Posted by: JoeD2133 | April 17, 2008

4/16: Yankees 15, Red Sox 9

Numbers have always meant something to me, ever since I can remember.

Call it a mild case of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or the inherent superstition that develops in a childhood filled with sports and big dreams, but the numbers have always played a role, giving reason and meaning to consequence.  My birthday, for example, is May 21, so any combination of numbers that add up to twenty-one, such as a phone number, zip code, or locker combination, had special significance to me.  In sports, I always wanted to wear No. 5 (for the month of May) or No. 21, or at least a number that added up, subtracted, or multiplied to derive one of the two, such as 37, 23, or 26, the latter being the simple addition of both together.

                I looked for these numbers everywhere in youth, their presence a sign of good things to come, their absence an indicator of worry.  I must admit, I still look for these numbers today, even adding my wife’s and my son’s birthdays to the mix.  For instance, my two-year-old baby boy, Frankie, was born on March 5, 2006.  If you look hard enough, the number 3 (for March) multiplied by 5 equals 15, and 15 plus 6 (for 2006) equals 21.  Never was there a better birthday for a son of mine, whose arrival in this world and every day since – next to meeting my wife, of course – has indeed been the best thing that has ever happened to me.

                So, you ask, what does all of this have to do with last night’s Yankees game against the Red Sox at the Stadium?  Well, I respond matter-of-factly, the numbers were everywhere.

                Take for example, the talented Mr. A-Rod, who entered last night’s contest tied for 15th place on the all-time homeruns list with Ted Williams and Willy McCovey, sitting pretty with 521 dingers at the tender age of 32.  Recognize any of these numbers?  No sooner did I finish clapping for Bobby Abreu’s two-run blast into the left-field bleachers off of Boston’s rookie phenom Clay Bucholz, than did Alex launch a prodigious shot over Monument Park (filled with retired numbers) and into the Red Sox bullpen.  This was his fifth homerun of April, coming in the Yankees’ sixteenth game, two numbers that just happen to add up to the blessed No. 21.

                Now comes the crazy part, lest you think my ramblings above are sane.

The official end of the most recent Bronx Dynasty has long been dated to October 2001, during the ninth inning of the seventh game of the World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks.  A month before this fateful frame, in which the invincible Mariano Rivera would blow the biggest save of his life, the once invincible city of New York was dealt it’s greatest tragedy of record: 9-11-01.  This forum is not the time or the place to go into my personal beliefs concerning that historic and catastrophic event, but the numbers and symbolism involved do have a strange way of tying into the fortunes of New York City’s iconic baseball franchise since that terrible day.

Tom Verducci, the prolific and much admired sports writer for Sports Illustrated, noted shortly after the 2001 Series ended that, when Luiz Gonzalez stepped up to the plate to face Mo with the game, the history, and outright destiny hanging in the balance, the clock in the ballpark read 9:11 P.M.

We all know what happened next.

Much like this great city has been recovering from the fallout of September 11 for the past seven years, the great Yankees franchise has been recovering on the baseball diamond from the fallout of this one, single defeat.  Never quite out of the race entirely, but never quite as strong and confident either, each subsequent postseason seeing them drift towards and then away from their past glory, each offseason trade a hopeful reach for the missing piece that will return them to the promised land.

Mark my words, that missing piece now sits quietly and patiently in Nebraska, giving his father all of the strength and support he needs to recover.  Our prayers are with you Joba.

Returning to last night’s game against the rival Red Sox, the first meeting between these two ancient foes in the last year of Ruth’s famous house, suddenly the numbers 9 and 11 were everywhere all at once.  After the Yankees surged ahead in the bottom of the fourth inning to take a 7-3 lead, Clay Bucholz being knocked out of the game by his boyhood idol, Derek Jeter, with a two-out, bases-load, Jeterian single to right, Chien-Ming Wang suddenly forgot how to pitch.  In the top of the fifth, the Red Sox scored six maddening runs over a combination of five straight hits allowed by Wang, and three valiant outs recorded by his young replacement, Ross Ohlendorf (only one run was charged to Ross).

The scoreboard line for the Red Sox now read 9 runs on 11 hits.  Doom and dread filled the Stadium to its silent core, as the once invincible four-run lead handed to our staff Ace disappeared into thin air.

However, showing the same dogged, detemined fight of a city that always gets back on its feet, the Yankees quickly counter-punched their smiling opponent.  The smoking hot Hideki Matsui stroked a one-out single off of Boston reliever Julian Tavarez, then Jorge Posada followed with jam-shot RBI double down the right-field line.  When Robinson Cano cracked an RBI single that chased Posada to the plate, the scoreboard line for the Yankees read 9 runs on 11 hits.


As if this one wild game was a microcosm for the relative fates of both the Yankees and Red Sox over the past seven years, maybe things were about to change.

Sure enough, the Bombers plated two more runs in the frame on a would-be, bases-loaded, inning-ending double play, where the return throw from shortstop Julio Lugo sailed as if on wings into the thundering stands.  Now the Yankees had 11 runs to the 9 posted by Boston, another stunning reversal in this instant classic of a game.  The Red Sox had also just committed their first error, changing their numbers on the scoreboard to read 9-11-1.

If that doesn’t send chills down the back of your neck and arms, I don’t know what will.  Could these numbers and events be a sign of a change in the winds, which began somewhat quietly last year with the late-August arrival of a boy from Nebraska?  Only time will tell, but remember this: numbers give reason and meaning to consequence, and the numbers were everywhere last night at the mythic, historic, oft times spiritual, Yankee Stadium.

Just ask Latroy Hawkins.

Maligned by the fans since Opening Day for choosing to wear the former number of the people’s warrior, Paul O’Neil – hey, isn’t that No. 21 – Hawkins jogged out to the mound amidst the turmoil sporting a brand new No. 22 jersey.  Before I continue, let me point out that Latroy now has a sticker in his locker that reads “Retire No. 21”, which has raised my respect level for him exponentially, not to mention my image of the man.  Self-deprecating humor and humility can go a long way in this world, especially when your job puts you front and center on the YES Network, night in and night out.

At any rate, as if the change in numbers has changed the predetermined fate of the much-traveled Latroy, he became the unlikely savior of this game when he quieted the Red Sox bats for the sixth and seventh innings.  Quietly, honorably, and somewhat surprisingly, Hawkins has now pitched seven scoreless innings in his last five outings.  Funny, I didn’t hear any boos last night, did you?

On came lefty-specialist Billy Traber in the top of the eighth inning, his one pitch to David Ortiz inducing the desired popup and ending his night all at once.  Brian Bruney then touched 97 MPH on the radar gun as he closed out the eighth, the new Yankees bullpen stepping up in the absence of their young stud flamethrower.  I must say, the performance of this bullpen in the early going is a world of difference from anything the Yankees have put together in the past four-to-five years, and that in its own right is a sign of good things to come.

In the end, the 9-11 score held up until the bottom of the eighth inning, when the suddenly combustible Yankees offense exploded for four more runs off of the aging Mike Timlin, allowing Mariano Rivera – already warming in the pen – to take a seat for the final three outs.

Fitting isn’t, it?  It was Mo on the mound the last time the winds changed and ended a dynasty, and it was Mo’s teammates that picked him up last night, giving him the rare opportunity to sit back, relax, and enjoy the new wind on his grateful, veteran skin.

That is the best sign of another Bronx Dynasty taking shape, isn’t it?  An offense that picks up its Ace, and a bullpen that picks up its closer.  Teammates and friends coming together, one number at a time.


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