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VAN DYCK: An opening whiff for Giambi, Yankees

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BALTIMORE

It is the beauty of baseball's Opening Day, the renewal of the nation's vows to its pastime, the hope of its faithful, the regeneration of the generations. It is the thread — almost a lifeline — that strings together childhood and old age. It is a day when boys dream of being the grown men on the field, and the grown men on the field are as nervous as boys. It is a day recreated in backyards with kids as heroes, but also a day of reality for big leaguers who could be heroes. And that brings us to Opening Day 2002, the 100th season for the New York Yankees. And the first game for Jason Giambi, the grownup kid who would be king. "I was thinking," Yankees' manager Joe Torre was saying afterwards, "that it looked like a storybook situation." Yeah, like the Grinch That Stole Opening Day. Giambi left the bases loaded in a fifth-inning, game-tying situation; and, as if that weren't bad enough, stranded two more runners with the game's final out in a 10-3 loss to the Orioles Monday at Camden Yards. On a sun-kissed afternoon, the stars were out of alignment for the man who wanted the spotlight of the big city shining on him. Little boys don't ground out twice with five men on base. Obviously, big boys do. "I was getting a little excited and trying to make something happen," Giambi said. It is the beauty of Opening Day, the unpredictability of the baseball season, of a game. Even the most money ever spent on a baseball team couldn't change what was fated. How do you explain Giambi's failure at $17 million per year? And at the same time justify Tony Batista hitting a home run with the bases loaded with Orioles off $15-million pitcher Roger Clemens? Or Melvin Mora, with a $350,000 salary, clearing the bases with a three-run double off Clemens? It is the beauty of Opening Day, the first one since 1982 that didn't feature Cal Ripken Jr. wearing a Baltimore uniform, the first one with Baltimore and Maryland as the sports capital of the entire nation. The beauty of Opening Day is the Orioles' $41-million team pounding on the big bad $114-million Bronx bullies. They lead the Yankees by one full game in the American League East after finishing a combined 101 games behind them the last four years. All is right in Bud Selig's small-market world today. The team New York loves and the rest of America hates looks more like the Devil Rays than the Yankees, like someone had erased some zeroes from the end of their paychecks. Consider this:
  • Giambi, stolen from Oakland in the off-season for $120 million, left five runners on base and had a consolation single with no one on base.
  • Clemens, the game's highest-paid pitcher and winner of six Cy Youngs, allowed eight runs in 4 1/3 innings, leaving for the hospital with a 16.62 ERA. X-rays on a bruised right hand were negative, but we have no word on the condition of his bruised ego.
  • Steve Karsay, given an overly-generous $22.5 million just to pitch seventh and eighth innings, now owns an 18.00 ERA after allowing two runs in his first Yankee inning. "It was," he said, "just one of those days I didn't pitch well." Uh-huh.
  • Robin Ventura, brought in from the Mets in a winter trade, left four runners on base and was guilty of an error in the Orioles' five-run third inning. "Really," he said, "nothing went right today." Uh-huh.
  • Much-heralded rookie Nick Johnson finished 0-for-3 with two runners stranded. "Obviously, it wasn't pleasant, but it was the first game," said Derek Jeter, who walked twice and hit a two-run homer to help earn his $19 million. He's right, of course. If you like kicking the Yankees, this is the time to do it, because you may not get much more of a chance. This team can't possibly be this bad, not for what it's being paid, not considering it's won three of the last four World Series. And yet part of the beauty of Opening Day is that even the best can look extremely mortal. And that even includes Roger Clemens, who may or may not have an excuse. Clemens, who breezed through the first three innings, was slapped in the meaty part of his right hand by a ground ball in the third inning. After much ado and fretting, Clemens claimed he was fine. The results would indicate otherwise. The next six hitters all reached base. And four more in a row did the same in the fifth inning before he was excused to make a hospital visit. "I think it affected him," Jeter said. "I don't know if he'd tell you that." "The only thing I tried to do is make a few adjustments with my fingertips, the way I held the ball," Clemens told a pool reporter. "I think he's spoiled us all," said Torre, dismissing the injury. "I think he tried to overthrow a little bit." That is downright scary — for the Yankees — if Roger Clemens has no excuse for being average. But even Clemens' Opening Day was not as bad as Giambi's, who came in with such high expectations and came to bat in such high-level situations. I mean, how do you get any better than the bases loaded in your third Yankee at-bat, a chance to tie the game, George Steinbrenner watching, all of his teammates waiting? "You think," Jeter said, "when Jason's coming up he's going to get a hit. When you're on base, you think about [a game-tying home run]." "You're hoping he hits one," Ventura said. "It's not an easy thing, but it would have been pretty nice if he did." "This is what you want," Torre said. "Your big-banger up and no place to put him." In the end, there was no place for him to hide. The only worse scenario would have been if the game were in Yankee Stadium. The frustation was obvious in the fifth-inning failure against an amazingly accurate Scott Erickson. "Any four-letter word would have worked in that situation," said Giambi, who tried a few of them out — in jest — for the media. Giambi said on his first day of spring camp that he would be a stand-up guy after losses. He was, although it sure was different than in Oakland, when his long hair would fall into his eyes and his scruffy beard would hide his disappointment. In the business-like Yankee clubhouse, a clean-shaven, recently-shorn Giambi sure looked like he had left his bliss back by the Bay. When he finally gets to New York, he will discover that he was what he wanted — the center of attention on Opening Day. Only not exactly the way he had planned when he deserted his frat house buddies. But, then, that's another beauty of Opening Day — you have 161 more days to make up for it. We would like to suggest the Yankees and Giambi start soon. Dave Van Dyck can be reached at his email address: dvandyck@foxsports.com.
  • Tagged: Orioles, Yankees, Jason Giambi

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