|Edition No. 25A||
September 10, 2008
Since nobody volunteered to pen a guest newsletter this week—and who could blame you, given the fact that you would have to follow U-Baldo’s impossible-to-follow act—I have penned a few words for your consideration during this 24th week of the Hot Stove League season. To begin with, I share with you the standings after 23 weeks of Hot Stove League competition:
Not content to merely win the 2008 Crown, McJester has put the pedal to the metal for the stretch run of the campaign, and for the 23rd week of play, amassed the highest point total (541.2) in the league, easily surpassing the Bears’ second place total of 479.3 for the week. From top to bottom, here are the points for the 23rd week of competition:
A week ago last Thursday, August 28, 2008, together with my daughter Savannah, I made my fifth and undoubtedly last visit to Yankee Stadium, and had the great good fortune to see with her the final game that the visiting Red Sox would ever play within the hallowed walls of the House that Ruth Built. And how fitting it was that after Red Sox laughers in the first two games of the series, the final matchup between these two baseball titans would go down to the wire, with the Yankees winning it with a Giambi hit off of Papelbon in the bottom of the 9th.
It won’t be possible for me to do justice to this game with mere words, but there were so many rich moments during this historic game that I would be remiss if I did not at least try to capture a few of the high points with the printed word. Please indulge me to try.
The adventure began with our subway ride on the Green Line No. 4 train from Grand Central Station to the 161st Street station in the Bronx. As our subway car filled up with mostly Yankee fans but with a respectable contingency of Beantowners, the tension began filling the already pungent air inside our train car. As the snooty and superior Red Sox fans smugly anticipated a sweep of the series, Yankee fans looked to be uniformly on call, girding for battle and prepared to defend their great Ruthian fortress against the final invasion of the bitter Massachusetts enemy at any cost. Hard glances, although as yet no harsh words, were exchanged.
After we arrived at Yankee Stadium, Savannah and I spent some time outside the outfield walls, soaking up the atmosphere as well as a hot dog and a polish dog from a vender located just across the street from the stadium. Perhaps it was the occasion, the ambience and/or the company, but the dog that I consumed was one of the best ballpark meals that I have ever consumed, a not-inconsiderable statement given the number of games I have attended and the volume of ballpark food that I have been lucky enough to consume. A very fitting way to begin my last journey into Yankee Stadium.
With that, Savannah and I found the entrance to the left field bleachers, and made our way into the great baseball cathedral known as Yankee Stadium.
As we settled into our bleacher seats in Section 57, Row D, amongst the “Bleacher Creatures” of Yankee Stadium, it was apparent early on that we were in for an afternoon of great theater and fun, as there were just enough Red Sox fans infiltrating the bleachers to give them the feeling of safety in numbers. The banter between the citizens of these two great baseball Meccas was generally playful; yet, the exchanges at times had enough of an edge to them to add a slight element of danger to the ballpark atmosphere, just enough to keep one on the fringe of his or her bleacher seat.
The best part about sitting in the Yankee Stadium left field bleachers is, of course, the fact that these bleacher seats are located directly behind the Red Sox bullpen.
The haranguing and harassment of the Red Sox relief corps, the staple of the Yankee Bleacher Creatures, was colorful and unremitting. The fun began when BoSox middleman Justin “Bat” Masterson made the mistake of coming out to sit on a bullpen bench to watch the game sans warm-up jacket, his number and name in full view of the Yankee faithful. A quick and direct jab, “Hey, Masterson! YOU SUCK!” set the tone for the bleacher rhetoric. And then a few more of the bleacher bards got busy: “Hey, Masterson! Didn’t your mother teach you to sit up straight?!” Then “Hey, Masterson! Get your freakin’ feet off the fence!” And “Hey, Masterson! Relieve this!” And on and on.
After about two innings of such abuse, Masterson finally got up and crawled into a dark hole in the recesses of the visitors’ bullpen, hidden from view. Advantage, Bleacher Creatures.
Next up was Timlin. In about the fourth inning, veteran reliever Mike Timlin came out and made the rookie mistake of helping one of his fellow relief pitchers get stretched out, in full view of the Yank cranks. He reached over the other pitcher’s shoulders and lifted him up to crack his back. And so, of course, it was “Hey, Timlin! I always knew you was a puhvert!”
Shortly after, Red Sox relief ace Jon Papelbon appeared in the bullpen to begin getting warmed up and stretched out. Out again came one of the favorite bleacher refrains, the simple yet effective, “Hey, Papelbon! YOU SUCK!”
Next it was Hideki Okajima’s turn. As the lefty relief specialist began throwing the ball in the bullpen, a stereotypical Yankee rooter (short, stocky, shaved head, IQ in the low double digits) went to work. “Hey, Okajima! Don’t go throwin’ that lousy slider ’round here, it’s got no f---ing bite in it anymore! You wuz a freakin’ one-year wonder!” More later on the Okajima curse/prediction.
Heckling in the Yankee bleachers is an art form in and of itself, perfected by years of uninhibited practice. Sitting in the bleachers is an education beyond anything one can get in a classroom. Although Savannah missed three days of school to go on the New York trip with me, she got a full semester of Sociology 101 by sitting through nine innings of a Yankees-Red Sox baseball game.
The bullpen ragging only served to garnish an unbelievably good baseball game. With Mike Mussina on the mound for the Yankees, pitching at his best, and Jon Lester on the hill for the Red Sox, the game was a classic pitchers’ duel. When Mussina gave up two runs in the top of the fifth inning to the bottom of the Sox lineup, it looked like he was about done for the afternoon. However, with the Yankee throng in full throat with the repeated chanting of “Mooooooooose!” Mussina repeatedly reached into his reservoir of stamina and guile to gut it out for seven innings of yeoman work on the bump.
Across the diamond, when Jon Lester showed signs of tiring after two were out in the home half of the seventh, Sox manager Terry Francona improvidently put in the call to the bullpen for his lefty specialist, the aforementioned Okajima. With Cody Ransom on first base and righty nine hole hitter Jose Molina due up to bat, Yankees skipper Girardi went against the percentages and called upon the left-handed Jason Giambi to pinch-hit against Okajima. Girardi’s gut had it exactly right, as a game and mustachioed Giambi lifted a biteless Okajima offering over the center field fence for a 2-run home run, knotting the contest at 2 apiece. The Yankee crowd went mad with joy, the taste of blood on their collective lips.
In the top half of the eighth, Girardi showed just how much winning this game meant to his team when he called upon future Hall-of-Famer Mariano Rivera after Damasco Marte game up a single, having Mo pitch with the game tied and not coming in to protect the lead for a save. Mighty Mo got the final out of the eighth, and then shut down the Sox in the top of the ninth, giving the Yankees the chance that they needed in the bottom of the frame.
As the Red Sox took the field for the bottom of the ninth, Savannah asked me if the game would end in a tie if the Yankees didn’t score in the bottom of the ninth. When she learned that the game would go into an indefinite number of extra innings if the Yankees didn’t score, her expression ranged from incredulity to horror as she considered the possibility of multiple additional innings on this warm Thursday afternoon in the Yankee bleachers. To her everlasting credit, not a single whine or whimper crossed her lips. I explained that the Yankees were almost sure to score in the bottom of the ninth, but that if they didn’t, we would “play it by ear,” and decide then whether to leave or stay.
The bottom of the ninth was the signature on this Yankee-Sox masterpiece. It began with the X-man, Xavier Nady, facing the aforementioned Justin Masterson, he of the smoldering bullpen ears. Nady began stoking the furnace of the Bronx faithful with a solid single off the Batman. Brett Gardner was called upon to pinch run for Nady, and after Robinson Cano lined out for the first out of the inning, Gardner promptly stole second base, opening up first base for an intentional walk to Godzilla (Hideki Matsui). The perspiration on Masterson’s forehead began to accumulate.
Unintentionally, Masterson walked pinch-hitter Ivan Rodriguez, to the erupting cheers and screams of the now manic Yankee faithful. With the bases loaded and one out, Francona crossed the white line and took the ball from the fallen Batman, summoning his star reliever, Jonathan Papelbon from the bullpen. The Bleacher Creatures greeted Papelbon’s entrance into the game with the fervor of a Roman Coliseum crowd about to witness an encounter between a Lion and a Christian, a rumbling, lusty noise permeating the ballpark.
After giving up two strikes and looking as if he would be Papelbon’s first victim, Giambi worked the count back to neutral and then deposited Papelbon’s next pitch into the outfield with a sharp line drive, easily scoring pinch-runner Gardner from second base with his walk-off single. For the second time in three innings, Jason Giambi had proved equal to the task, and made himself a hero once again in the eyes of the adoring Yankee fans.
I have seen some great major league baseball games in my time, but the final Red Sox-Yankees game in Yankee Stadium on August 28, 2008, will go down as one of the best, if not the best game that I have ever been lucky enough to attend. I only wish all of my Hot Stove League brethren could also have been on hand to witness this epic contest between these two historic, hated rivals in their final battle at the House that Ruth Built.
Enough said for this issue. Thanks for checking in.