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Start Rooting For The House

June 19, 2008 - John Whittaker

In April, I took the News Gal to her first major league baseball game - a Yankees-Indians game at Jacobs Field.

We went early, hoping to see the Yankees - and Jason Giambi, the News Gal's favorite player - take batting practice. Since the Yanks cancelled batting practice, we had to settle for watching the players warm up on the outfield grass before the game.

Morgan Ensberg came out first, then Shelley Duncan. Eventually, players settled in the outfield grass to run and play long toss, but our eyes were drawn to the outfield. Chien-Ming Wang, that day's starting pitcher for the Yankees, was long tossing with Jorge Posada, the catcher and one of our favorite players. After about 10 minutes, Posada grabbed his gear and walked to the dugout with Tony Pena, the team's first base coach, and was replaced in the outfield a couple of minutes later by Jose Molina.

We weren't sure what was happening, since we thought Posada was starting. After the game, it became clear what happened. Posada told Joe Girardi his shoulder hurt too badly to play, and he was put on the disabled list, missing about a month.

While we were disappointed Posada wasn't in the lineup that day - we wanted to start "Hip, Hip Jorge" chants like they do in the Bronx - the lineup that day is part of what has started to make rooting for the Yankees fun again.

Much to our disappointment, Giambi wasn't in the lineup since Girardi wanted Shelley Duncan, a righthanded bat, in the lineup against C.C. Sabathia. And, Ensberg was the designated hitter. Two of the nine starting hitters that Sunday afternoon are now in Triple A.

On Saturday, the Yankees will start Dan Geise, who has to step into the starting rotation after Wang hurt his foot running the bases in Houston.

Three-fifths of the Opening Day starting rotation is on the disabled list right now. Alex Rodriguez and Posada each missed a month of the season with injuries. Mike Mussina, who had a grilling fork stuck in his back for much of last season, is on pace to win 20 games this year. Giambi is on pace for 30 homeruns and 100 RBI and is tearing the cover off the ball. Johnny Damon is channeling his Captain Caveman days, Derek Jeter is, well, Derek Jeter, and who doesn't love watching Joba Chamberlain pitch.

Bill Simmons once wrote in an column that rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for the house in blackjack. They were always the favorite. They always had the perfect team.

Start rooting for the house.

After 13 years as a favorite - and forget about the payroll here for a minute - the Yankees are a bit of an underdog now. Everyone expects the Red Sox to win the division. Tampa Bay is a nice story, a young and hungry team shaking off 10 years of the franchise's failed attempts to even finish at .500 for a season.

The Yankees, on the other hand, generated this kind of buzz in the preseason:

They're old and slow.

Mussina's over the hill.

Giambi can't hit any more, and they want to play him at first base? He can't play defense.

Damon's past his prime.

They have no pitching.

What about that bullpen?

Who gets the ball to Mariano?

I'll tell you that I enjoy watching Darrell Rasner pitch, weaving his 88 mile an hour fastball and off-speed stuff into quality start after quality start. I've enjoyed watching Mussina and Giambi play like it's 1998. It's been a blast watching Posada, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez be, well, Posada, Jeter and Rodriguez. Girardi has been a breath of fresh air - and I thought Joe Torre was the best manager I've ever seen.

It might be the most fun I've had watching the Yankees since 1995 - when a flawed team clinched a playoff berth on the last day of the season and battled the Seattle Mariners into extra innings in the fifth and deciding game of the division series. That team had holes in its pitching, wasn't loaded with all-stars at every position and kept you on a roller coaster ride the entire season.

This is no knock on the 1996-2001 Yankees. I loved those championship winning teams - the intensity and sweet swing of Paul O'Neill, David Cone's gutty performances, Orlando Hernandez whipping those sidearm sliders in for strike after strike, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams coming up with big hit after big hit, Jeter being Jeter, Andy Pettitte throwing a one-hit shutout in Game 5 in the 1996 World Series, Roger Clemens and his unbelievable postseason run in 2000, Tino Martinez and Scott Brosius hitting big home runs, and role players like Chad Curtis, Charlie Hayes, Cecil Fielder, Chuck Knoblauch, Mariano Duncan, Shane Spencer, Luis Sojo, Joe Girardi and Wade Boggs doing all the little things that needed to be done.

While it was great to watch those teams, winning the World Series was a bit anticlimactic. You almost breathed a sigh of relief after the last out.

The Yankees didn't win a world championship in 1995, but who cares? It was an entertaining season, with a likeable team that I enjoyed watching play.

And, isn't that what sports is all about?


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Blog Photos

Jorge Posada and Tony Pena walk to the Yankees dugout in Cleveland in April 27. Little did the News Gal and I know it was the last time we'd see him on the field for a month.