Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Opening Day: Yankees 3, Blue Jays 2

Like the Yankees of old:

Solid starting pitching.
Clutch defense.
Timely hitting late.
Stifling set-up.

Outside of the Yanks' will-they-or-won't-they winter pursuit of Johan Santana, nothing about baseball held me in thrall this winter. The problem was not just Roger Clemens' self-immolation, nor Andy Pettitte's hair shirt, nor Joe Torre's departure, nor the A-Rod melodrama.

What brings a sense of melancholia is the notion that, as the years pass, an entire generation of baseball achievements may--in the minds of future generations--be wiped from the boards, turned to non-event, the way the Chicago White Sox, to this day, refuse to fly the pennant of the 1919 Black Sox at whatever their ballpark is called this year.

Consider: we may, on a permanent basis (or until Alex Rodriguez reaches 800 homers), have a Hall of Fame that does not include:

*The All-Time home run leader (Barry Bonds)
*The winner of the most Cy Young Awards (Roger Clemens)
*The pitcher with the second-most career strikeouts (Clemens, again)
*Every batter who hit 62 or more home runs in a season (Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa)
*And, because their records, clealy achieved, would pale by comparison to the apparent cheaters, a generation of clean superstars whose career marks would have been more than enough for entry, pre-2000 (start with Jeff Bagwell)

But enough of that today. A columnist for The New York Posthad a terrific account of how this year's Yankees might be an improved model on '07. Basically, the argument boils down to two words: Joe Girardi.

What struck me--I had no idea this was the case--was the fitness regimen Girardi imposed on the squad in Tampa through February and March. Joe Torre, for all his qualities, mostly trusted the veterans to work themselves into shape; he was, in retrospect, laid back even for a sport whose daily training regimens usually boil down to:

9-9:30 am Batting practice
9:30-10 am Shagging flies
11 am-5 pm 18 holes

The last few years, some players showed up to Tampa in game shape (A-Rod and Jeter manifestly). Some did not (Abreu, Giambi and Cano most prominently, and there may not be a connection, but the '07 Yankees were nearly out of it by the end of June due in no small part to the crappy play of those three, plus the desultory performance of Matsui, who at least couldn't be blamed on this score).

Apparently, this changed thanks to Giradi, who remains, in retirement, such a physical fitness nut that, during the broadcast of the game, Astro-Girl kept mistaking him for one of the players. ("Why are they showing him so much? Are they going to put him in?")

Now, one crisp 3-2 victory means as little, in the long view, as Houston's desultory loss last night. But when (to paraphrase John Updike) the first kiss tingles down to the toes, one's memories retain a bit sharper.

A partial list: Wang gutting it out early, with his sinker unsinking. A-Rod, who probably needed an opening-day hit as much as anyone, RBI doubling to the track. Melky's great catch, then--one play later--his really great catch, a tumbling, diving two-out grab.

Wang, settling down, snapping his sinker off batters' ankles. The suddenly trim Jason Giambi, in for the bunt, stabbing a liner that would have given the Jays the lead.

"Okay," I said. "Now Wang comes out with the tie, the Yanks go ahead to qualify him for the win, then Joba, then Mo. Ballgame."

I say it here, it comes out there. Melky Cabrera, taking his place along the Babe (first home run in the Old Stadium's last season) with the homer in portion of the a park originally designed to maximize the Babe's prowess.

Joba Chamberlain, now looking oddly (and a little creepily) like comedian Frank Caliendo, picking up where he left off last year, pre-Lake Erie bugs. (All well and good, but if Joba's worked up a mean John Madden impersonation, I am officially worried.)


1 comment:

SunDevilJoe said...

Well said! What a perfectly scripted game. Ace against ace,critical miscue in the 7th, Joba in the 8th followed by Mo in the final frame. The only thing missing was the voice of Bob Sheppard.