Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Captain Saves The Ship

Jeter Blast Caps 5 Run Rally

Opening day ay Yankee Stadium looked a lot like most of the Yankees season opening road trip. An early lead, shaky starting pitching, errors (in this case mental), and poor relief pitching, made you think you were watching a West Coast game again. The difference between this game and those was that the Yankees came out on top. When a clutch play is needed in the Bronx, the Yankees can usually rely on “The Captain”, and today was no different. The Yankees turned a grim opening day into a thrilling one when Derek Jeter drove a hanging slider a half-dozen rows into the left field seats for a 9-4 Yankees victory over the Kansas City Royals.

Things had started out promising on the sun drenched, 70-degree day. Yogi Berra threw out the first pitch and Jason Giambi drove one of Royals’ starter Joe Mays’s first pitches over the 385-foot sign in right center for a 3-0 lead in the first inning. After Mark Teahan delivered an RBI double to get KC on the board in the second, Hideki Matsui sent Mays to an early shower with a bases loaded walk in the third, his eighth RBI of the young season. Reliever Mike Wood escaped further trouble by getting Jorge Posada to ground out to end the inning.

Yankees starter Chien-Ming Wang looked pretty good through the first three innings as his heavy sinker did its work. But just as he had unraveled against Oakland last Wednesday, Wang’s location became erratic and the Royals took full advantage. A one-out home run in the fourth by Reggie Sanders cut the lead in half. With two outs, Emil Brown doubled to center and went to third on a wild pitch by Wang. After a walk to Teahan, Angel Berroa and John Buck followed with consecutive RBI singles and the game was tied 4-4. Berroa’s double play ground out in the sixth put the Royals ahead 5-4 and completed Wang’s ugly line score.

The Yankees bridge to Mariano Rivera continued to be a sore spot and showed the need for a healthy Octavio Dotel. Shane Costa greeted Tanyon Sturtze with his second home run leading off the seventh. Three batters later Sanders singled in Mike Sweeney for a 7-4 lead and a call to the bullpen.

Meanwhile the Yankee bats had gone silent. They had rallied once more in the fourth, loading the bases with one out, but Bernie Williams was doubled off of second base on a Gary Sheffield popup to end the threat. Then came the eighth inning rally. The Yankees quickly loaded the bases off of lefty reliever Andrew Sisco. Giambi walked for the third time in the game, and the 10th time this season. Hideki Matsui followed with a single and Posada walked. Robinson Cano hit into a fielder’s choice to cut the lead to 7-5 and Bernie Williams stepped to the plate. Williams is off to his usual slow start, and although he got the loudest and longest ovation in the pre-game introductions, his base running error in the fourth was the only thing that stood out. He was also only 1-6 with runners in scoring position. But Bernie has delivered in big spots many times and on his 15th opening day he did again. Williams, batting right-handed, lined a pitch into left-center field for an RBI single.

Royals’ manager Buddy Bell quickly brought in his closer Ambiorix Burgos to face Johnny Damon. The move was a good one as Damon went down on strikes for the second out of the inning. That brought up Jeter who came into the game with a six game hitting streak, but was 0-3. Burgos, whose fastball is in the mid-to-upper 90s, threw an 85 mph slider that sat in Jeter’s wheelhouse. He turned on it and turned the fans frowns upside down. That left everything in the hands of Mariano Rivera to close it out in the ninth.

Rivera had pitched just once, in the road trip ender in Anaheim and the rust showed. With one out, Mark Grudzielanek singled to center and Rivera hit Mike Sweeney on the hand. Rivera bounced back though; striking out the tough Sanders and getting Doug Mientkiewicz to hit a soft liner right back to him. The weather was ideal, the game was not, but the outcome certainly was.


Mariano Rivera’s save was the 380th of his career, putting him 10 behind Dennis Eckersley for 4th on the all-time list. The Yankees set a club record by winning their 9th consecutive home opener. Jason Giambi is hitting just .210, but his 10 walks have given him a .483 on-base percentage. Perhaps it’s time for Joe Torre to flip-flop him and Gary Sheffield in the order. Scott Proctor’s victory was just the fourth of his career. Derek Jeter is off to a fast start, hitting .333-2-7 with 4 of his 9 hits going for extra bases. He’s also 4-9 with RISP. Mike Sweeney had to leave the game after being hit by a Rivera pitch in the eighth. X-rays were negative and he is listed as day-to-day

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