobbered Oakland starter Brett Anderson’s offering into the area right below us.
Again, I yelled out, “YES! 3-2!”
While Cabrera rounded the bases, I borrowed Yankee announcer John Sterling’s cheesy catch-phrase and shouted, “The Melk-man always knocks twice!”
With the Yankees now trailing by only one run at the end of the second inning and the rain pouring down rather steadily, we had no choice but to leave our seats and take cover.
One of the best facets of the new stadium are the standing rooms. You can leave your seat, and still view the on-the-field-action.
Now protected from the rain and perched over the centerfield gate with Monument Park beneath us, we stood and watched Sabathia and the Yankees give up another run in the top of the third, making the score 4-2.
“Are you kidding me? This just is not right,” I told Joe while shaking my head in confusion.
Down 4-2, the Yankees received a much-needed lift in the bottom half of the third.
With Posada on second and Teixeira on third, Robinson Cano was able to push Teixeira across the plate for a run, bringing the Yanks back within one.
Soon after Nick Swisher came up and singled to drive in Posada, knotting the game at four runs apiece.
“Alright, we’re making some progress here,” I said as I peered out onto the field at the end of third inning.
“I have a gut feeling we’ll be on top when this game is all said and done.”
In the bottom of the fourth inning, we were treated to yet another Yankee home run. This time it was the Captain.
Jeter came up and blasted a solo home run directly below us in centerfield, taking the ball into Monument Park. If you looked closely enough on the replay, for a split second, you could just see the group of us cheering on the home run from the standing room platform above centerfield before it landed.
“Way to go, Captain! He did it again,” I gleefully exclaimed.
According to the scoreboard, Jeter was playing in his 2,000th career game. A home run must have been a nice way to remember it by.
Oakland would get a run back off Sabathia in the top of the sixth, as Mark Ellis singled to score Jack Cust.
I could hear the other fans’ disgust at Sabathia’s pitching.
“Why does this guy suck? He’s terrible,” I heard one upset fan say.
“Go back toMilwaukee, you waste of money,” I heard another disgruntled fan cry out.
The bad feelings towards Sabathia temporarily evaporated in the bottom of the sixth, as the Yankees re-took the lead.
Tied at five, Jeter doubled to score Cody Ransom, and Teixeira singled to score Jeter, giving the Bronx Bombers a 7-5 edge.
“This is real Yankee baseball,” I thought to myself. “It doesn’t matter how bad CC is, as long as the offense does its job.”
With the Yanks up by two at the end of six, we decided to leave the standing area and see the rest of the palace.
The new stadium offers so much, and there’s a lot to see and do. We heard that there was museum inside the ballpark, open to the fans. We asked around, and found out that we had just enough time to visit the museum before it closed.
So we went.
We walked in the Yankee museum, and just as I had been blown away coming off the subway, I was taken aback by everything in the room. There was so much to see.
We took pictures with the World Series trophies from the 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000 Championship years. The years I fell in love with the Yankees and with baseball.
I couldn’t help but think of the great teams of those years, and how much I loved watching them at the old Stadium.
“I remember when Tino Martinez crushed that grand slam into the upper deck in right field in first game of the ’98 series,” I said to Brian.
“Tino was one of the greatest players to ever put on the pinstripes, and my favorite during the dynasty.”
Then we made our way to the “ball wall,” an incased shelf of baseballs autographed by practically every player ever to wear a Yankee uniform.
I was amazed, saying to my friends and cousin, “Hey, look here’s Yogi! Oh man, it’s Jeter’s ball. And here’s Tino’s! And the greatest player to ever live: Babe Ruth.”
After viewing the ball wall, we journeyed over to the replica clubhouse locker. You can type your name into the computer, and it will appear above the locker, as if you are in the Yankee clubhouse as a player.
I typed my name in, and it appeared.
“A.J. Martelli” appeared above the locker, much to my delight.
I thought to myself, “This is what it feels like to be a Yankee. It feels pretty good.”
Of course, I got a picture of me in the locker with my name posted over my head to remember it by.
As all this was going on, we noticed on the high definition television screen that Sabathia was blowing the lead.
Ex-Yankee and current Athletic Jason Giambi grounded out to short while Bobby Crosby scored, and Matt Holliday singled to score Ryan Sweeney, knotting the game again, this time at seven.
Sabathia exited to a mixed reaction from the Yankee faithful, and those bad feelings toward him from the sixth inning came back.
We made our way out of the museum, and back to a standing area, this time by first base.
We could only look on as the Yankees and A’s could not get anything offensive going. With the game still knotted at seven heading into the top half of the ninth, we watched Mariano Rivera come in to pitch.
As Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” blared through the new stadium speakers and Rivera dashed in from the bullpen, it all looked so different to me.
“It’s so weird to see him enter from right field,” I said. “I’m so used to seeing him come in through the left field gate.”
The new Stadium features the Yankee bullpen behind the right field fence, in contrast to the old Stadium, where it sat behind left-center.
Rivera mowed through the A’s in the top of the ninth. The Yankees could not generate a winning run in the bottom of the ninth, and the game went into extra innings.
The 11th. The 12th. The 13th. After awhile we found ourselves completely wiped out.
With our legs tired and already harboring a seven and a half-hour day at the stadium, we contemplated whether or not to stay or hit the subway back to Grand Central.
“If they don’t win after the 13th, you want to head out?” I asked.
“We are all really tired, I don’t care what we do,” said Brian.
“I just hope they win, either way!”
With sore legs from walking, a horse voice from cheering, and a tired mind, my friends, my cousin, and I made our way back to the subway.
Many others had the same idea, as the subway was crammed with Yankee fans.
“Was this your first game at the new stadium?” a man wearing a Yankee hat sitting across from me asked.
“Yeah,” I replied.
“How’d you like it?” he followed up.
“It was amazing. I can’t believe how stunning the Stadium really is. The television does not do it justice. You have to come down here and physically enter the building to really appreciate it,” I again replied.
He agreed with everything I said.
When we reached Grand Central, we found that the Yankees were still playing in the top of the 14th inning.
We finally boarded the train back home, exhausted and worn out. However, I was not going to rest until I found out if the Yankees had won or lost.
Strangely enough, I looked out the train window as we passed the Stadium on the way home. Staring in awe at the ballpark from the train, I received a text message from another friend, Micheal.
“Melky just hit a walk-off homer in the bottom of the fourteenth. Yankees win!”
As I was glaring at the “Kingdom of Heaven” from the train, the Bronx Bombers were celebrating at home plate, mobbing Cabrera in a 9-7 Yankee victory. The first walk-off home run in the new Yankee Stadium. History.
I smiled, and knew that even though we didn’t exactly see the game-winner, it was like I did.
I was satisfied knowing that I’ll always remember my first trip to the new stadium. I was just an infant when my parents took me to my first game in the old stadium. I can’t exactly remember that first visit to the old ballpark vividly.
But now I’ll have memories that will last for the rest of my life. Memories from my first trip to the new Stadium that I’ll remember forever.
Exhausted and staring out the window as we passed Dobbs Ferry, I finally shut my eyes.
The Yankees won. Now I could rest easily.
Every so often a player will come along in any sport, and set the world on fire. Big plays, clutch performances and wild finishes typically define these players, as they become the talk of the town upon emerging.
The latest player to set the world ablaze: New York Knicks’ point guard Jeremy Lin.
The 23-year-old phenom is a classic feel-good story. Lin was a nobody; just days away from being cut. When the Knicks were scuffling he was given a chance to play – and it’s safe to say he made the most of that opportunity.
Among some of his accomplishments, “Super Lin-tendo” outscored basketball god Kobe Bryant on Friday, netted the game-winning 3-point field goal vs. the Toronto Raptors last night, was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, and became the first player in NBA history to score at least 20 points and record seven assists through his first four starts.
“Linsanity” has swept the nation. Even I have caught the fever. I bought this the other day:
Lin is on a roll, but keep in mind, he has only dominated a small number of games – six to be exact. He has certainly shown what he can do, seeing as how the Knicks are undefeated in the so-called “Lin Era.” The question has to be raised however:
Will Lin be a mainstay or just a flash in the pan?
After last night’s dramatics, Lin has me sold. I truly feel he will be a great player for a long time, as he has demonstrated remarkable ability to elevate his team. The Knicks were getting their faces rubbed in the dirt. Lin came along, picked them up, dusted them off, and made them relevant again.
This whole “Lin-credible” craze got me thinking about the Yankees: which Bombers came out of nowhere, made an immediate impact, and lifted the team?
Here are a few names that came to mind…
Never heard of Kevin Maas? Neither did I, until I began my research for this blog entry.
According to what I read, Maas was a first baseman who played for the Yankees from 1990-93. He crushed 10 homers in just 77 at-bats and finished his first season with 24 homers, playing in only 79 games.
A lot of people even went as far as saying Maas was going to be Don Mattingly’s heir.
But it all declined for him. His numbers slowly but surely decreased as the time passed. Despite clubbing 23 homers in ’91, he hit just .220 in 148 games. He only hit 11 homers the following year and nine the year after.
Maas eventually went to the Minnesota Twins in 1995 and was cut after only 22 games. I suppose he will just remain an anomaly; a one-hit wonder who set the baseball world aglow literally right before I started following the Yankees.
I’m actually very surprised I didn’t know about him until today.
In September of 1998, a 26-year-old outfielder who tore apart the minor leagues was called up to the show. Shane Spencer, who in 1997 hit 30 homers and knocked in 86 runs for the Columbus Clippers (the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate at the time), took New York by storm.
Unexpectedly, Spencer smacked 10 home runs in the month of September, in only 67 at-bats. Of those 10 homers, three of them came with the bases loaded. A lot of the veteran Yankee players and fans were right behind Spencer, on the edge of their seats every time he stepped up to the plate.
Much like the barrage of Lin nicknames, fans in the crowd held signs that read,
“Shane Brings da Pain!” Not to mention even the Sports Illustrated recognized his outburst.
Unfortunately for Spencer, in a lot of ways, he was just a one-hit wonder. Aside from his spectacular “September to Remember” he didn’t accomplish much else of note, save for a few accolades. Spencer did collect three World Series rings, being with the Yanks from ’98-00, and hit two home runs in the ‘98 ALDS vs. Texas.
He also smacked a home run in the 2001 Fall Classic vs. Arizona, while only securing a .222 batting average in eight postseason series.
It’s kind of sad what happened to him after the hype vanished. Spencer got in some off-the-field trouble for drunk driving and reports surfaced that he had problems with the Florida police around Spring Training, 2004.
Nevertheless, his late-season spark of the ‘98 Yankees may never be forgotten by the most devout pinstripe faithful.
In 2005 the Yankees were coming off arguably the worst time in their franchise history. The 2004 Boston Red Sox rallied back from an 0-3 ALCS deficit to not only beat them, but also embarrass them.
Boston made history. The Yankees became history.
The following season however, the Bombers re-tooled by signing the overpowering southpaw Randy Johnson, as a lack of solid starting pitching was cited as their 2004 playoff downfall.
But the Big Unit couldn’t do it all by himself. Other starters had to step up.
Cue Aaron Small, a 34-year-old right-handed journeyman. Small had stints with six other ball clubs before finding his way to the Bronx. He emerged at just the right time, filling a hole in an injury-ravaged starting rotation. He made his first start on July 20, 2005, beating the Texas Rangers.
Small would go on to win 10 games in 2005 – without ever losing. In fact, he became the first Yankee to win his first nine decisions since Tommy John (1979) and just the fourth player in MLB history to win 10 games without recording a loss.
He turned Yankee Stadium into “Smallville,” I guess you could say.
The Yankees began the ’05 season with a lopsided 11-19 record through their first 30 games. Considering where they were, it’s not crazy to say Small played a huge role in terms of getting his team back into the playoff hunt.
Much like Spencer, Small’s success didn’t last. He recorded the loss in Game 3 of the 2005 ALDS vs. the Los Angeles Angels, and went on to go 0-3 in three starts for the Yanks in 2006. Small was designated for assignment on June 17, 2006 and signed a minor league deal with the Seattle Mariners prior to the 2007 season.
He was released by the Mariners in May and shortly after called it a career.
Small’s contribution in ’05 was remembered by the Yankee brass, as he has been honored at two Old Timer’s Days (2008, 2011). Before his appearance at Old Timer’s Day ’08, Small won a battle with encephalitis, which had put him in a coma for eight days.
To me, Small will always be remembered as a winner; a player who stepped up when everyone else was struggling. If you ask me, by no means is that a bad way to be remembered.
Much like Small, Shawn Chacon emerged at the right time. The Yanks’ starting rotation in ‘05 was in disarray and the starters needed to step it up. The 28-year-old righty was having a rough go of it in Colorado, going 1-7 for the Rockies before being dealt to the Yanks for minor leaguers Ramon Ramirez and Eduardo Sierra.
He came to the Yankees with low expectations, but went above and beyond what anyone could have hoped for. Right from the get-go Chacon made a splash, tossing six innings without surrendering a run to the Angels in his first start in pinstripes. Although he didn’t get the decision, the Yanks beat the Halos behind Chacon, 8-7.
Chacon ended 2005 with a 7-3 record for New York while notching a 2.85 ERA. He also picked up Small, winning Game 4 of the ALDS vs. the Angels. The Yanks went on to lose the ALDS, yet many baseball analysts felt Chacon was going to continue to pitch well in 2006, and become a key member of the Yankee rotation.
Not so much.
He started ’06 off slowly, though he began to pick up the pace in late April. Chacon started the infamous “Crazy Tuesday vs. Texas” game, giving up seven runs to the Rangers – a game Jorge Posada eventually won in dramatic fashion for New York. He eventually landed himself on the disabled list, and after a brutal game vs. the Cleveland Indians on July 4, was sent to the bullpen.
By the 2006 trade deadline Chacon was swapped for Pirates’ left-handed bat Craig Wilson, thus ending his Yankee tenure. He was last seen pitching for the Houston Astros in 2008 and to my knowledge is not currently signed by any MLB team.
My best memory of Chacon actually came in virtual reality. I was throwing a perfect game with him in MLB 2006 for PlayStation 2. It didn’t end well. You can read more about that sad story here, if you’d like.
The 2007 baseball season was mostly known for one thing: the unrealistic, clutch season that belonged to third baseman Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod put the Yankee team on his back and carried them to win after win, hitting unfathomably long home runs that would have probably left Mickey Mantle in disbelief.
But midway through the year a career minor leaguer came up by the name of Shelley Duncan. At the time his father Dave was the pitching coach for the St. Louis Cardinals. His brother Chris was an outfielder, also with the Cards.
A second generation player, Duncan was called to the show on July 20, 2007 and ignited the Yankees. In his first game, he recorded his first hit and his first RBI against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The next day he crushed his first home run, and then followed with a multi-home run performance the day after.
Duncan became such a fan-favorite for his enthusiasm. He would give hard high-fives to his teammates and even injured clubhouse reporter Kim Jones, smacking her hand as hard as he could in celebration of a Yankee win during a postgame interview.
A website even surfaced: Shelley Duncan Facts, a play off the famous “Chuck Norris Facts” site.
At the end of ’07, Duncan had 19 hits in 34 at-bats, including seven home runs on his ledger. He registered 17 RBIs while securing a .257 batting average and an on-base percentage of .329.
Did “Duncan-Mania” survive? No, it didn’t.
In 2008 Duncan had just one homer in 57 at-bats for the Yanks and batted a measly .175 through 23 games. He was reassigned to the minors and never really became what the Yankees might have hoped for; never made the same amount of noise he made throughout the second half of 2007.
Before 2010 Duncan signed with the Cleveland Indians, where he is today.
Unlike the other players on the list, Joba Chamberlain still has a chance to shed his status as a flash in the pan. The 26-year-old right-handed hurler has life left in him, but only time will tell if he can go back to what he was when he was first called up.
Go back to August of 2007 for a second. Chamberlain made his MLB debut in a game the Yanks played vs. the Toronto Blue Jays, fanning the first batter he faced. He went on to throw two scoreless frames in a Yankee win.
But the brass didn’t want to ruin his arm at such a young age. Being only 22 years old at the time, the Yankees put him on the “Joba Rules” – a system which didn’t allow Chamberlain to pitch on consecutive days, and if he pitched in multiple innings, he would have that many days off.
For example, if he tossed two innings, he wouldn’t be available pitch again for another two days.
Chamberlain finished the ’07 regular season with a tiny ERA of 0.38 out of the ‘pen, getting all of the Yankee fans behind him. Whenever he raced in from the bullpen, the crowd would go absolutely bananas.
And he was just as fired up.
After every strikeout, Chamberlain would aggressively pump his fists, charged up by the emotion of the moment. Unfortunately he was the victim of a vicious attack by midges in Cleveland during the ’07 ALDS vs. the Indians, a series the Yanks went on to lose.
From there, it’s extremely difficult to describe what happened to Chamberlain. Under new manager Joe Girardi in 2008, he began the season in a relief role then was made into a starter. He only made one noteworthy start in ’08, a brilliant nine-strikeout performance in Boston, outdueling Josh Beckett in a 1-0 Yankee win.
Not long after that game, Chamberlain injured his shoulder, and was placed on the 15-day DL. When he came back he was a reliever again. His role was just never defined – and it got even more confusing in 2009.
Beginning the season as one of the starting five, the “Joba Rules” were rewritten to accommodate the rotation. Girardi would only pitch Chamberlain for a few innings, and then when applicable, would use him on six days rest. It seemed to disrupt his mental balance, to say the least.
The Yanks thought about demoting him to the minors and leaving him off the postseason roster, but ultimately decided to keep him. During the playoffs he took on the role of reliever yet again, and captured a Game 4 victory over the Phillies in the ‘09 Fall Classic.
A good end to a rather turbulent season.
Since then Chamberlain has not made a start. In 2010 he went 3-4 out of the bullpen with a 4.40 ERA, and opponents hit .429 off him. On a light note, his strikeout total went up, as he K’d 77 batters in 71 2/3 innings pitched.
Despite a 2-0 record with a 2.83 ERA this past year, 2011 marked another setback period for Chamberlain. He was sidelined with a torn ligament in his throwing arm in June, ending his season and forcing him to undergo Tommy John Surgery.
This off-season the Yankees and Chamberlain agreed on a one-year contract worth $1.675 million. With that in mind, this could be his last chance to keep wearing the pinstripes. If he continues to scuffle and his arm problems draw on, I don’t see the Yankees holding onto him beyond 2012.
However, if he can rekindle that spark – the spark he lit in 2007 – he will be fine.
To Chamberlain, I can only say good luck and I hope it works out for him. To the rest of the players on this list, I guess I can only say one thing:
It was fun while it lasted.