I went to my first game of the season last night, and I think we can all agree that—of the three possible games to go to at Yankee Stadium this week—I picked the right one.
A few notes from the upper deck behind home plate...
Andy is mostly dandy. I have come not to bury Andy, but to praise him, but I do want to bury him a little bit. Yes, Francisco Cervelli lollygagged the first-inning wild pitch that lent wings to Shane Victorino's feet and enabled him to try to score. Cervelli then scrambled to the plate to throw Victorino out, thus redeeming his lollygagging, but—
Well, where the heck was Andy? Covering home plate is what the pitcher's supposed to do on a wild pitch. But he was just sorta standing there.
Nunez got a new helmet. One of Eduardo Nunez's signature moves has been his helmet flying off when he runs, which I always thought was awesome. But then he got a better-fitting helmet, and it stopped flying off, and I was sad.
Apparently, Nunez missed the wind going through his hair, 'cause last night, every single time he ran the helmet went flying. It was a beautiful thing. Don't lose that helmet, Eduardo.
(It was also depressing to watch Nunez miss plays to his left. It's like Jeter never left...)
Run, Travis, run! Speaking of Nunez, he was the trailing runner behind Travis Hafner when Lyle Overbay hit the two-run single that started the scoring and gave the Yankees their first lead since Game 5 of the 2012 ALDS. (Yes, really.) It was hysterical watching it, as the speedy Nunez (sans helmet) was practically stepping on Hafner's heels by the time he rounded third base.
Pronk, by the way, hits the ball very very hard. He hit a couple of fouls that practically tore the horsehide off the ball, and his single was one of those dunkers that would be a pop-out to the infield for a hitter of lesser might.
Ball three. In his five innings of work, Ryan Dempster—who does this really weird-ass thing with his glove when he pitches—went to a three-ball count nine times. To quote beat writer Pete Abraham (who covered the Yankees for the Journal News and now covers the Red Sox for the Boston Globe) on Twitter, "Dempster worked fast in spring training and threw a lot of strikes. Not so much tonight." (And if you're not following @PeteAbe, you totally should. Yes, he covers the Sawx, but he's one of the best in the biz.)
Something I never thought I'd see. The fan marquee between the fifth and sixth inning is usually filled with birthday wishes, followed by marriage proposals, which are always met with derision by those in the stands. (Seriously, if you're gonna propose, do it in person, not over a PA system in front of tens of thousands of people.)
But while I mocked the first of the two proposals (which was made by a guy named Fidel—seriously, somebody named their kid Fidel), I did not mock the second, in which Nicole proposed to Martha.
Yes, the ultra-conservative Yankees, the team whose owner gave money to Richard Nixon, the team that still doesn't allow long hair or beards, has actually had a woman propose to another woman on their fan marquee, which is a sight I truly never thought I'd see. Brava.
Brett is back. Last April, I went to a game in the left field box seats at field level, and got a "lovely" view of Raul Ibanez patrolling the pasture while muttering, "Brains... brains..."
So it was a real pleasure tonight to watch pretty much everything (with a couple of notable exceptions) that went anywhere near center field get caught by Mr. Gritty and Gutty. Seriously, he's a joy to watch out there, and I really hope he makes it through the whole year this time. Especially in these early months, the Yanks are gonna rely on pitching and defense a lot more than usual.
Bizarro Land. Speaking of Gardner, it was weird enough that he homered, which is, shall we say, not a usual part of his game. But right after that, Robinson Cano walked—on four pitches. Then Kevin Youkilis, who has been famous for his batting eye since he was a minor-leaguer (they included him in the freakin' Moneyball movie with the "Greek God of Walks" line), strikes out on four pitches. Then in the next half-inning, Eduardo "Butterfingers" Nunez made a great defensive play to spear a line drive. WHAT KIND OF STRANGE ALTERNATE UNIVERSE HAVE I TRAVELLED TO?
(Our own Greg Kirkland responded to my asking that rather plaintive question on Twitter with: "One where I probably have an evil goatee.")
Oh, and then Cervelli homered—and there was no doubt that this was a homer, even though he hit it to left-center, he just clobbered it—providing two amusing results. One, at that stage, both Gardner and Cervelli had the three true outcomes: they'd both walked, struck out, and homered. Also: the last time Cervelli hit a homer was also the last time Gardner hit a homer, and it was in September 2011.
Enter Sandman. Back about ten years ago or so, I went to a day game at the Stadium. Pettitte was the starting pitcher for that game, too. It was against the Royals, which I remember mainly because Chuck Knoblauch let himself get picked off first base by his former teammate.
It was also Mariano Rivera's first day back after being on the disabled list, and the first note of "Enter Sandman" hadn't even finished when the stadium exploded with cheers and applause. It was the most enthusiastic regular-season reception I'd ever heard Mo get.
Until last night, anyhow. It was a joy and a privilege to get to see Mo's last first game, and everyone in the Stadium last night felt the same.
He wasn't perfect, but by the time Jackie Bradley Jr. came up with two outs and representing the tying run, he had settled down. JBjr set the world on fire in spring training, and he stood up to CC Sabathia on Monday, but last night was a different story. He went down on three pitches, the last a classic Mo cutter on the corner that just froze him.
Welcome to the big leagues, kid. You've been Mo'd.
Finally, just a quick note: Yesterday was a crappy day for great people dying. Film critic Roger Ebert and legendary comics artist Carmine Infantino both passed away. Rest in peace, gentlemen.