Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Statement Game

“This is one of those games, the kind you look back on at the end of the season, and you think ‘we should have lost that game, and we won,’ and you credit games like this for turning your season around.”
-Jim Kaat, in the 8th inning of last night’s Yankee’s game

I’m paraphrasing, because we were entering almost the fourth hour of the game, and my brain had melted by the time the 35-minute bottom half of the 8th had ended. I was also in a state of shock, because I had just seen something more unlikely than me getting an actual job as a sportswriter.

The Yankees had just come back from a 10-2 deficit to win the game 20-11. That’s right, TWENTY to eleven.

It was something announcers are fond of calling a “Statement Game.” Very cleverly, it’s a game that makes a statement. And not in a bright-yellow plaid golf pants kind of way. Kaat only begins to scrape the surface of what this game could have meant to the Yankees season.

I wish I had done a Bill Simmons-esque running diary of it, but how could I have known the Yankees would match the biggest turnaround in Major League History? Especially with the way they’ve been performing this season. This game was over in the third inning. Seriously.

But in retrospect, maybe I should have sensed the game was setting up to be an epic. And in some ways I think I did. But, me being me (read: stupid) I ignored the signs. Randy Johnson started the first inning by striking out the first two batters, indicating in no way that he’d go on to give up seven runs in the next two, and toss his shortest outing since 2000. That was abnormal, even for his below par season, and I should have seen that something was in the air.

After the third, with the Yanks trailing 7-1 and Johnson leaving the game after surrendering a season-tying three homers, I almost turned the TV off. But instead, I took the route of the devout fan…

…and promptly fell asleep.

I was tired, and convinced there was no way the Yanks would win, so I didn’t feel bad about taking a moment to drool on my futon. When I awoke, one inning and a stiff neck later, it was 10-2. The Yanks were being slaughtered by Tampa Bay.

After I put the gun down and talked myself out of taking the easy way out, I did the only thing I could to keep my sanity. I turned the channel. Mostly, it was at the behest of my friend Meghan, who—though she had started the game with me, had buried her head in my roommate’s Cosmo after the 5-run second, which I couldn’t blame her for—wanted to see what the Sox were up to. I was all for that, thinking maybe I’d see a some good baseball tonight, after all.

So I clicked over. The Sox were all over Cleveland, and apparently my head-nod curse on Bronson had worn off. It was 4-0, and Arroyo was pitching a gem. An inning later, I turned back to the Yankees game—a real fan lives for the losses as much as the wins—to find Gary Sheffield stepping across home plate.

Suddenly, it was 10-5. In the fifth. And then the thoughts started coming in.

Maybe, just maybe, if we can string together a couple hits, maybe get a long ball, and shut them down, we can pull this off…

If there’s any fans that can relate to this mentality, it’s the majority of the readers of this column. Red Sox fans. Last year aside, that mentality could be described as “Always hoping, always knowing in the deep recesses of your mind, it’s not going to happen.”

At the end of the inning, it was 10-6. The Yanks had chased Nomo, the Tampa Bay starter, who, with 10 runs of support, wasn’t going to qualify for the win. (You have to pitch a full five to qualify.) The best part of the inning was watching Tampa Bay manager Lou Pinella—a guy with a classy attitude, if by class you mean kindergarten; a guy who, a week earlier, had just ripped ownership in the media for not wanting to compete—have a mental breakdown in the Rays dugout, because he already knew what the guys in the Yankees dugout were starting to sense:

The Yankees were going to win this game.

I was hoping, not believing. But like every sucker who’s ever rooted for a team, the thoughts only got stronger.

Four runs. Four measly runs. We’ve got the best lineup in the majors, all these guys who can go deep, against a horrible bullpen. Pinella just tried to physically castrate his pitching coach with his bare hands. That’s always a good sign, an insane Lou Pinella. We can build off that.

In the sixth, Jeter, who would get five hits on the night, went yard with a solo shot. 7-10. This is a ballgame.

In the top half of the inning, the thoughts evaporated. The Rays loaded the bases, got a run on a fielder’s choice, and after a walk it was bases loaded and one out.

I picked the controller up. I put my hand on the button, this time the “power” button. I didn’t want to watch any other game. I was done, ready to call it a night. The rally would die here. I knew it was going to happen.

We’re done. We’ve got a guy named “Buddy Groom” on the mound. Has anyone ever won with a guy named “Buddy”? He sounds like a 1950's vacuum cleaner salesman. We’re finished. I should turn it off now, and save myself the phone call to A-Rod’s therapists.

It was then, in this cloud of darkness, that Meghan spoke up. “Leave it on, they can still win.” Maybe it’s because she’s a nice person, and could see that I was about to ritualistically scrape my eyes out with a dull spoon, or maybe it’s because I realized that a Red Sox fan was rooting for the Yankees (even if it was just for my sake), but I listened. I put the remote down, and sat back.

Buddy Groom threw the pitch. Ground ball. To Cano at second. To Jeter on the bag. To Russ Johnson at first. Double play. Inning over.

Jeter, the Captain, the Yankee—and Baseball—Posterboy, the Son of God reincarnated in Pinstripes, jumped so high off the bag when the call was made at first that he could have slapped hands with his omniscient daddy in Heaven.

I got almost as high off the couch, and I think I kicked Meghan in the face in the process. The hospital bill would have been worth it. I started babbling like a child.

“Buddy Groom! Buddy Groom! I love that guy. Great guy! Love his name too! What a pitcher, that Buddy Groom! I’m going to name my first child Buddy Groom Beard! I knew that was going to happen! Buddy Groom Beard!”

Meghan smiled, uncorked a wry “See? Told you.” and was probably wishing she had let me turn it off.

Jeter knew it. He knew the Yanks would win this. Suddenly, I knew it too. The doubt was gone. This game was in the bag.

But I had no idea that it would be another hour before it went into the bag—or how dramatically that would happen. But the electricity at the Stadium was palpable, like the entire team had chewed through the extension cord.

Cano led off the bottom of the 8th with a single. Jeter, single. Before Pinella looked up from pummeling what was left of his pitching coach, it was 10-11. With Matsui on second and A-rod on third, Pinella walked Giambi to load the bases—hoping for a double play, maybe.

In stepped Bernie Williams. At this point, I was in that place that only real fans know, somewhere in between your first job interview and your best orgasm, where your mind is racing but you’re not thinking, where you’re a pitch away from screaming in joy or tossing yourself from a tall building.

It was like the playoffs. In June.

And then Bernie did it. This is a guy who's been maligned by the media and the fans all season, who was hitting way below average, essentially lost his starting job in center after 10 straight years, is the only guy in the majors who can't throw farther than Johnny Damon, had almost been replaced by Carlos Beltran, and who everyone was writing off. So what does he do?

A bases clearing triple to deep center. Yankee Stadium was shaking so much they cancelled the wrecking ball—the place was going to collapse tonight. Improbably, Impossibly, the Yanks were up 13-11.

But it wasn’t the hit that was the surprise. It was the Yankees reaction. In the Yankee dugout, baseball is a business, and is treated as such. There are few smiles, few celebrations during the regular season, because the Yankees are supposed to win. Especially against Tampa Bay.

But not on this night. This game had been out of reach. It had been over. And somewhere around the third inning, the spoiled millionaires—Jeter excluded—in the Home dugout, the Winningest Team In Sports History—as the YES network commericals regularly reminds fans—remembered what it was like to be the underdog. They remembered why they loved the game, and for a moment, they forgot about the contracts and their cars, and even their win-loss record. When Bernie’s hit landed in the outfield, the Yankees dugout emptied, the veterans jumping around like kids at a Little League game. All three runners got hugs and pounds from the guys on the bench. And for one night, the Yankees got something back they’ve been missing all season:

Spirit.

But it wasn’t over. Not by a long shot.

Posada stepped in and hit a two-run homer. And when Robinson Cano hit a fly ball for the second out of the inning, I said this to Meghan:

“I kind of hope Jeter gets out here, so we can take this momentum into the top of the ninth and put this thing away now.”

But the Great Mulatto Hope, The Captian, The Chosen One, he wouldn’t have any of it. He certainly wasn’t about to listen to a chump like me. Infield single. Jeter knew that the time had come. These guys weren’t just going to win this game—they were going to make a statement. All the frustration was going to be scraped away from the season in a single inning. The lowly Devil Rays were about to get the brunt end of what a $206 million lineup could do.

And no one knew it better than Travis Harper. The Tampa Bay pitcher had just blown the game, and blown it in dramatic fashion. He had already given up five runs. As Ruben Sierra stepped into the box, Harper shot a hopeful look toward the Tampa Bay bullpen, praying that someone would come and rescue him from this dance with infamy.

Empty. No one warming up.

So he looked into the dugout. And Sweet Lou stared back at him with an icy glare. “It’s your mess. I don’t give a damn if you rot. No one is coming to save you.” He didn’t say it, but I’ve edited out the F-words that were written all over his face.

Pinella had already used all but one of his pitchers. Harper was out there for the long run. Pinella was throwing his veteran—one of few on the squad—under the bus. And the worst was yet to come.

Sierra singled. Sheffield hit his second three-run homer of the night into Monument Park in left. A-Rod stepped in, and put the first pitch into the stands in right. Matsui, the hottest player in baseball the past two weeks, used his second at bat of the inning to complete a monstrous back-to-back-to-back home run series with a bomb to the black seats in center, to make it TWENTY to eleven—a number which had seemed insurmountable hours earlier, and now seemed low, almost measly.

The Yanks did everything short of knocking the cover off the ball and shattering the outfield lights.

But out on the mound, you could see Harper’s psyche disintegrate. On national TV. It was almost audible, like the air hissing out of a punctured tire. Once again, he glanced at the bullpen. No one up. This time, he didn’t bother to look at the dugout. Sweat poured down his brow, and it wasn't from the humidity in the warm June air. He had just given up four home runs and 10 runs in less than an inning. You could see him looking around, contemplating areas of the Stadium that would best be suited to hang a noose from. If his mind wasn’t complete mush, it must have been thinking something along the lines of, “Is this what Scott Norwood felt like?”

When the last out was finally recorded, the line for the inning looked like this: 16 batters, 12 hits, 13 runs, 4 HRs.

Gordon came in and closed out the ninth. And the statement had been made:

We are this good. And don’t forget it.

Only time will tell if this win changes the course of the Yankees season, and if this Statement Game holds up. Down by 8, win by 9. Maybe, by the end of the year, the Yankees will point to this and say, "That's when it happened." Or maybe, by the end of the year, just about everyone will have forgotten this game.

But Travis Harper won’t forget.

And neither will I.

Quick observations from the game:
The team to match the Yankees feat was Cleveland, ironically against Tampa Bay in 1999, and even more ironically, the Indians were trailing 10-2 before winning the game 20-11, the exact same deficit and score.

• Game records weren't the only ones falling on Tuesday night in the Bronx. From Yankees.com: Bernie Williams went 2-for-4 with a double and a triple, driving in five runs in New York's 20-11 win. The two hits tied Williams with Yogi Berra for sixth place on the Yankees' all-time hit list (a first-inning single Wednesday gave Williams sole possession of sixth), while the five RBIs pushed him past Tony Lazzeri for seventh place on the team's RBI list. How come everyone talks about Jeter and the Hall of Fame, and so few people talk about Bernie like that? Fifteen years from now, you're going to see #2 and #51 on the Yankee Stadium wall alongside #3, #4, and the others. And they'll have earned it.

• Check out the Box Score if you get a chance. I do not recommend this for the faint of heart, or for pitchers.

• For all the Naysayers out there would would point out it was a bad game because our best pitcher gave up seven runs, or that we came back against the worst pitching staff in baseball: Bite me. I think that Johnson HAD to fail like this in order to rekindle the spark. I'll take it.

Speaking of Johnson, how happy are you that you had your worst outing in five years and you DON'T get the loss? A little different than Arizona, eh Randy?

• The majority of this column was written yesterday afternoon, when the Yankees lost to Tampa Bay, 5-3. They were probably tired from the night before, with all that baserunning. It's not uncommon for teams that post numbers like that to lose the next day, especially in a day game. I would love to see a stat on teams that score 15 plus and their winning percentage the following day. I'm waiting for SI to sign me so I can have access to their closet full of stat monkeys for this stuff.

• Sorry there isn't more about the Red Sox this week. I have to let my bias show through every so often.

• Nobody had the answer to last week's trivia. The quote was in reference to former Sox first-baseman Doug Meintkevich, and was "Have you seen my baseball?" It's from the movie Something About Mary and the character was Warren Jensen.

No "Lines" next week, as I'll be in Oregon for vacation, with lots of golf, white-water rafting, a winery tour, and something else, I can't remember exactly what... oh yeah! My sister's wedding! (Just kidding T!)

Ahead this weekend...
Yankees:
• Fri-Sun vs. New York Mets, 7:05, 4:05, 8:05 p.m. ET

Sox:
• Fri-Sun at Philadelphia, 7:05, 1:20, 1:35 p.m. ET

Bill Beard is an independent writer who checked the boxscore six times today to make sure what he saw last night was real. He can be reached for child name suggestions other than "Buddy Groom Beard" at wrbeard@hotmail.com.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Home Field Advantage

It was early in the morning, and the plows hadn’t been out yet. Snow was everywhere, and if I hadn’t driven these roads all my life, I would have been hard-pressed to stay true to the pavement ahead of me. The snowfall was incessant, almost rowdy when paired with the Valley winds that always blew this time of year, and the highest speed of my windshield wipers couldn’t keep up with the deluge. I didn’t bother with my headlights – that would only make it worse. These were the big Upstate New York-style snowflakes, almost the size of my 16-year old palm. They’d act as mirrors and cut down my vision.

With a little bit of luck, my very old Nova Hatchback crested the hill that was Burrstone Road, and I began the descent down the long, winding road that led to New York Mills High School. If this were a school day, I would have made my first right, heading to the main school complex. But this was a Saturday morning, and my destination was a little further down the road: an isolated, old, cramped, remodeled World War II hospital building.

I buried my Nova in a bank of snow next to the pastel orange cinderblock face of the building, estimating where a parking spot might have been. I knew I’d get blocked in by the mounds of snow the plow would push up against my rear fender when it finally made its morning rounds, but that was a fact of life living in the shadow of the country’s most precipitous city. I grabbed my bag, braced myself for the onslaught of cold and wind and snow, and burst open the car door. It always hit you like a ton of bricks, no matter how ready you were. Hurriedly, excitedly, I trudged through the thigh-deep snow, and performed the required foot shuffle that is the only way to ascend concrete steps covered by a snowdrift without injuring yourself. Reaching the thick, heavy fire door, I yanked on it with all my might to open a gap just big enough to squeeze my way inside. These were better times, trusting times, and in my small town, doors were rarely locked.

Stepping through, I slammed the door behind me. Suddenly, I was enveloped by a heavy silence.

Shaking the cold tension from my shoulders, I stamped the snow from my feet, brushed off my soaked pants, and stepped from the vestibule into the large room. The lights were still off, and the room was empty, save for the wooden bleachers, orange rims and two giant, poorly-painted murals of Marauder idols past. I knew it would be -- I always made a point to be the first one in. It was cold in the room, so cold I could see my breath. Careful not to track my wet boots across the painted lines on the freshly-glazed hardwood, I dropped my bag at my side, closed my eyes, and began my favorite ritual of the Basketball Season:

I took a deep breath.

To this day, whenever I touch a basketball, I still get a whiff of that smell. It’s not the smell of a sport, or the smell of a rubbery ball. It’s not the smell of anything as ephemeral as glory or as intangible as desire.

For an athlete, it’s the smell of Home.

I can't tell you what it smelled like, because it didn't smell like anything. But if you've ever played a sport, you know what I'm talking about. For me, in those days --and for always -- it was Beekman Gym. A whirlwind of Orange and Blue, the cramped space had welcomed a State Championship Banner seven years before my Senior season at New York Mills Jr./Sr. High, and a Semi-Finalist Banner a year later – a remarkable feat for a High School with an enrollment of about 220. From a four-year span from 1987 to 1990 – two years before I’d join the JV squad – the New York Mills Marauders Varsity posted a 121-11 record under the tutelage of Coach Mike Tomassetti. And not a single one of those 11 losses occurred in that old hospital building.


I'm glad they finally gave them long shorts.
(Photo courtesy Utica O-D.)


I don’t remember who told me the stories, but I remember the stories just the same. “This was a place to be feared,” are words that still haunt me to this day. I know it wasn’t Coach that told me. He would never toot his own horn, because Great Ones never do. The words haunt me, because the Marauders had lessened in greatness during my time as MVP and Captain of the squad. Perhaps having a 5’6” 150-pound white point guard as your MVP may have explained the fall on hard times. But I know that we always had a home court advantage stronger than every other team in the league, because everyone who shot hoops in Central New York knew the name of our gym.

To say it was “cramped” on game night was an understatement. The six row wooden plank bleachers on either side of the court were literally carved back into the wall, so if you were sitting at the top corner, you couldn’t see the nearest basket. People would pack them early, causing latecomers to stand along the two brick, mural covered walls on either end, just about two feet from the court. If you dove out of bounds to save a ball, you would end up in somebody’s nachos. And a full court toss to win the game never happened in Beekman: the ceiling was too low, and attempts would regularly clank off the lights and rafters, landing anticlimactically somewhere around center court.

It was my Home, our Home. Some of my fondest memories of my time in that middle-of-nowhere insignificant town took place on that court. Some good: a Christmas Tournament championship, taking back the title after five years of disappointing losses; and some bad: watching the only game winning shot I ever attempted clank off the rim as the buzzer sounded, costing us a huge win against rival Mount Markham.

Yesterday, the Yankees unveiled plans for a new Yankee Stadium, which they'll inhabit in 2009, and will also call "Yankee Stadium." The current Yankee Stadium was designed to give the Yanks home-field advantage in the truest sense of the term: the right field fence sits a measly 295 feet from home plate, perfect for a lefty slugger named Ruth. It was the House Built for Ruth, and thanks in part to its design, became the House that Ruth Built. Babe christened the park right away, as I’ve mentioned here before, knocking a three-run homer to beat the Sox in the first game at what I will soon find myself calling the “Old Stadium.”


The short porch in the House that Ruth Built...

And then there’s Fenway. The odd shape, the short porch wrapping around Pesky’s Pole. The Green Monster looming in left, where a Yank named Bucky earned his middle name. And another pole, this one named after a guy named Pudge, who waved his ball fair on an October night in 1975 in one of the most memorable scenes in baseball history – only to taste defeat just hours later.


...and the Green Monster in the Pahk.

But dimensions and facts aren’t the only factors in home-field advantage. You cannot forget the ghosts.

In both of these stadiums, ghosts abound. Fenway has a single red seat in a sea of dark blues out in deep right field, where Teddy Ballgame planted a monster home run, and now likely sits, waiting for judgment day. And the “Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth” is said to haunt Monument Park at Yankee Stadium, probably shaking his head in disgust along with the Babe at the state of the current Yankees squad.

You can move the equipment, you can move the monuments, you can move the team. But how do you move the ghosts? Does the spirit world use GPS? (Ghost Positioning System?)

I’ve been to many games at Fenway, where they’ve decided to preserve tradition and have made a commitment to improving the park and extending its longevity. This year I’ll make two trips down to the Bronx to catch the Bombers at the Stadium, which is on its way out. I can’t help feel that this situation is a microcosm for the mentality of these two franchises: One embracing their history while preparing for the future, and another who has lost touch with their past, attempting to solve all problems with an endless supply of cash.

I don’t know how I feel, knowing that I’ve only four years left to walk the narrow concourses that three generations of Pinstripe fans have walked.

I’m an emotional guy, but I’m a realist. The Old must give way to the New, just as Death is a Natural Part of Life. I’ve lost quite a few older relatives, and I’ve never shed a tear, because I know it was time for them to go, and no one can stop the cycle. The Old must give way to the New.

"Things change, times change," Bernie Williams said on Wednesday when asked about the new Stadium. "I guess it was time for a change." I didn’t hear him say it, but from his word choice, you can sense a regret, sadness.

I won’t shed a tear for Yankee Stadium, however sad I am to see it go. It’s home to my team, but it was never my Home.

But if ever heard that Beekman was falling under the wrecking ball, I know I’d lose it.

Quick Observations from the past week:

• The New Stadium will keep the field dimensions just as they are now, with no plans to shorten the porch in left field for A-Rod, which I think is a ridiculous play. Jeter, Sheffield, and A-Rod are all right-handed. Jeter and A-Rod are signed through 2010, and are both 30. (A-Rod’s will actually turn 30 tomorrow.) They’ll be 35 in 2010, so you could “assume” an additional five years from both. That’s seven years of those two taking shots at a short left field. The Old Stadium will have lasted 86 years when the doors close. Assume the same time frame for the new one, and Jeter and A-Rod will play in it for roughly one-eighth of its life. It seems to me to be worth it to make that happen. Then again, you could argue that would favor other teams as well, and A-Rod already set the record this year for the most home runs in April (8) by any Yankee in the history of the Stadium, so he probably doesn’t need any help. (The previous high was a measly 5.)


After he helped unveil the new Stadium,
Mayor Bloomberg points out his personal parking spot.


Completely unrelated to Baseball, but I just had to bring up because it’s hilarious: Florida State Quarterback Wyatt Sexton was arrested earlier this week, when complaints were lodged about his strange behavior. Authorities found him lying in the middle of the road, and when they asked him his name, he replied that he was the “Son of God.” He continued to refer to himself as the Son of God as they took him away. Sexton must be on some serious drugs, because everyone knows that God would never let his son choose FSU over Notre Dame.

• Looks like the pitching on both the Yanks and Sox has been heating up. And that’s all I’m going to say about that for now.

• The Red Sox made the trip to Chicago this past weekend for a three-game series, of which the Cubs took two, including a 14-6 slaughter. The Sox and Cubbies hadn't played since a fateful World Series back in 1918, when The Babe was tossing for the Sox. And the Sox had never played at Wrigley Field, because the Cubs home games in that series (a 4-2 win for the Sox) had all been played at Comiskey Park, the previous home to the White Sox. Could this have been a "Passing of the Torch" series, where one previously-cursed team wipes away the curse for the other cursed team? Well, Cubs ace Mark Prior has been injured about six times this year, so they've got their potential Schilling-figure. Now if he just gets Subpoenaed before Congress, makes a backhanded comment about the Cardinals and strippers, and shoots about 10 Ford F-150 commercials, I think they're just about a given to win the Series. This time next year, we could be talking about the "bloody elbow."

• Jason Giambi hit a monster shot to the UPPER upper deck at Yankee Stadium last night, to give the Yanks a 7-5 win in the 10th inning. It's about time he got back on the Steriods.

• The Yanks also staged a late inning rally in that game, scoring 2 runs in the bottom of the 8th. That moved their record to 1-30 when trailing after 7 innings. I didn't know they had a stat for "number of times a team packed it in when they were losing."

That's it for now. I have more to say, but I have to do some work that actually pays.

This weekend:
Sox vs. Pirates @ Fenway
Yanks vs. Cubs @ THE Stadium

Notes:
• Many thanks to Alana Budasoff for the photos of the Stadium and Fenway.
• And as an aside, did you think I'd miss a chance to work in my MVP award somewhere in here? Right. (I'm sorry, that was TWO MVPs, not just one. That's right, biatches.)

Bill Beard is an independent writer who offers a moment of silence for The Stadium. He can be reached at wrbeard@hotmail.com.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Somebody Told Me

If you’ve unplugged your iPod for about five minutes and listened to the radio, you know that one of the hottest bands out there is The Killers. “Mr. Brightside” is more overplayed than any song in recent history, narrowly edging out every song ever written by Arvil Lavigne.

The Killers were in Boston this week at the Fleet – sorry, Bank of America Pavilion, which ironically has only one ATM. I caught the show, and in honor of one of the best live shows I’ve seen in awhile, I’m going to write this column as a tribute to The Killers (and blatantly steal a page from Bill Simmons) by using their lyrics to compare the Sox and Yanks of late. Ten to one I fuck this up, but hey, no one’s paying me for this, so if you want perfection, you can go here.

“Somebody told me/that you had a boyfriend/who looked like a girlfriend…” –Somebody Told Me

The World Champion Boston Red Sox appeared on Bravo’s Queer Eye for the Straight Guy this past week on the season premiere, and this is burning a hole in my DVR as we speak. I haven’t had the chance to watch it yet, but when I do, you can expect Red Sux (all knew meaning to that) bashing like you’ve never witnessed before. There was an interview with the “Queer Eyes” on ESPN’s Page 3, in which one of the Queer Guys claims that he “cuddled with Kevin Millar the most.” Raise you’re hand if you would be surprised by Millar being outed. That’s what I thought. [Much more on this when I watch the episode!]

“But its just the price I pay/destiny is calling me/open up my eager eyes/Cause I’m Mr. Brightside…” –Mr. Brightside

Alex Rodriguez hit his 400th career home run last night in a 12-3 win over the Brewers, his second HR of the night, making him the youngest player ever to accomplish that feat. At 29 years 316 days, he beat out Ken Griffey Jr, who did it at 30 years and 141 days. With the Yanks season progressing the way it has, he has been the only bright spot. A-Rod takes a lot of crap for several reasons, and there’s been a lot of talk that he’s not a “true Yankee.” This has to be one of the most ridiculous statements I’ve ever heard. A-Rod himself said he didn’t “know what a true Yankee was” and I say it’s not something you can define. If A-Rod doesn’t slap that ball of Arroyo’s glove (a play which everyone needs to stop talking about, including me) I wonder if anyone can justify that claim? Probably not. (And if you say “he’s too greedy” or “he hasn’t won anything” then crawl back into the stank hole you just came out of. A-Rod turned down money for a chance to go to Boston, and one of the greatest Yankees of all time, Don Mattingly, never won as much as a division title.) I will confess that his running style, at times, is… well… questionable.

“On the field I remember you were incredible/hey shut up, hey shut up/yeah.” –Andy, You’re a Star

I’m amazed, I haven’t heard a Curt Schilling quote in about a week. And funny, there were no World Series predictions from him this year. Maybe Curt finally figured out that you can’t talk a big game if you can’t play one. Has any guy ever tried so hard to use up the good will from a city? Good thing for him he’s got a limitless supply in Boston. I think everyone (including Bostonians) have to be glad he’s finally shut his mouth and started to concentrate on his rehab. But I’ll say it again, don’t expect Curt back this year, regardless of what you read… the devil has come to collect on that deal Schill made last October, and the Lord of Darkness wants what’s his.

“In the back, uh huh, I can't crack/We're on top/It's just a shimmy and a shake uh huh/ I can't fake, we're on top/We're on top…” –On Top

The Baltimore Orioles have to be loving life right now. Not only did no one predict they’d be in first place at this juncture in the season, but a total of zero people think they’ll still lead the division at the end of the season. They have absolutely nothing to lose. Best of all, they get to watch the Yanks languish below .500 and the Sox struggle to stay above .500, which must be like catching your worst enemy at work as he’s having sex in a conference room with the fat, ugly chick everyone makes fun of. Just sweet.

“I know there's a hope/There's too many people trying to help me cope…” –Midnight Show

My favorite song off Hot Fuss begets this jewel, and though I’ve already used him in this little game I’m playing, I have to send this one back to A-Rod. He has not one, not two, but three different therapists “helping” him. With exactly what they’re helping him with, A-Rod is mum, but maybe it has something to do with the fact that his name is on shirts that read “A-Rod sucks, Jeter swallows” and that so few people like him despite being one of the best players in baseball. I’m just guessing.

”Yeah, you know you got to help me out/Yeah, oh don't you put me on the back burner/You know you got to help me out/You're gonna bring yourself down…” –All These Things That I’ve Done

This goes out to two guys: Jason Giambi and Kevin Millar. Both guys are in danger of losing their jobs to veteran players considered by many at the start of the season to be “washed up,” Tino Martinez and John Olreud. As for Giambi, I’m a firm believer that he should have splinters firmly wedged in his arse from riding the bench. As for Millar, he’s a second-half guy and everyone knows this, so I don’t know what all this (hot) fuss is about. Olreud should be used just as Doug “Have you seen my baseball?” Meintkevich was last year, a late-inning defensive replacement. If he gets any hits, it’s a bonus.

“Dreams aren't what they used to be/Some things slide by so carelessly/Smile like you mean it…” –Smile Like You Mean It

This one goes to Joe Torre. The Yanks manager is a complete stoic whether the Yanks win or lose, rarely losing his composure (though he did get thrown out of the game last night). With everything that’s going wrong with the Yanks, by all accounts Torre has not once raised his voice to the team. He doesn’t believe in that form of motivation. He believes all his players are professionals and can handle themselves, and can turn their game around with patient guidance. But you know he goes home, shuts the door, and yells “MOTHER F$$$$$$$$$CKER!!!!!!!! as loud as he can.

“Everything will be alright/Everything will be alright/Everything will be alright/Everything will be alright…” –Everything Will Be Alright (duh)

Finally, all I’ll say is this: Yankees win the division, Red Sox finish second. See these? These are my guns. And I’m stickin’ to them.


A few observations from the past week:

• With the Yankees lineup slumping something fierce (23 runs in their last 10 games) Torre canceled batting practice before yesterday’s game. I started to write this column yesterday, and I planned to rip Torre, by saying that when your team is hitting poorly you need more practice, not less. Of course, the Yankees ripped of 12 runs on 16 hits and had four home runs in their 12-3 win last night, which is why Joe Torre is the manager of the New York Yankees and I’m just some bitch who doesn’t even have a real column.

• For the guy who plays the outfield like a drunken leper and is hitting well below his career average, Manny Ramirez smiles an awful lot. I’m just sayin.

Matt Clement lost his first game of the season two nights ago, dropping a 9-2 decision to St. Louis. Clement’s record is now an impressive 6-1. If you remember last week I ranted a bit about the crossover factor of National Leaguers coming into the American League and getting shelled—a theory Clement was set on dashing to pieces. I find it ironic that the former National Leaguer got his first loss of the year to a National League team, and I am sure I am the only one. Who wants a cookie? This guy.

For the ladies: If you’ve ever wanted to swap saliva with Derek Jeter now you can! A fork Jeter used is up for sale on Ebay. I hope whoever buys it uses it to kill themselves, because they’re clearly a waste of life.

• I went to Fenway last Wednesday for the Orioles game, and it turned out Tim Wakefield was tossing batting practice to the O’s that day. Oh wait, that was the actual game. Wakefield, who has one of my favorite all-time quotes about a player’s own weakness (“Sometimes a knuckleball doesn’t knuckle”) gave up 7 runs and 3 HRs to the Os, in a 9-3 loss making them look like the first place team they are but really aren’t. I believe this wasn’t an accurate representation of the O’s ability, so I won’t provide any observations on this game besides my typical statement on any game at Fenway: Love this pahk.

• If all my talk about "Small Ball" last week went completely over your head (I'm starting to realize that a lot of my audience is still learning the intricacies of baseball) here is a textbook example of "small ball" from the St. Louis Cardinals game versus Boston this week: "The Cards pushed across their first five runs without the benefit of an extra-base hit. They stole three bases – though some of that aggressiveness was directly tied to knuckleballer Tim Wakefield's being on the mound – went from first to second on fly balls to the outfield and got a nicely executed suicide squeeze from pitcher Matt Morris." To keep my theory intact, I'll point out here that the Cards are a National League team, thank you kindly. (If you don't know what a suicide squeeze is, ask the baseball dork in your office (in other words, a guy like me).

• Congrats to Meghan Gunn, who correctly answered that Cameron Diaz was the love interest in The Mask alongside Jim Carrey before he realized that he could actually act.

• This week’s Trivia… give me the FULL name of the character that I quoted in reference to a certain first-baseman in this column. Bonus points for the actor’s name. (Using IMDB.com is cheating!)

Up this weekend:
Sox at Chicago Cubs: Friday 2:20, Sat. 3:05, Sun. 8:05
Yanks at St. Louis: Friday 8:10, Sat. 3:05, Sun. 2:15

Quick addendum posted @ 7:22 pm!! NBA finals kick off tonight! I have the Spurs in six. But I also have to say I am going to be watching when I can... I love the fact that the two best defensive teams made the finals. It's good to know that no matter what level of Basketball you're playing, the fundamentals don't go away. In NBA mentality, most people think these games are going to be boring, and probably would have preferred the high-flying offensive machine of the Suns to be involved, but for me, a low-scoring, grind them out game is something only real fans of the sport appreciate--which is just fine with me.

Bill Beard is an independent writer who has drunk A-Rod's Kool-Aid, and no, he doesn't mean it in that way, you sick pervert. He can be reached for therapist suggestions at wrbeard@hotmail.com.