You Can Love Yankee Stadium & Still Hate the Yankees
Growing up in Baltimore, I didn’t make my initial baseball pilgrimage to Yankee Stadium until the age of 27, but I’ve been fortunate enough to spend a little time there over the last decade. Working long, strange hours for “labor of love” level wages and having a diaper age daughter prevent me getting to the ballpark as much as when I lived in Maryland. Nevertheless, in meditating on my trips to The House That Ruth Built early in its final season, I realize that every single one was memorable. Here’s what I mean:
July 4, 1998 – Yankees 4, Orioles 3: On a sunny Saturday afternoon after riding a bus up from Baltimore, my mother and I saw Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez hurl eight innings to earn his third American League victory. The Orioles took a two-run lead in the top of the first on Brady Anderson’s two-out single, and led 3-2 in the fifth after Derek Jeter (2-3 r rbi bb sb) helped the home team draw even, but Chad Curtis’ bases loaded single off reliever Alan Mills in the bottom of the sixth proved to be the game-winner. Baltimore got a pair of singles off Mariano Rivera to start the ninth, but Chris Hoiles failed to execute a sacrifice and Rich Becker grounded into a game-ending double play.
July 5, 1998 – Yankees 1, Orioles 0: Scott Erickson and David Cone cruised through nine innings in a brisk 2:30 in the game pictured above (That’s Roberto Alomar stepping in to hit). The only score came with two outs in the bottom of the third when -with the bases loaded- Chad Curtis got hit by a pitch. Cone went the first eight to improve to 12-2, and Cal Ripken grounded out to end a 1-2-3 ninth as Mariano Rivera earned another save and made our trip back to Baltimore feel a little bit longer.
September 14, 2000 – Blue Jays 3, Yankees 2 (11 innings): I’d moved to New York and been there all of two weeks when I got an upperdeck seat down the third base line to take in this classic Thursday evening affair. Toronto’s David Wells and Andy Pettitte of the Yankees matched zeroes through seven innings. Pettitte looked a little sharper, but buckled first after Craig Grebeck doubled leading off the eighth inning. The next three Blue Jays bunted, with Pettitte committing errors on the first two plays to break the deadlock. Joe Torre got ejected, and Pettitte left trailing 1-0. In the bottom of the inning though, Derek Jeter (4-5) hit a two-out homer to even things again. It stayed tied until Jose Cruz, Jr. blasted a two-run homer off Randy Choate with two outs in the eleventh. I can still hear the boos! Kelvim Escobar surrendered a solo shot to Ryan Thompson in the Yankees half, but it wasn’t enough, and the game was complete in just under four hours.
April 29, 2001 – Yankees 3, Athletics 1: When I saw in the paper that Roger Clemens would be matched up against impressive, 22-year-old southpaw Barry Zito, I just had to hop on the 4 train that Sunday afternoon. The highlight for me was the ovation rookie Alfonso Soriano received after drawing his first walk of the season (in the Yankees 25th game). It came leading off the bottom of the third, and Soriano quickly swiped second and scored the first run of the afternoon on a base hit by Derek Jeter. Oakland centerfielder Johnny Damon’s two-base error led to a pair of unearned runs an inning later, and Clemens pitched into the eighth inning to earn the win. One more memorable moment was seeing Paul O’Neill get the thumb from umpire C.B. Bucknor.
April 17, 2003 – Yankees 4, Blue Jays 0: Don’t ever let anybody tell you Jeff Weaver never pitched a good game in a Yankees uniform. It was a cold Thursday afternoon with a 22-mph wind blowing in from centerfield. Derek Jeter was on the disabled list, and his replacement -Erick Almonte- made an error on the first ball hit to him. The other two Dominicans in New York’s starting lineup more than compensated though: Raul Mondesi went deep off Pete Walker to start the bottom of the fifth, and Alfonso Soriano did likewise an inning later. Soriano also walked, stole a base, and got hit by Toronto reliever Aquilino Lopez, who signed an autograph for me before the game along with Kelvim Escobar.
April 25, 2004 – Red Sox 2, Yankees 0: I paid $50 to sit in the upper deck along the first base line, and I’m so glad I did. Pedro Martinez earned his last victory at Yankee Stadium as a member of the Red Sox, out-pitching Javier Vazquez in front of 55,348 on a Sunday afternoon to complete Boston’s series sweep. For a fan of Dominican players, this one was sweet considering Martinez’ strong effort and the fact that Manny Ramirez (2-3 2-run homer) and David Ortiz (2-4 double) collected all four of the Red Sox hits. Derek Jeter (0-4 with an error) got booed by the Yankees fans as his average dipped to .175.
September 5, 2004 – Yankees 4, Orioles 3: I really thought I was going to get a belated birthday present when Rafael Palmeiro ripped his 544th career homer off Javier Vazquez with two aboard in the top of the first. Unfortunately, New York chipped away against Bruce Chen and the game was even heading into the final inning. When Baltimore wasted a first & third with nobody out chance against Mariano Rivera in the top of the ninth, you had to think they’d regret it. Still, it was no fun at all to watch the game conclude on Jorge Julio’s four-pitch walk to Derek Jeter, a wild pitch, sac bunt, two intentional passes and a very unintentional walk to Jorge Posada. Boo!!!!
April 10, 2005 – Orioles 7, Yankees 2: Especially memorable because my wife, who doesn’t particularly like baseball, accompanied me. Baltimore reliever Steve Kline even signed an autograph for her. Oh, and the Orioles actually won! Rodrigo Lopez (8ip 8k’s) was the biggest hero, and the Mitchell Report connection got the offense going when Jay Gibbons drove home Rafael Palmeiro (3-4) in the second inning. Jason Giambi dropped a foul pop leading to two unearned runs an inning later, and everybody was a little concerned when Miguel Tejada lined a RBI single off the skull of Yankees pitcher Carl Pavano.
September 20, 2005 – Yankees 12, Orioles 9: My buddy Junya was in town from Japan, and he wanted to see Shea Stadium, but I talked him into seeing this one instead. Before the game, I got signatures from Daniel Cabera and Mariano Rivera, and in a lot of ways that was more fun than the game. Jorge Posada’s long ball produced three of the Yankees four runs in the bottom of the first, but Baltimore’s Brian Roberts got half of them back with a two-run triple in the top of the second before suffering a grisly elbow injury covering first base in the bottom of the frame. Orioles skipper Sam Perlozzo got ejected, rookie John Maine got blasted off the mound, and Gary Sheffield (6 RBI) blasted a grand slam off reliever James Baldwin before the inning was over. Somehow, Baltimore drew within 10-7 on a Jay Gibbons homer in the seventh, but Alex Rodriguez unloaded a jaw-dropping, opposite field, upper deck shot off Jorge Julio for his 45th home run of the year. Baltimore out-hit the Yankees 18-16, but Aaron Small ran his record to 9-0 with the win.
August 15, 2007 – Orioles 6, Yankees 3 (10 innings): Two days before this game, I interviewed Daniel Cabera in the visitors clubhouse, but had to watch the game on TV in the bowels of the stadium because I didn’t have a ticket access to the press box. On this sunny, 85-degree Wednesday afternoon, I had probably the best seat of my life in this ballpark…and what a game! I cheered when Orioles pitcher Erik Bedard paid the Yankees back for a series of brushbacks by hitting Derek Jeter in the bottom of the first, and cheered some more when he notched his 200th strikeout of the season. Nick Markakis and Tike Redman stroked scoring singles off New York rookie Phil Hughes, and the masterful Bedard turned over a 3-0 lead to the Orioles awful bullpen. Baltimore came within a strike of saving the shutout win, but reliever Jamie Walker served up a game-tying three-run homer to rookie Shelley Duncan. Before the noise quieted down, my mother called my cellphone to tell me the Baltimore TV feed was zoomed in on my crestfallen face. Not to worry, Markakis and Miguel Tejada hit consecutive doubles off Mariano Rivera to start the tenth, and Aubrey Huff sealed the deal with a two-run tater. Alex Rodriguez went 4-4 in vain.
September 17, 2007 – Yankees 8, Orioles 5: So many things went right on this night. Not only did I get to conduct pre and post-game interviews in the Orioles clubhouse, I also watched the game from the press box with childhood heroes Ken Singleton and Jim Palmer (through the glass) just to my left. My favorite pitcher, Daniel Cabrera, was on the mound, and Nick Markakis’ two-run double gave him a first inning lead. Other than Markakis picking up two outfield assists, that’s pretty much where the good news ends. Cabrera hit consecutive batters with pitches in the second, and the Yankees took the lead for good when Hideki Matsui took him deep in the third. Jay Payton got ejected, and this nine-inning affair lasted almost four hours.
Well, that’s it so far. Got to get back there in 2008. Before it’s too late!