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Yankees Hammered in Stadium Opener – Aura Not In Attendance

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This is not how the Yankees envisioned christening their new $1.3 billion palace. With anointed “ace” CC Sabathia on the hill and Yankee legend Derek Jeter in the lineup, the Yankee mythos seemed to dictate that New York would achieve victory on this day, much in the same way they did when the original Yankee stadium was opened in 1923, highlighted with a home run by — who else — Babe Ruth.

But the lineage of “The House that Jeter Built” would have a far less auspicious beginning. The events of the day began well. A Yankee — Johnny Damon — suitably recorded the first hit in the Stadium’s young history and stalwart Jorge Posada smashed the first home run, a solo shot in the bottom of the fifth inning. In addition to the offensive firsts, Sabathia (who threw the first pitch in the Stadium’s history) also looked strong, surrendering only one run in his 5 2/3 innings of work, although he was plagued by a bout of wildness that would necessitate (in Girardi’s opinion) an early exit.

But then came the disastrous seventh inning. That was when everyone was reminded that this is not 1923, and the only sign of Babe Ruth’s presence is his plaque that was transplanted into the new monument park. Indians centerfielder Grady Seizmore delivered the crippling blow; a grand slam that was the exclamation point on a nine-run inning (breaking a 1-1 tie) that would prove far too formidable for the Yankees to overcome. It was the first loss after 11 straight wins in home opening games. But then again, it was the first game not played at the original Yankee Stadium since the team’s brief stint at Shea Stadium during the original stadium’s defacing renovations in 1974.

Any pragmatic observer must dismiss concepts like the “ghosts” of Yankee Stadium or the (now broken) “Curse of Babe Ruth” upon the Boston Red Sox. But after watching the Indians offensive explosion in the seventh and a 10-2 score posted on the state-of-the-art, high-def megatron in center field as the inaugural game concluded, one has to wonder if there is some merit to the esoteric descriptions that weave the seemingly divine tapestry comprising the history of the team in the old stadium. When the Yankees left the Polo Grounds after their World Series loss to the Giants in 1922, and promptly won the World Series in 1923 — initiating a reign of dominance that would last the better part of eight decades — they established Yankee Stadium as a setting where baseball history and mythology would be written. One might postulate that, as the team leaves behind the stage upon which its legend was created, it might also have abandoned the last vestiges of the arcane intangibles that gave the Yankees their identity.

Then again, one would be negligent not to remember that the Yankees played the entirety of the 1980s in the old Yankee Stadium — a decade in which they led baseball in wins and yet never made the playoffs. And in that context, one may conclude that it may be a little early to overreact to one loss at the new park; although that structure of logic is not likely to govern the thought processes or reactions of the various periodicals published in New York, namely the New York Post and its notorious back page.

Random Notes: While Sabathia’s stat line for the game doesn’t look bad, he did walk five batters, running his pitch count up to a gaudy 122 when he was pulled in the sixth in a 1-1 tie. For CC to be effective this season, he must regain command and control over his pitches, much like he did midway through last season.

With the oft-injured Xavier Nady back on the DL, the Yankees now have a regular spot for hot-hitting (and pitching?) Nick Swisher. Batting fourth on Opening Day, he
contributed only one hit, but it was a hard, line-drive double. Swisher continues to live up to his potential in terms of power production (see his 35 home runs in 2006 with Oakland) and on-base skills (he posted a .372 OBP in ’06 even though he batted only .254). With Swisher starting, the Yankees will feature three switch hitters with power — a proposition that could be devastating for opposing pitchers.

Robinson Cano also continued his prolific start on Thursday, going 3-for-4 and raising his batting average to .382, with a stellar .447 OBP and a 1.065 OPS. Cano is erasing all remembrance of his slow start last season, and the doubts that sprang up around him because of it.

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