Monday, July 03, 2006

Yankee Diary #9

by Michael Carlucci

Sunday, June 25

I played real-life baseball today. Well, I played softball in Central Park. For four innings. Then it rained. I did not have a chance to display all my skills (the cannon arm, the opposite field power, the aggressive baserunning), but I did score one of our two runs. I also made a perfect throw to the plate from center field, in plenty of time to get the runner, but the catcher missed it. We were losing by a large number when play was halted.

In any case, the thing I remember most about my day is not softball but my abject terror as I sprinted back to my apartment. I am afraid of lightning. It did not matter that I could, in fact, see no lightning. All the elements were there: summer rain, distant thunder, wind swirling, skies dark and dreary. I knew that lightning could strike at any minute. And then what would I do? Stranded in the middle of Central Park, I knew my only chance was to make my way home. Fast. But then my legs couldn't cooperate anymore, and I suffered the horrible feeling of being terrified and wanting nothing more than to sprint away but also of being paralyzed and unable to cater to my fear. So I walked as fast as I could, knocking down anything in my path, until enough blood flow returned to my legs to allow me to run again, at which time I did run but continued to knock down anything in my path. I could not waste precious seconds altering my straight-line path home to safety.

I have stunned many friends who have seen me in the presence of lightning. I even left my wife in the dust as I sprinted home from Penn Station one time. She had to carry my bag, as it had a metal clip and I knew it would be the end of me if I carried it. I have never been able to give a satisfactory answer to her question, asked repeatedly, why it was OK for her to be struck by lightning. She deserves a lot of credit for putting up with me, that's my answer.

Wednesday, June 28

This is a great day. Home-run machine Scott Proctor (why is Torre still so high on him?) gave up the go-ahead shot in the top of the twelfth, and it seemed we were doomed. But then A-Rod quieted the boos and made my 11 year-old nephew's prediction of a walk-off home run accurate. This is the other side of the ninth-inning disaster against the Marlins last week. I felt some sympathy for Bobby Cox, who angrily threw his hat to the ground in frustration after the ball cleared the wall. Maybe this will buy A-Rod a little patience from silly fans who disapprove of his performance.

Sunday, July 2

We just finished crushing the Mets, and it was particularly amusing because they jumped out to a 4-0 lead and couldn't contain their glee. Carlos Delgado and David Wright had huge smiles when Joe Torre summoned Ron Villone to replace the beleaguered Jaret Wright after only one and two-thirds innings. But they were not smiling at the end of the game.

Did you think that Paul LoDuca's reaction to A-Rod's grand slam was childish? I did. What was the problem? A-Rod's tour of the bases was not preceded by the type of long, admiring look at the magnificent trajectory of the ball that justly irks many opposing players. This was an exciting moment for a maligned player accused of never coming through in precisely these situations. The Yankees had trailed 4-2 at that point, and his homer gave us a lead we never relinquished. Besides, to paraphrase the Met catcher's most expensive battery mate, "Who's Paul LoDuca?" Well, I guess he has a temper, but he's also an undeserving All Star with an OPS of .727. Also, he apparently shaves his eyebrows. I don't know for sure, but if you look carefully there's a womanly shape. In any case, he said something unpleasant to A-Rod as the latter crossed home plate. LoDuca's frustration sums up his team's frustration, and it was fun to watch his petulant display.

Carlos Beltran, the more mobile half of the Mets' clobberin' Carlos couple, hit two meaningless solo home runs, including one in the ninth inning with his team down ten runs. This was an A-Rodesque, stat-padding game if ever there was one. Actually, I don't really believe that. All runs are important. But there is something a little odd about a player thanking a deity (by craning his neck and pointing directly up) for deliverance of the divine home run when such intervention only brings your team within nine runs. Then to wear a smile in the dugout afterward, even while your namesake is striking out, gives the appearance of a player who cares more about stats than about his team. Incidentally, do these players -- who are all copying, I believe, soon-to-be *Home Run Champ's practice -- pray in the same manner? Can you imagine a church full of people worshiping this way? (My apologies to Billy Crystal, who once asked why venerable old ballparks are always called "Cathedrals of Baseball" rather than "Synogogues of Baseball." But if we're talking baseball players, it's a cathedral.) If I were a deity, I would not respond well to some jerk pointing up at me. It's rude to point. I don't think I would allow you to look directly at me either, especially if you were a Met.

Not that I hate the Mets. I really just don't care about them. My sense is that they have a very good team, but that this week's 1-5 performance against two strong American League teams is not a coincidence. They have two terrific pitchers in Glavine and Martinez, three terrific position players in Delgado, Wright and Beltran, and many other good players (including the vastly overrated Jose Reyes, whose current hot streak has temporarily elevated his value). But they do not have any legitmate competition in their division, will coast to the title, and be in great shape for the playoffs. It's just that their team is probably worse than five or six American League teams.

This ends this year's subway series (I don't believe the teams will meet again in the postseason). It was a tie, three games all. The Mets got two of their wins by beating a tired Randy Johnson. Maybe that says something about the Mets. Or Randy Johnson. Or both.

Michael Carlucci's column, "Yankee Diary", appears alternate Mondays

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"I've had a pretty good success facing Stan (Musial) by throwing him my best pitch and backing up third base."
- Carl Erskine