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April 14, 2005

Birthday Surprise
by Larry Mahnken

At 8:04 in the morning of April 13th, 1977, in a hospital in Bay Shore, New York, I entered this world.

About 16 hours later, 26-year-old Ron Guidry won his first major league game in relief of Ed Figueroa. It was the team's first win since an Opening Day victory six days earlier, and their last for seven more days, but despite this poor 2-8 start, the team was on it's way to a 100-win season and their first World Championship in 15 years.

Since I was born, the Yankees have gone 2484-1926 (a .563 Pct., or 91-win pace), they’ve won 12 division titles, made the playoffs 14 times, won nine pennants and six World Championships. And they’ve gone 16-10 on my birthday, which is an even better winning percentage.

Now I’ve been a Yankees fan for as long as I can remember, but I didn’t become a hardcore, watch or listen to every game, thrill over every victory/agonize over every defeat kind of fan until May 27th, 1991, when Mel Hall hit a 3-run home run off of Jeff Reardon to beat the Red Sox 6-5 (after trailing 5-0). Since that day, the team has gone 1258-907 (.581, 94-win pace), but frustratingly, only 4-6 on my birthdays heading into last night’s game.

They hadn’t played the Red Sox on my birthday until 2001. In that game the Yankees had been shut down by Paxton Crawford and Boston’s middle relief, and had relied on strong performances by Orlando Hernandez, Ramiro Mendoza and Mike Stanton to get the game to the ninth tied at 1. In the ninth they put a run across on Derek Lowe, and in came Mariano Rivera to close it in the bottom of the inning.

But he couldn’t get the job done, and a Manny Ramirez base hit won the game for Boston 3-2, which totally ruined my birthday.

A year later they met again in a faceoff between David Wells and Pedro Martinez. The Yankees scored four off of Pedro in the first inning, and were holding onto a 6-3 lead in the eighth, when Wells started to lose it, and Mariano Rivera came in and gave up a game-winning, 2-run homer to Shea Hillenbrand, and the Sox won again, 7-6. Another birthday ruined, this time exacerbated by the fact that I had to watch it with my Sox-fan friend and roommate.

So two Yankees/Sox games on my birthday, two Yankee losses, and with Curt Schilling facing Jaret Wright this time around, the prospects of that trend reversing itself wasn’t promising. The relocation of Tony Womack to the leadoff spot didn’t help that impression.

Of course there are no sure things in baseball, and some good luck kept the Yankees in the game early while Wright was struggling and Schilling was dealing. A close play at first in the third held the Red Sox to one run after they’d loaded the bases with one out, and in the fifth inning the Yankees were able to push across a couple of runs. Trot Nixon immediately tied it with a homer in the bottom of the inning, but the Yankees responded in the top of the sixth with homers by Jason Giambi and Bernie Williams off a tired Schilling.

From there on the Yankees were in control, Tanyon Sturtze and Tom Gordon shut Boston down through the eighth, and Rivera came in to a standing ovation from the Fenway crowd, and pitched an effective ninth for his second save and the Yankees’ fourth win.

It was a good win and a strong showing from a team that’s been struggling, but I’m still just as concerned about them as I was 24 hours ago. I’m still worried about Bernie, I’m concerned that Womack was stuck at the top of the order, and I’m sickened by their defense. Wright didn’t inspire any confidence with his 4-walk performance, where he threw 49 strikes and 48 balls. Rivera got the job done but wasn’t at his best (half his pitches were out of the strike zone again).

So while beating the Sox always feels good, and they got an unexpected win they really needed right now, it doesn’t cure all ailments. But at least I got a nice present, the first Yankees win on my birthday since 2000.