My first visit to Yankee Stadium: May 28, 2005

24 05 2015

I lived my first 50 years without entering Yankee Stadium. My oldest son, Mike, thought tickets to a Yankee game would be a fitting present for that round-numbered birthday. So he and his wife, Susie, sent Mimi and me to New York (we lived in Omaha at the time), providing air fare, hotel and tickets to watch the Yankees play the Red Sox in the House that Ruth Built. What could be better?

I actually turned 50 the day of Game 3 of the 2004 World Series, a game the Yankees would have been playing, if not for their collapse the week before after leading the Red Sox, three games to none, in the American League Championship Series. So a chance to see the Yankees finally beat the Red Sox seemed a perfect present.

As a lifelong Yankee fan finally visiting baseball’s most historic park, I was expecting to see some history made. And I did. More on that later.

Mimi and I flew to New York that Friday, with tickets for Saturday afternoon’s game 10 years ago today. We joined a throng of Yankee fans, and some people in Red Sox gear, on the subway and made our way out to the Bronx, getting off at 161st Street and making our way to the stadium. The Red Sox fans were outnumbered, so they were pretty well-behaved, if cocky. An occasional crack about last fall’s collapse might have slipped out, perhaps answered by a comment about the previous night’s game, a 6-3 Yankee win, or perhaps a reminder of our 26 championships (it became 27 in 2009).

We got there as they were closing Monument Park, so I missed that bit of Yankee history. I’ll have to catch that another time.

Our seats were well down the left-field line in the upper deck. But location didn’t matter. I was in baseball’s most glorious ballpark, and I was reveling in it. Mimi and I bought a couple hot dogs and beers and settled into our seats to enjoy the action.

Pavano pitching

Carl Pavano, whom the Yankees had signed as a free agent from the Florida Marlins in the off-season, was on the mound. He was an 18-game winner in 2004, but was 4-2 for the Yankees so far in 2005. He didn’t get off to a good start for us, though. The Red Sox scored in the first inning on a double by Johnny Damon, a bunt by Edgar Rentería and a sacrifice fly by David Ortiz.

So my hopes of maybe seeing a Yankee perfect game, or no-hitter, or shutout, were dashed immediately. The Yankee bats might have to deliver my historic game. Not in the first inning. Matt Clement struck out Derek Jeter, Tony Womack and Gary Sheffield in order.

At the break between the first and second innings, a young man came up, asking if he and a friend could swap seats with us. They had unknowingly bought seats in the family section, where drinks aren’t sold, and they wanted to have a few beers at the game. The family section was several sections closer to home plate, sort of behind third base, and we’d already had a beer, and probably wouldn’t drink much more at ballpark prices anyway. So we swapped and took the better view.

But what we were seeing wasn’t that good. Singles by Jason Varitek, John Olerud, Damon and Rentería produced two more runs in the top of the second. Alex Rodriguez doubled in the bottom of the second, but the Yankees didn’t score.

Pavano gave up two more singles, but no runs, in the third. Clement hit Jeter (I wonder how many times Red Sox pitchers hit Jeter?) and walked Sheffield, but they couldn’t score.

Pavano couldn’t make it out of the fourth inning. With two outs, he gave up a single to Rentería, walked Ortiz and gave up RBI singles to Manny Ramirez and Trot Nixon.

If Pavano wasn’t the biggest free-agent bust in Yankees’ history, he is very close. He didn’t win another game that year, finishing at 4-6. Due to a combination of ineffective pitching and injury, he won only nine games in four years as a Yankee (he was completely inactive in 2006). He later returned to form with the Twins, though the Yankees beat him in the 2009 and 2010 playoffs.

Mike Stanton’s turn

The score was 5-0 10 years ago when Joe Torre had seen enough of Pavano and brought in Mike Stanton to pitch.

A-Rod singled and Tino Martinez walked to open the bottom of the fourth. The Yankees had a bit of hope, but Clement got the next three batters out.

Then things started getting historic. Stanton gave up three singles and left in the top of the fifth with the bases loaded and one out.

Let’s try Paul Quantrill

Torre brought in Paul Quantrill to pitch. Quantrill was actually an All-Star in 2000 for Toronto, and won seven games for the Yankees in 2004. But he didn’t fare as well in 2005. Especially on May 28.

Rentería had only 140 career homers, but nine of them were grand slams. One of those came in the fifth inning 10 years ago. The score was 9-0.

I wondered as I was writing this how many hitters could match Rentería’s record of hitting grand slams for 6.4 percent of his career homers. For instance, Big Papi has 472 career homers, but only 11 grand slams, or 2.3 percent. A-Rod holds the grand-slam record at 24, but with 664 career homers, he only has 3.6 percent.

I checked a couple other hitters renowned for hitting with the bases loaded: Robin Ventura at 6.1 percent was pretty close to Rentería (18 grand slams in 294 homers). Pat Tabler was great with the bases loaded but only actually hit two grand slams (4.2 percent of his 47 total homers).

I checked a few others among the grand-slam leaders. Richie Sexson, with 15 grand slams in 306 homers, is at 4.9 percent. Carlos Lee, with 17 grand slams in 358 homers, is at 4.7 percent.

Finally I found a player with a higher percentage of career homers than Rentería: Joe Rudi hit 12 grand slams in 179 career homers, 6.9 percent. I won’t keep checking to see if he has the highest ratio, but clearly Rentería was either an amazing clutch hitter with the bases loaded or very lucky. And better than Quantrill on the day I was watching.

Things didn’t get better for Quantrill. He walked Ortiz and gave up a single to Ramirez. Then Nixon hit a three-run homer (Trot Nixon!). The Yankees were down 12-0. And Torre wasn’t about to change pitchers. Quantrill got through the sixth without further damage, but Jay Payton rocked him for a two-run homer in the seventh, making the score 14-0. The runs on base for Rentería were charged to Stanton, but Quantrill, in less than three innings, gave up three homers that produced nine runs. He was a solo shot short of the homer cycle, if there is such a thing.

I should note here that most of the Yankee fans in the stadium had not waited their whole lives for this game, and they were leaving the stadium in large numbers. By this time, Red Sox fans might have outnumbered the remaining Yankee fans.

In fact, the Red Sox fans felt so bold that several rows above us (but still in the same section, so presumably they were sober), a couple Red Sox fans were escorted from the ballpark by security for urinating on some Yankee fans sitting in front of them. Leading by two touchdowns, the Red Sox fans didn’t fear getting the crap beaten out of them in the Bronx by angry Yankee fans.

You might be wondering why I stayed. Well, I grew up in the age of Yogi Berra, so I’m a believer in it-ain’t-over-till-it’s-over. I didn’t want to miss the biggest comeback in Yankee history. (Spoiler alert: I didn’t.)

In the bottom of the seventh, Bernie Williams broke through for the Yankees, driving home Womack with a single. That would be all for the Yankees.

Buddy Groom mops up

Buddy Groom pitched the last two innings and gave up three more runs in the eighth inning.

The final score was 17-1. It was the worst loss the Yankees had endured in that hallowed park since Ruth built it. And the Red Sox’ 27 hits were the most hits ever by a visiting team there.

The ride back to our hotel on the subway was somewhat boisterous. Most of the Yankee fans had ridden home, probably in silence, much earlier. But we rode home with Red Sox fans, who thought they had won the World Series again. No fights broke out on our subway car, but it was only because of the restraint of the few Yankee fans.

That was my only visit to old Yankee Stadium. Next time I visited, the Yankees were in the new ballpark. I wanted a memorable trip, and I got it.

Source note: Stats for this blog post and details of the game came from Baseball-Reference.com.

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18 10 2015
Other notable Yankee starting pitchers: Al Downing, Don Gullett, Jim Beattie … | Hated Yankees

[…] He won just nine games in three injury-plagued seasons in New York. He started and stank in the worst Yankee game I ever watched (maybe the worst anyone ever […]

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