This column was originally posted on April 7, 2010.
When I got off the Amtrak regional train at Back Bay station in Boston, the first person to make eye contact with me was a man wearing a Dustin Pedroia shirt, and he obviously noticed my Yankees hat. He mouthed something to me, but with Eddie Vedder hammering out the chorus to “Corduroy” on my iPod headphones I couldn’t hear what he said, though judging by his enthusiasm and facial expression, it wasn’t something the FCC would approve of. But I didn’t care what he said. I was actually happy he was so agitated by me wearing a Yankees hat because it was a sign that baseball is back.
You can wear Yankees apparel 365 days a year in Boston and for 356 of those days, people will either look at you like you are walking down the street naked, or the real rebels will crack a joke or give you the old “Yankees suck.” But for those nine days of the year when the Yankees are in Boston, wearing a Yankees hat in Boston is like eating at Boston’s South Street Diner sober. You just don’t do it.
After Joe Girardi ruined Easter by holding bullpen tryouts on Opening Night rather than spring training, I couldn’t wait to get to Fenway Park. Even with the Yankees well below .500 in games I attend at Fenway, I was eager for my first game of the season.
Seeing the Yankees win in person at Fenway Park isn’t something I have been fortunate to see a lot. The majority of Yankees games I attend at Fenway end catastrophically and I’m pretty sure I have been to every game at Fenway that NESN uses for Red Sox Classics telecasts. Even with the Yankees having a remarkable record in home games I attend (including a perfect regular season and postseason record in 2009), Fenway Park has been to me what lefties have been to Curtis Granderson. I don’t know how many times I have seen the Yankees play at Fenway, but to give you an idea of what I have endured, here are some of the games I have attended:
May 18, 1999 – Joe Torre returns to the Yankees after missing the beginning of the season to battle prostate cancer. David Cone and Pedro Martinez go toe-to-toe, but trailing 3-2 late, Jason Grimsley can’t keep it close as he gives up three runs in the bottom of the eighth.
Oct 18, 2004 – Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS, which also happens to be the third-worst night of my life. The second being Game 6 and the first being Game 7.
April 14, 2005 – Randy Johnson gets lit up for five runs and Tom Gordon turns a 5-5 tie into an 8-5 loss with an embarrassing eighth inning. And to top it all off, Gary Sheffield brawls with some fans in right field.
May 1, 2006 – Johnny Damon returns to Boston as Friendly Fenway’s center field gets littered with money. Tied 3-3 in the eighth, Tanyon Sturtze gives up the go-ahead run. With two men on and David Ortiz due up, Joe Torre calls for the Mike Myers, the lefty specialist and the man the Yankees acquired for the sole purpose of facing Ortiz. Ortiz cranks a three-run home run into the New England night.
April 22, 2007 – After losing the first two games of the series, the Yankees take a 3-0 lead in the rubber match on Sunday Night Baseball. But after holding the Red Sox scoreless for the first two innings, rookie Chase Wright allows Manny Ramirez, J.D. Drew, Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek to go back-to-back-to-back-to-back on him to take a 4-3 lead. The Yankees would take the lead back in the sixth only to have Scott Proctor give up a three-run home run to Lowell in the seventh.
April 24, 2009 – The Yankees lead 4-2 in the ninth with two outs and Mariano Rivera on the mound and Kevin Youkilis on first base. Jason Bay hits a 1-0 pitch over the wall in center to tie the game. In the 11th, Damaso Marte gives up a home run to Youkilis that landed just yesterday.
April 26, 2009 – Hoping to salvage the final game of the series, Andy Pettitte falls apart in the fifth. Tied 1-1, Pettitte wakes David Ortiz up by allowing Ortiz to double home the go-ahead run. With Jacoby Ellsbury on third and Ortiz on second following the double, Ellsbury steals home on Pettitte and Jorge Posada and steals Pettitte’s pride, dignity and self esteem in the process.
So when Marco Scutaro doubled off Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning on Tuesday, it only made sense that I texted Hurley, my Red Sox friend, “Any more hits or base runners and I’m out of here.” But Mariano escaped the double unscathed and the Yankees got into the win column for the first time in 2010. It was a good night at Fenway and the win extended my personal Fenway winning streak to two (a career high).
It only took the Yankees until their second try to defeat the Red Sox this season and there is always sense of relief knowing that the Yankees are going to leave an early season series at Fenway with at least one win. Here are three things that I took away from Tuesday, and the Yankees’ first W of the season:
1. Watching A.J. Burnett pitch is harder to watch than the scene in Casino where Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) and his brother Dominick are beaten within an inch of their lives by baseball bats and then buried alive. Sure it’s only one start, but it’s not like we didn’t also see this last year. Burnett is either going to come within reach of a no-no or have a start that includes that one letdown inning. On Tuesday, he had the latter and the letdown inning was the fifth. It is good to see that he isn’t complaining about Jorge Posada catching him and the two seem to be working out whatever problems they had a year ago.
2. On Sunday we saw Starter Joba disguised as a reliever. On Tuesday we saw Reliever Joba, and it felt good to have him back. Joba stranded the potential tying run at second base in the eighth inning, and did it with his fastball, slider and the attitude that disappeared following his first start in 2008. Just 48 hours after Chan Ho Park had the worst Opening Day debut in Yankees history, Joba fixed the bridge to Mariano by taking care of business and ending his night with a fist pump that probably made Goose Gossage cringe. But as long as 2007 Joba is on the mound, I don’t care if he fist pumps or Riverdances as long as he puts up zeroes.
3. I was waiting for the few notes of “Billie Jean” to come across the Fenway PA system when Robinson Cano hit his solo home run on Tuesday, as he swung, made contact and dropped his bat like it was on fire all in one smooth, flawless motion before gliding out of the box. Cano has looked really comfortable batting in the fifth spot and even though his home run was a solo shot, his approach with runners on also looks to have improved. Cano’s approach in RBI situations used to be to swing at the first pitch no matter where it was, but it looks like he is growing out of his bad habits and undisciplined hitting. I feel more confident with him up in big spots and believe that he will be able to hold on to his spot in the order over the course of the season.
Despite Burnett’s inability to consistently throw strikes and Damaso Marte’s pickoff move, it was an overall solid night from the Yankees. But knowing that Chan Ho Park is currently the difference between having already won the three-game series and needing to win the rubber game on Wednesday to win the series is upsetting. Winning April and May series at Fenway for the Yankees is unheard of, but on Wednesday they have a chance to do just that.
As I left Fenway Park on Tuesday and walked down Yawkey Way across Van Ness Street and over to Boylston Street, a man playing “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” on the flute stopped playing midsong to greet me with a profanity-filled tirade.
Baseball is back.