Lost In Translation (Baseball At Four In The Morning)

So this is it, huh? This is how the 2004 season is going to begin?

It’s shortly before 4 a.m. here in Minnesota and I’ve made it through the night without falling asleep. In fact, I haven’t been to sleep in about 20 hours, which should make for an interesting game diary, at the very least. It should get even more interesting when I show up for my 8 a.m. class and pass out, but that’s a story for another day.

This running diary of the Yankees and Devil Rays from Japan – Opening Dawn 2004 – is coming to you LIVE from my closet/elevator shaft/dorm room on the University of Minnesota campus.

I’m joined by no one, because I checked, and there isn’t a single other person awake right now on my entire floor. I do have a half gallon of 1% milk, a bowl, a spoon and a box of Lucky Charms, which, at 4 a.m. in a dorm room, qualifies as a feast.

Here we go…

PRE-GAME:

Okay, so the first game of the baseball season is on at 4 a.m., and yet it’s on ESPN2. They couldn’t have bumped the 1,000 consecutive airings of the exact same SportsCenter from ESPN?

I just heard that the Tokyo Dome was modeled after the Metrodome. Genius. Pure genius.

Here’s New York’s lineup:

SS   Derek Jeter
LF   Hideki Matsui
3B   Alex Rodriguez
1B   Jason Giambi
RF   Gary Sheffield
 C   Jorge Posada
DH   Ruben Sierra
2B   Enrique Wilson
CF   Kenny Lofton

First of all, even without Bernie Williams, that’s a scary lineup. Second, exactly how many double plays is Hideki “Groundball to Second Base” Matsui going to hit into this year batting behind Derek Jeter?

Let’s see…Jeter has a lifetime OBP of .389 and Matsui had a groundball/flyball ratio of 2.17/1 last season and hit into 25 double plays. By my rough calculation, that means Matsui will hit into just under seven million double plays if he stays in the #2 spot.

Here’s Tampa Bay’s lineup:

LF   Carl Crawford
3B   Damian Rolls
CF   Rocco Baldelli
DH   Aubrey Huff
RF   Jose Cruz Jr.
1B   Tino Martinez
SS   Julio Lugo
 C   Tony Hall
2B   Rey Sanchez

Ick.

I’ll say this, ARod in pinstripes still bugs the hell out of me.

I was just informed that it’s 7 p.m. in Tokyo, which…well, frankly doesn’t help me any.

This is kinda funny, you can tell the announcers – Karl Ravech, Harold Reynolds and Peter Gammons – aren’t actually at the game. I don’t have a problem with that, but it’s just funny not ever seeing them on TV during the pre-game stuff.

I didn’t realize I was so used to seeing that shot at the start of the broadcast, with the announcers holding their microphones, smiling and nodding their heads as they each read their little prepared opening statements.

If those three are the announcers for the game, it should be…interesting. I heard Reynolds picked the D-Rays to finish 3rd in the AL East this year which is…well, insane. At a minimum, he should lose his “I comment on baseball for a living” privileges for a week.

Apparently Jon and Joe weren’t willing get up early.

Rudy Giuliani and the Japanese Prime Mininster (I’m not going to attempt to spell his name, Giuliani is hard enough) throwing out the first pitches. Both with reasonably decent throws, which is always nice.

Harold Reynolds just said he thinks “the ball jumps more” in a domed stadium when it is full with people. Someone should study this, if they haven’t already. It would seem to be fairly easy to do, and I’m about 99% sure Reynolds is just talking out of his ass, like he usually is.

Gammons on the Yankees: “They’re going to easily score more than 1,000 runs if they’re even remotely healthy.” That’s a strong statement. The Yankees scored 877 runs last season and only one team has scored 1,000 runs in a season in the last 50 years.

Lots of dead air time so far. Tons of extended shots of guys just standing around, jogging, doing calisthenics, etc. And Ravech, Reynolds and Gammons just fill time. I’ll chalk up Gammons’ 1,000 runs statement to him needing to say something interesting.

Okay, I know this sounds weird, but I wish I could watch the YES Network broadcast.

TOP FIRST:

It’s 4:14 a.m. and the season officially begins, as Victor Zambrano delivers a first pitch fastball to Derek Jeter for a strike over the outside corner.

Wow, weird camera angle. Jeter grounds out to Julio Lugo at shortstop. On most games I watch, everything once the ball is hit is shown from homeplate, looking outward. This game is apparently being shown from the perspective of looking out over the field from the seats along the first base line. It’s very discombobulating (I’ve always wanted to use that word!).

Matsui gets ahead 2-0 and takes a HUGE cut, fouling it straight back to make it 2-1. 3-1 now…Matsui rips a fastball into the gap in right-center for a double. Again, weird camera angle. It’s tough to get a feel for how close to the ball the defenders are, as you just sort of see the ball skipping past them to the wall.

ARod up, wearing lucky #13. All three announcers agree that Zambrano is “overthrowing.” Meanwhile, this is a guy who walked 106 batters in 188.1 innings last year. I’d say he’s just “throwing.”

Ravech: “Rodriguez is a .147 lifetime Opening Day hitter.” This is ARod’s 11th season in the majors and he didn’t begin either of his first two years in the big leagues, meaning Ravech is referring to a sample-size of, at most, nine games. In other words, who cares? Of course, ARod takes a big curve for strike three.

Jason Giambi rips the 1-0 pitch out to DEEP left-center. 2-0 Yanks.

Reynolds: “That was a fly out to left field, but if you get a lot of people in the dome, it flies out.” Gammons, like me, doesn’t appear to be buying it from Harold. Incidentally, Giambi doesn’t really look much smaller to me, despite all these reports of him coming to spring training down a bunch of weight.

Gary Sheffield with a squib single down the third base line. Jorge Posada up now…did I mention how insane this lineup is?

Ravech: “There are no breaks in this lineup.” I know I just got done saying how scary New York’s lineup is, but Ravech, like most announcers are wont to do, takes it a step too far. Ever hear of Enrique Wilson? How about Ruben Sierra?

The announcing is very awkward. Very herky-jerky, with almost no commentary on the actual game. It seems like they are just going down a list of topics to talk about.

Zambrano gets Posada swinging to end the inning.

BOTTOM FIRST:

Carl Crawford drops a decent bunt down on the very first pitch, but Posada throws him out. What a wonderful first at bat of the season from a leadoff hitter…

Wow, Damian Rolls is fast. He hits a weak grounder to Wilson at second base and just barely gets thrown out.

Rocco Baldelli is taking pitches. It must be 4 a.m. 2-2 on Baldelli…Mike Mussina drops a nasty curve for strike three to end the inning.

TOP SECOND:

Here’s a scary thought while I wait for the commercial break to end: I will be sitting in class in exactly three hours and 30 minutes.

Reynolds on Sierra, who is leading off the inning: “He’s been a great player for the Yankees.” Not this at bat though, grounding out to second base. Sierra, in case you’re wondering, hit .276/.323/.437 for New York last year and is a career .263/.325/.418 hitter in pinstripes.

Ravech: “Part of Tampa Bay’s problem in the past…pitching that was suspect, defense that was suspect, offense that couldn’t put runs on the board.” I’d say that’s more than “part” of the problem.

Enrique Wilson flies out to right field, two down.

Kenny Lofton up now…batting 9th, which he apparently isn’t too thrilled about. Gammons: “Ninth is almost first anyway.” Heh, yeah. Tell that to all the National League pitchers.

Lofton doubles down the third base line…wow, he tries for a triple and makes it sliding just ahead of the throw.

Zambrano throws a pitch behind Jeter, but Lofton doesn’t try to score. Zambrano throws one in the dirt, but Toby Hall makes a nice block. Zambrano comes back to whiff Jeter swinging on a 3-2 breaking ball on the outside corner to end the inning.

BOTTOM SECOND:

Aubrey Huff leading off for Tampa Bay. I think there’s a decent shot he’ll be the only guy in the entire lineup with an OBP above league-average. Huff bangs one off the right field wall, but Sheffield plays it well, holding him to a single.

Gammons has now mentioned Tampa Bay prospect Joey Gathright twice in 42 minutes. Both times, he’s been “Joey Gathright, the fastest player in baseball.”

Oops, I forgot about Jose Cruz Jr., who will probably post a decent OBP too. Cruz flies out to deep left field.

Tino Martinez rips a single to right field, which bounces right into Sheffield’s glove on a nice, high bounce. Runners on 1st and 2nd, one out.

Lugo lines one to centerfield, and Huff tags up and goes to third on Lofton’s “arm.” Runners on the corners, two down.

Toby Hall grounds to Jeter for the final out.

TOP THIRD:

You know it’s 4:48 a.m. when you say to yourself, “Hmm…I wonder if I would use a Bowflex if I got one?”

Matsui leads off and weakly grounds out to Zambrano.

Gammons is clearly either asleep or on a bathroom break, because they’re talking about him and he’s not responding. Ravech actually just did a Gammons impression. I hope Peter didn’t fall in.

The one thing I like about the Japanese TV feed is that they seem to focus on the pitcher’s grip/release and the ball’s rotation coming out of his hand, which is cool.

Zambrano strikes ARod out again. Two outs…Giambi up.

Gammons is back! Giambi flies out to short left. 1-2-3 inning.

BOTTOM THIRD:

Wow, baseball is really watering down Opening Day. In addition to this game, they have Opening Night on Sunday, with Boston and Baltimore.

Rey Sanchez leads off and smacks the first pitch into right field for a single.

Oh my, I just heard that John Kruk is going to be joining Harold Reynolds on Baseball Tonight. I don’t know what to say.

Crawford hits a high pop up to Jeter, who catches the ball, stumbles, and then falls right on his ass. Reynolds giggles like a school-girl and then, wouldn’t you know it, gives Jeter credit for “not taking his eye off the ball.”

Rolls up. He grounds between 3B/SS and ARod comes across, cuts it off, and throws to first for the out. Nice play, and nice to see ARod taking a play away from Mr. Clutch. Jeter actually looked kinda shocked that he didn’t get a chance to make (or not make) the play.

Reynolds: “That’s the advantage of having a guy with the range of a shortstop at third base.” As opposed to what they’re used to, a guy with the range of a potted plant playing shortstop.

Baldelli grounds out to the potted plant for the third out.

TOP FOURTH:

Sheffield leading off. I have class in two hours 58 minutes and counting, so I hope they keep up this brisk pace. Sheffield walks on four pitches, none of which were particularly close to traveling over the plate.

Posada pops it up near third base and Rolls makes a nice grab near the railing. Guess what? Rolls kept his eye on the ball and he didn’t fall flat on his ass!

I had just had a mental image of Gammons, Reynolds and Ravech, wearing Hugh Hefner-style pajamas while they sit on a couch, smoking cigars and doing the game. The Giggle Factor is very high, with both Reynolds and Gammons sounding like they’re also smoking something else.

Sierra pops out to Hall in foul ground, two down.

Enrique Wilson has the batting stance and approach of a guy who can actually hit, which is amusing. I think the best way to describe it is that it’s like if Ray Durham decided he wanted to be a bad ass. Wilson lines one to Cruz in right field for out #3.

BOTTOM FOURTH:

The number of hair loss commercials on ESPN2 at 5 a.m. is incredible.

I just got an instant message from someone who said, “2-0.” Here’s a question, if you see me online at 5 a.m. today and you think I’m willing to talk to you via IM, what would make you think I’m not aware of the score of this game? What could I be doing? Watching SportsCenter?

Just saw a commercial ESPN’s horrific morning show, Cold Pizza. They have former Cincinnati GM Jim Bowden and former Montreal outfielder Warren Cromartie on today, apparently. They will also be joined by “baseball superfan Nick Lachey.” I think this is the first time I’ve ever said this, but I’m glad I’ll be in class.

Huff leading off…lines out to Lofton in center.

Lemme ask you this…if Tampa Bay GM Chuck LaMar has done enough to deserve a two-year contract extension, what GM doesn’t deserve one?

Jose Cruz up. I think he’s going to have a good year. I have nothing to base that on, but still. Cruz walks on a 3-1 pitch, bringing Tino up.

I have to say, this is a surreal experience. First, there is like zero crowd noise, because they have the volume way down so you can hear the announcers. Second, the announcers aren’t even game announcers, they’re the studio guys. Third, it’s 5:16 a.m. and I’m to that point where you’re not even tired anymore, but instead just sort of out of it, but still thinking clearly enough to know you should be tired.

Tino walks on a very close 3-2 pitch. Lugo up, 1st and 2nd, one out. Lugo grounds to third base and ARod makes a nice play, charging in and throwing off-balance to first. Giambi also makes a nice scoop.

2nd and 3rd, two down, Toby Hall up…Hall bloops one into center, scoring two runs to make it 2-2. Hall tries to go to second and is gunned down.

TOP FIFTH:

Lofton leads off and drills a liner to right-center…Baldelli runs it down for the out.

Jetes is up…Zambrano goes 3-1…Jeter fouls ball four off his ankle and hops around for a while. Jeter goes fishing on an inside fastball again, fouling it off.

Ravech just speculated that, should Jeter get injured, the Yankees still wouldn’t move ARod to shortstop. Jeter fouls another one off, this time down the right field line. He lines a one-hopper to Lugo at shortstop, who makes the easy throw to first for the out.

Matsui up…shockingly, he hits a ground ball to second base for the third out.

BOTTOM FIFTH:

I just caught myself staring blankly at the TV screen during the commercial. Not good. Did I mention I have class in two hours and 32 minutes? I’ve now been awake for 22 straight hours.

Gammons just said he doesn’t like these games in Japan. I agree, and wonder exactly why they don’t just make them exhibition games? I could be wrong, but I don’t get the sense that the fans in Japan care that much more that it’s a regular season game.

So far today, I’ve heard Harold Reynolds begin a sentence with “I’m speaking from the fan’s perspective” and “I’m speaking from the player’s perspective.” Harold Reynolds, a man of the people…all the people.

Rey Sanchez singles to right field leading off the inning.

Ravech: “Very dangerous Carl Crawford up now.” Very dangerous in what way? Is he violent? Cause it’s definitely nothing to do with hitting a baseball. Crawford misses a bunt and Posada nearly picks Sanchez off first base. Another bunt attempt, this time he pops it up behind Posada. Crawford takes the 0-2 pitch for a ball and then swings over a ball in the dirt for strike three.

Man on 1st, one out. Rolls up…Rolls hits a hard liner down the third base line. ARod makes a great play on it and does a jump throw to second base that just barely misses getting Sanchez, who was running from first on the play. If he wasn’t off and running, that would’ve been a helluva play.

1st and 2nd, one out. Baldelli up. You know, if not for Eric Chavez, I wouldn’t be shocked to see ARod win the GG at third base this year. He looks extremely smooth there so far (and yeah, I know, it’s only one game).

Gammons now commenting on Mussina’s “feel” for his pitches today. To quote Hawk Harrelson: “I love it when you analyze.”

Baldelli hits the 2-2 pitch to fairly deep center for out #2. 1st and 3rd now, two outs, Huff up.

This is the guy the D-Rays want at the plate…he takes a fastball for strike one. Posada goes to the mound to talk to Mussina.

Huff crushes yet another one to right field, but Sheffield is right there to snatch it about five feet from the wall.

TOP SIXTH:

Uh oh, now I’m starting to do the huge yawns.

Another commercial for a special “baseball edition” of Cold Pizza. Imagine, a show on ESPN that needs to say it’s a “special edition” when it deals with baseball.

ARod up…Zambrano comes up and in.. 2-1…ARod slices a double down the right field line, just barely staying in fair territory. Tampa Bay may wanna get that bullpen in motion.

Reynolds said ARod has gained weight and, in his opinion, couldn’t even play shortstop now. Right. ARod could suddenly have an obese Siamese twin surgically attached to him and I’d play him there over Jeter.

Giambi up…taps the 3-2 pitch back to Zambrano, and doesn’t move ARod to third.

Ravech to Reynolds: “What are Zambrano’s responsibilities this year, as the ace of this staff?” Uh, yeah…as if he is going to pitch and act differently as the “ace” of a horrible pitching staff.

I love Peter Gammons, but this 3-man booth is making me long for the days of Joe Morgan.

Sheffield with a check-swing double down the right field line on an 0-2 excuse-me swing. Total luck and it’s 3-2 Yanks. The ball landed in almost exactly the same spot as ARod’s double.

Lance Carter warming up for Tampa Bay.

Reynolds: “People say that stuff even out…it don’t even out.” It don’t, indeed.

Posada grounds to second, moving Sheffield to third with two outs. Sierra up…

Sierra with a broken bat looper into shallow center…Lugo makes a great sliding catch with his back to the infield to save another run and end the inning.

BOTTOM SIXTH:

I’ve seen the Tom Emanski video commercial three times in less than two hours!

Reynolds: “You’ve got to keep your eye on the ball the whole time here.” Yeah, we got it Harold, thanks.

Mussina stays out there, facing Cruz. Cruz drills a hanging breaking ball to DEEP right field, tying it at three. I’m saying it right now, if this goes extras, I’m skipping class. Yeah Mom, you heard me!

Tino up now…Tino sneaks a ground ball down the RF line for a double. 76 pitches for Mussina and the Yankee bullpen is starting to move. Heredia and Quantrill warming.

Lugo up…Mussina goes 2-0 and Posada goes out to talk to him again. I’d guess this is his last hitter. He’s running on fumes at this point (sort of like me).

Reynolds: “Lugo’s job is to move the runner over here.” Lugo lines one to left-center that drops in right next to Lofton for a double, scoring Tino. 4-3 Tampa Bay. Yeah, he moved him over alright, two whole bases!

Big mound meeting with all the infielders and Mel Stottlemyre. They leave Mussina in the game.

Reynolds: “He’s obviously trying to get the work in, with the pitch count. He has to go seven innings or 90 pitches.” Insert your own comment.

Hall doubles down the LF line, scoring Lugo. 5-3 Tampa Bay.

Gammons says, “I believe Torre will come out to get him now,” as the camera flashes to the mound, where Joe Torre is standing.

Another Cold Pizza promo, this one with Darryl Dawkins. The subject of the interview with him is “athletes playing overseas” and Dawkins looks at the camera, points, and says, “The best thing about playing in Italy…the food…YUP!” Again, I’ve got nothing, but I’m sure you can think of a sarcastic comment of your own that’ll work here.

Sanchez makes a quick first out against Quantrill, who replaces Mussina. Crawford also hacking, grounds out to first. Still a runner at second. Two marvelous at bats with a RISP and a 2-run lead.

Rolls, also first pitch swinging, grounds out to shortstop. Nice. By the way, about 10 minutes ago, Reynolds said about Piniella: “You know he’s gonna have them having good at bats.” Indeed.

TOP SEVENTH:

Sadly, after the fast start, we are now dangerously close to running over my allotted time for watching the game. I have to leave for class in an hour and 35 minutes.

“All-Star” Lance Carter in the game, facing Enrique Wilson. Wilson lines it down the RF line, but Tino snares it for the first out. Lofton pops out to 3B for out #2.

Well, Mr. Clutch needs a hit here. Jeter gets behind 0-2 right away, but takes three fairly enticing pitches to draw it full. He grounds out to second to end the inning.

BOTTOM SEVENTH:

Recent IM from an un-named person: “Hey jackass, bring me some breakfast if you’re up…”

Baldelli bunts down the 3B line and ARod and Quantrill bump into each other making the play. Baldelli just beats the throw from Quantrill. Now Quantrill is grabbing his leg…he’s leaving the game.

All I have to say is that ARod wouldn’t be injuring pitchers if he was playing shortstop.

NY Post headline tomorrow: ARod Takes Out Quantrill

NY Post headline next week: Yankees deal for Gagne, Dotel

Felix Heredia comes in, tries to pick Baldelli off of first and throws the ball away. Baldelli motors around all the way to 3B. It wasn’t even a good pickoff move. Should be an error on Jason Giambi, cause the throw was okay.

Huff once again drills the ball, this time for a single into right-center, scoring Baldelli. 6-3 Tampa Bay.

Cruz belts one to deep center, but Lofton runs it down near the warning track. Runner on 1st, one out. Tino up…absolutely murders a 3-1 pitch, sending it deep into the seats in right-center. 8-3 D-Rays.

“George is gettin’ upset!”

Lugo grounds out to Jeter, two down. Hall singles into LF, past ARod, but Sanchez ends the inning with a tapper back to Heredia.

TOP EIGHTH:

An hour and 10 minutes til class and it looks like only nine total outs left in the game…I think I’ll make it. Of course, I’m now yawning, squinting, and suddenly have a headache.

Matsui leading off….pops out to third.

Heh, my alarm just went off!

ARod makes an out and is now 1-4 with a double. Two down in the inning, Giambi up…Giambi drills a ball off the wall in CF. Baldelli almost ran it down, but ended up crashing into the wall as it bounced off.

Reynolds: “This whole steroid thing has been blown so far out of proportion.”

Sheffield walks, putting men on 1st and 2nd. Ravech: “How can you say now it is blown out of proportion?”

Reynolds: “It was only five percent of the players. You can go anywhere in America to a health club to make yourself bigger, stronger, faster.”

Reason #5,301,495 why I don’t pay attention to any of this steroids stuff.

Carter gets Posada swinging on a slider to end the inning.

BOTTOM EIGHTH:

Crawford up…the only guy without a hit for Tampa Bay. Crawford makes it 0-5, and Reynolds make it three Joey Gathright references in two hours and 39 minutes.

Rolls drills one over Matsui’s head in LF that bounces off the wall. He slides into 2B for a double. 15 hits now for the D-Rays. Baldelli up…

I wish I had been keeping track of this, but I would guess I’ve heard “This game counts in the standings” a minimum of 20 times.

Gammons just mentioned that, with the break after this 2-game stint, someone who is 0-8 or 0-10 (like Crawford) will have to sit on it for a while. Along those same lines, do you realize the Devil Rays will be, at worst, tied for first place for like a week?!

Baldelli walks…amazing. Huff up…

Reynolds: “To me, the sign of a great hitter is how hard they make contact when they swing.” Huff doesn’t swing at all, striking out looking for the second out.

Cruz up…I’ll say this, the D-Rays are first-pitch hackin’ and they have eight runs, so I can’t exactly fault them today.

Stottlemyre goes out to talk to Felix Heredia. 2-2 to Cruz…Cruz lines it to Sheffield in RF.

TOP NINTH:

Danys Baez in for the non-save, facing Sierra to start the inning. Sierra swings though strike three for out #1.

I just caught Reginald Martinez Jackson yawning on the Yankee bench. I feel ya Reggie.

Wilson up now…lines one to Crawford in LF for out #2.

Kenny Lofton up…Lofton pretends he’s leading off and walks on a 3-2 pitch. Now Jeter can make the last out…grounder to Rolls at 3B and the game is over.

Devil Rays 8, Yankees 3

Goodnight folks! Gotta get to class…

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