New players drilled on ancient rivalry
Old friends Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon chat before last night's game. (AP Photo)
TAMPA -- In the top of the seventh inning, a bending Mike Myers offering plunked J.T. Snow in the upper arm. In the bottom of the seventh, a David Riske splitter found Derek Jeter's back. In the top of the eighth, the first ball to leave Tanyon Sturtze's hand shot into Mike Lowell's backside. And there was home plate umpire Wally Bell, walking toward the mound, pointing to each dugout, a warning issued.
''I thought it was a joke," said Riske, who surrendered a two-run game-deciding homer in the seventh to Luis Garcia. ''I hit him with a split. If I'm going to hit someone it's going to be with a fastball."
Some initiation for the newest members of the Red Sox, in the only meeting with the Yankees this spring, an affair that ended 5-4, Yankees, before a satisfied 10,334 at Legends Field.
''Actually," Sox manager Terry Francona said, when asked what he made of the parade of hit batsmen, ''I wasn't too pleased about it. Derek got hit with a split. We knew it, they knew it."
Sturtze, approached by reporters, said, ''I don't care about what they get upset about. They can get upset about whatever. I was trying to come in with a fastball . . . and it just got away. I'm struggling with my location and just missed."
Diplomatic Yankees manager Joe Torre shook his head and said, ''We're still trying to get in shape . . . spring training."
The good news: No one was injured. Snow, hit with the slowest of the three pitches, said, ''Hit me on the triceps. I'm fine." Lowell said he got it ''on my fat. Right on my [rear]. I don't make anything of it. He's just protecting Jeter. They thought we hit him. Not a big deal. Sorry I don't have anything juicy for you."
Still, it was a juicy night, a nice table setter for the May 1 visit the Yankees make to Fenway in what will be Johnny Damon's initial return as a Yankee. Damon hit leadoff last night and was followed in an insanely thick lineup by Jeter, Hideki Matsui, Gary Sheffield, Alex Rodriguez, and Jason Giambi.
''It's nice," Torre said, when asked before the game about Damon's presence atop that lineup against the Sox. ''Nice, and strange."
It was undeniably odd, to see Damon leading off and going 1 for 4, grounding out, singling, and striking out twice -- looking at a Jonathan Papelbon slider and swinging at a diving Mike Timlin pitch with two men in scoring position and two outs in the sixth inning of a END tie game.
However, Damon galloping around in pinstripes wasn't the most bizarre scene of the evening. That involved Manny Ramírez, who, a day after delaying a game to look for his helmet, which was in its rightful place in the dugout all along, left his jersey behind in Fort Myers, leading the savant slugger to go to bat wearing No. 95, with no name across the back. Ramírez's sandlot style underscored the relative lack of importance many players, Damon included, placed on last night's proceedings.
''It's an exhibition game," Damon said. ''I'm gone now. It's not big news anymore. It's time to play baseball."
Damon did little to demonize the Sox last night, answering a question about the club's extreme makeover by saying, ''I can't really speak for them. Unfortunately, guys are in different places."
He failed to duplicate the raw honesty he showed a New York reporter the day Bronson Arroyo was shipped to Cincinnati for Wily Mo Peña, when Damon said, ''They have their plans, and they have their computers, and they believe that's right. Unfortunately, computers don't judge a person's heart."
Peña, by the way, stood up to be counted last night. After striking out -- and sending his bat into the stands in the process -- in the second inning, the 24-year-old launched a two-run, tying homer in the fourth. Shawn Chacón hung a breaking ball and Peña's body, not expecting the offspeed pitch, arched awkwardly, much like the pitch. Still, he showed that pure muscle can negate bad balance, sending the pitch whizzing over the 318-foot sign in left.
''Holy cow," said Papelbon, who gave up two runs on five hits in five innings. ''That was a leaner, wasn't it? That's a strong man right there."
Damon, on the topic of Arroyo, said, ''I talked to him the day before it happened. He was actually excited about working in the bullpen and helping out the team. Then again, there's something else he had no control over."
That encapsulated Damon last night; with each difficult question, he appeared poised to respond the way he wanted, before check-swinging with his answer. Another example: He was told that many of his comments this spring seem to convey a degree of anger and/or bitterness, and was asked if that's a fair read.
He grimaced before answering and said, ''No. I'm not angry. I'm happy. They wanted to move on, and I have moved on. I wish them luck. Things happen all the time. Change happens.
''I thought this was the place for me. A place that had a GM, had a bit more stability, that could actually help me out in the long run with winning a title and hitting a few more home runs.
''I definitely feel a part of this team. They came to me with open arms. All the players [on the Yankees] knew how important it was to call me and get me over here. They knew how important I can be in the clubhouse, just the mood. There really hasn't been an unhappy day for me."
The reports on Damon, who is hitting .500 (6 for 12), are all good thus far, except for the medical reports. He was the Yankees' designated hitter last night as he continues to nurse his left shoulder, which began hurting him when he made a series of long throws at the World Baseball Classic. That prompted a visit to Dr. Lewis Yocum. The diagnosis: tendinitis. That would be the same shoulder Damon hurt last September, when he slid awkwardly into second base and hit just .271 (26 for 96) with five extra-base hits and 6 RBIs over the closing 24 games, the three-game Division Series vs. the White Sox included.
''I'm not too concerned," Damon said. ''It was a temporary setback for me. I'll be ready come Opening Day. I'll be ready every day. We do have some good trainers here who are going to make sure they can get me on the field, like they did in Boston.
''I went out and played hurt, played when most guys can't. And I plan to do the same thing here."