Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Perfect (Almost) Opener

This was a day we've been waiting for since early November, when the Yankees captured World Championship No. 27.

When it comes to celebrating accomplishments and history, there is no team in sports that come close to matching the Yankees. The pomp, the circumstance, the celebration of the past, no one can compare --no matter how hard the Red Sox try.

And Tuesday was no disappointment.

Associated Press
From the banners from the previous 26 championship ringing around Yankee Stadium, to the flag raising of No. 27 and the ring ceremony, and all the way to Mariano Rivera recording the final out to save a 7-5 victory over the Angels, it was just a perfect (almost) home opener.

Associated Press
The day began with the team welcoming back two people. One was trainer Gene Monahan, who has been away from the team as he battles cancer.

Until you actually see it for yourself, it is hard to emphasize just how important trainers are to the athletes and a team's success.

These are the people who help the players get through every bump and bruise and injury that would render a normal human to the couch, curled up in pain. Monahan has been with the Yankees since the days of Mickey Mantle, and the fans at the Stadium did a terrific job of recognizing just how important Monahan has been and continues to be to this team.

The other big moment was the return of Hideki Matsui, the World Series MVP. In an era when the Yankees made bad signing after bad signing, Matsui stands alone as one that Brian Cashman and the front office got 100 percent right.

Matsui wasn't just a great Yankee, he was a perfect Yankee. Since signing before the 2003 season, Matsui gave us everything he had and had a knack for coming up with big hits and bigger homers. We never got the sense that he took even as much as one pitch off. It was as if he was born to wear pinstripes.

So it was great that Matsui not only received a wonderful ovation from the fans, his former teammates came out to hug him as he received his World Series ring.

Associated Press
The things is, as wonderful as the flag raising, ring ceremony and returns of Yankee dignitaries such as Bernie Williams, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford was, it was also the epilogue to last season. The final word.

There was a game to be played and once the ceremony ended, it was time for the Yankees to fully place their focus on this season and the Quest for 28.

And Andy Pettitte made sure the Yankees got the kind of start they needed to get the victory. Pettitte put together a second consecutive strong start, pitching six, beautiful shutout innings, striking out six, walking three and allowing five hits. He threw 59 of 100 pitches for strikes and is looking like a guy who shouldn't be considering retirement.

And when a starter gives that kind of effort, well, is there any doubt the Yankees will get the win? Not with this offense.

Nick Johnson got things started with a homer in the first. Derek Jeter made it 3-0 with a homer in the third and an RBI single in the fourth, and Alex Rodriguez sent the Yankees well on their way to the win with a two-run single in the sixth.

Everything seemed perfect ... and then Joe Girardi went to Chan No! Park, who labored through two innings, throwing 36 pitches and allowing Kendry Morales' two-out homer in the eighth to spoil the shutout.

Unfortunately, David Robertson was even worse in the ninth, allowing three straight singles to start the inning before giving up a one-out grand slam to Bobby Abreu. But with Rivera ready to go in the bullpen, the win would not escape the Yankees' grasp.

And while the last two innings left a little bit of a bitter taste, it could not spoil the day.

It was, after all, a perfect (almost) opener.

Up Next
Today vs. Angels, 1:05 p.m., YES, MLB

Joel Pineiro (0-1, 4.50) vs. Javier Vazquez (0-1, 12.71)
Vazquez was disastrous in his first start of the year against the Rays and needs to rebound with a strong outing today. Yankees fans have not forgotten his first stint with the team and will let him know about it if he doesn't pitch well today.

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