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April 4, 2005

Opening a Can of Whup-Ass
by Larry Mahnken

Opening Day is never a must-win. It's never a crucial game. It's never a particularly important game. Ever.

But sometimes it means a little more than others. The final four games of the ALCS last year were the most excruciating, humiliating games I've ever had the horror to witness as a fan, and they've stewed for the past five months. I'm sure the Yankees have been eager to move past it too, and they needed a win to start that process.

Maybe the Red Sox were still riding a little too high from their championship offseason, and maybe the Yankees came out more determined than in years past. However it happened, last night was perfect.

For the first time in a long while, the Yankees have best pitcher in baseball, and a better pitcher than anyone the Red Sox can throw out. Randy Johnson't isn't just that, he's a pitcher who plays right into Boston's weaknesses, limiting the effectiveness (or outright usage) of David Ortiz and Trot Nixon, throwing strikes and keeping his walks low, and giving up few home runs. Boston's lineup is good enough to get to him, and at some point this season probably will get to him to some degree, but they'll always go into the games he starts as the underdog. Seeing Johnson against the Red Sox tonight was a great feeling. I didn't expect Boston to score runs, I was surprised when they even got on base. He pitched quite well, but it seemed like he wasn't sharp, the expectations are that high.

And Tanyon Sturtze followed him with a perfect relief outing, raising hopes that maybe the last month of 2004 was real, and that he's a useful reliever.

Derek Jeter started off with a couple of hits, Jason Giambi ripped a single and took a couple of plugs to get on base, and got a standing ovation to start the game (whoulda thunkit?). Hideki Matsui ripped the ball, hit his first homer of the year to seal the win, and stole a homer from Kevin Millar in the second to set the tone. Tino came back, made a great play at first, and gave me a warm fuzzy feeling inside, almost like it was the late 90's again. A-Rod got a hit with a runner at second (though he also made out three times). Sheffield ripped an RBI double. Even Womack was good.

And the Yankees won going away, 9-2.

I've been critical of the way the Yankees built this team, and I will continue to be so. One game is just one game. Bad players have good games, it doesn't mean they're suddenly good. Joe Torre made a foolish move batting Sierra cleanup, and he went 0-3 against Wells (who was giving up hits to almost everyone else). Bernie looked terrible, and didn't do anything but hit a sac fly and walk. It's bad enough that he can't field, if he can't hit either, then the Yankees look even more foolish for passing on Beltran.

They'll probably lose one of the next two games, they might even lose them both. This win doesn't mean they'll win the division, or the Wild Card, or the World Series. It doesn't mean they'll be able to handle the Red Sox any better than last year. It doesn't mean there'll be less taunting and booing at Fenway next week, and it doesn't mean that they've made the right moves.

But everything that could be accomplished on Opening Day was. They won, they won decisively. They put on a good show, they made us happy. Oh man, am I glad baseball's back.