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A Bronx Tale
2003-05-28 01:16
by Mike Carminati

Though my trip to the Bronx yesterday did not yield being witness to Roger Clemens' 300th win, it was nonetheless a fun visit to the ballpark.

The day began ominously with my drive on the New Jersey Turnpike in a driving rain. I met my friend Mike and we took off for the Stadium hoping that the game would not be canceled before we got there. On exiting the subway train we saw Yankee fans leaving in droves, or at least drovelets, and feared the worst. After a call to Mike's brother Murray confirmed that the game was still on, we decided to look around a grab a bite since the game was still delayed indefinitely.

This afforded us the opportunity to walk about the neighborhood that George Steinbrenner so often denigrates. I had never left the unfriendly confines of the area adjacent to the Stadium before. Given that my impression of the area was formed by the dense travel, elevated train tracks, and dilapidated, urban detritus surrounding the stadium, I was pleasantly surprised to find a thriving, attractive neighborhood in the two or three block trek we attempted in and around Lou Gehrig Plaza. So the next time George spouts off about the area, don't buy it.

The trip yielded a Babe Ruth T-shirt, but the restaurants were packed so we decided to ballpark and grab a dog or two there. We headed towards our seats in deep right field and stopped at a concession stand. Mike explained to me how Yankees Stadium has a graduated pricing scheme, that regular hot dogs behind homeplate cost as much as jumbo hot dogs in the outfield. Baseball's version of bread and circus, I guess.

Anyway, we munched our lunch down in our designated seats that were luckily high enough to protect us from the weather. It afforded us a nice view of the municipal park adjacent to the stadium, the George Washington Bridge between Jersey and Manhattan, the cluster of buildings where Hilltop Park used to sit, and the housing projects that stand were the Polo Grounds had been.

The rain started to let up as well, but the crowd was pretty thin. Another call to Mike's brother, informed us that they had secured better seating in the loge section that also happened to be better protected from the elements. We were lucky enough to remain in those seats for the rest of the game.

My friend Armando, I found out later, had made the trek down from Boston and was stuck up in the nosebleed section for the entire ballgame. I told him that was the difference between New Yorkers and Bostonites, much to his chagrin.

Anyway, we met up with Murray and Chris (who wrote the article on the 2002 Reinsdorf Award that I posted). Soon it was announced that the game would start at 2:45, an hour and forty minutes later than scheduled, but a happy announcement nonetheless. We spent the remaining time watching old Yankee footage and discussing baseball in general. Chris had a great story about his one-time encounter with then-Yankee Ed Whitson. And we speculated as to whether Joe Morgan's crew would be covering the game for ESPN, and if so, whether or not he would beat the bejesus out of my for continual roasting of him.

Finally, the game started and before the first pitch, there was a meeting at the mound. We saw Roger Clemens throw his club towards the dugout and receive a different one. Somehow we figured out that second-base ump Joe West had asked Clemens to remove the glove due to a 300-win logo. Clemens looked very strong in the first, expending 11 pitchers, eight of which were strikes. Unfortunately for Clemens, his opponent, Tim Wakefield, was having a great night with his knuckleball-I guess it is added by the damp weather.

The Yankees anemic offense was hitless through three and one-third, though they had collected three walks. Clemens struck out the side in the second but allowed the first of many runs on the day. Even though Manny Ramirez had the big hit in the inning, the strike out to Doug Mirabelli to end the inning, I thought, was the most telling at-bat. The weak-hitting Mirabelli, made Clemens throw 10 pitches (35 for the inning). After Clemens got ahead 1-2, Mirabelli fouled back four pitches and worked the count full before the final whiff. I said at the time that when Mirabelli is timing your fastball, it's not a good sign, and it wasn't.

Clemens gave up two more runs in the third and threw another 29 pitches. We all questioned the wisdom of intentionally walking Ramirez to load the bases (after a wild pitch put runners at second and third) with Clemens looking wild. That decision looked worse after Nixon walked and Walker scored the fourth Boston run, but given that only one other run scored, it almost felt like a lucky break.

The fourth was more of the same with Clemens relinquishing two more runs, one on a wild pitch (his second) and another couple of balls that looked like batting practice shots.

Meanwhile, Wakefield looked like he was playing catch with his kid. His easy motion-just a flick of the wrist that started seemingly behind the ear-made it appear that he could pitch all day.

This seemed to change as Ventura broke up the no-hitter and a couple of hits from the bottom of the order drove in three runs (after Mondesi struck out looking on three pitches). The score was now, 5-3, and Clemens seemed to have newfound resolve, striking out the side n the fifth.

The Yankees walked the bases full with one out in the fifth, but Mondesi grounded into a 6-4-3 doubleplay to end the inning, and in essence, the Yankees' night. Clemens came out and got two quick outs, including his ninth strikeout on the night and his fourth in five batters, but Doug Mirabelli stroked a single on a 1-2 pitch over Ventura's head and Clemens night was done two batters and two singles later.

The Yankees managed one more night on the night, a seeing-eye fly between three fielders by Soriano that led to the only other New York run. Both defenses looked poor, each committing two errors. The Yankees looked especially bad on almost every play, except for a nice catch by Matsui in center. We were joking that the Columbus express would be waiting for Rivera after the game (Mike invoked the name of classic flunky Bobby Meacham).

PA announcer Bob Sheppard had a particularly tough night. My friend Mike proved prescient when he joked that the Sox have two players named "Miller" and neither can spell it right during the announcement of the lineups. Bill Mueller (pronounced "Miller") and Kevin Millar (pronounced "Mill-R") gave Sheppard fits all night. First, he called Millar "Miller" in announcing the lineups and prior to his first AB. The second time he corrected himself, however. One time when Mueller came up, Sheppard called him "Mill-R", which was heartily enjoyed by all.

The crowd was particularly excited but for the most part in a good way, and we saw no fights break out (which is still somewhat disappointing at a Yankees-Red Sox game). There was only one incident in which a fan (apparently a Boston one according to the guy sitting next to me with binoculars) threw a foul ball back and it dribbled toward the mound while Clemens was stationed there. The Red Sox fans seemed to outnumber the Yankees faithful, perhaps because the New Yorkers expected the game to be canceled. The Boston fans had already made the trip-they were going nowhere.

In the men's room line after the ballgame, we heard cheers of "A-hole" and "1918" whenever a Boston fan appeared. But given that their Saux had just shellacked the Yanks, they didn't seem to care. The Yankees fans themselves seemed too jovial about in the first place. It's like some sort of dance that both parties have resolved themselves to be a part of. The Yankees don't mind because they have the confidence of champions and the Red Sox don't get too upset because they have the neuroses of an also-ran. As someone who has lived in both cities for a substantial period of time, I just sit back and enjoy it.

I didn't get Roger's 300th win, but I got a free clear plastic bag with a Yankees logo to hold my stuff (clear so that they can see what you are carrying) and at the beginning of the day, it didn't even look like I would get a ballgame, so why complain?

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