Good Sport

by Michael O. Allen on June 6, 2008

Jason Giambi was mobbed by teammates after reaching home. “This is what you dream about as a kid,” he said, “especially in Yankee Stadium.” (Photo by Barton Silverman/ The New York Times)

Giambi’s Home Run Is a Pain Reliever By JOE LAPOINTE, June 6, 2008

After Jason Giambi’s titanic home run landed in the third deck to give the Yankees a 9-8 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday afternoon at Yankee Stadium, he hopped, skipped and jumped around the bases, ignoring the pain in his sore left foot that had kept him out of the starting lineup for two games.

“I didn’t feel anything,” Giambi said. “It hurts now.” He was standing in the clubhouse, his feet bare, his left foot bandaged after having been hit by a pitch two days before.

His two-run shot — as a pinch-hitter on an 0-2 count, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning against closer B. J. Ryan — gave the Yankees two consecutive victories and a .500 record again (30-30) in one of their most dramatic finishes of the season.

Although the ending was memorable, it was witnessed by less than half of the 53,571 fans who were there earlier. Many of them might have left because of the game’s length: 3 hours 53 minutes. But they should know that the fourth hour of a Yankees game is sometimes the most interesting.

Until then, they could have been discouraged by the Yankees’ mistakes, which included a dropped fly ball by Melky Cabrera that negated a possible inning-ending double play and fueled Toronto’s five-run rally in the fifth. Some might have been annoyed by Robinson Canó’s failure to bunt in the eighth inning.

They could have been troubled by another substandard start from Chien-Ming Wang, who remained 6-2 but has not won a game since May 2. And some of those who remained booed Kyle Farnsworth (1-2), who gave up a run in the ninth when the Blue Jays stretched their lead to 8-6.

But those who remained saw a two-out rally of the type that used to be known as “5 o’clock lightning,” when baseball was always a daytime sport and the Yankees were known as Murderers’ Row.

After Hideki Matsui drove in a run with a single to cut the lead to 8-7, Giambi fell behind on two good sliders, then swung at another that he said was not so good. He made contact at 5:01 p.m., and the ball arched high and deep into an overcast sky, near the foul pole in right field.

The stadium echoed first with gasps, then shrieks and, finally, a thunder of cheers as the ball landed among the blue seats, about 10 rows back.

“I was just talking it fair: ‘Don’t hook! Don’t hook!’ ” Giambi said. “It straightened out.”

It was rush hour, and his teammates sprinted out of the dugout to mob him at home plate.

“This is what you dream about as a kid,” Giambi said, “especially in Yankee Stadium.”

Giambi said Manager Joe Girardi had come to him and asked him, “Are you able to hit?” and Giambi replied: “As long as I don’t really have to run, I’ll be all right. I can give you an at-bat. Give me a shot. I’ll go.”

Before that, the game offered a series of highlights embedded among long minutes of tedium. One of the best moments came in the eighth when Johnny Damon, who went 2 for 3 to raise his average to .315, belted a ball to deep right-center with two on and the Blue Jays ahead by one run.

Right fielder Brad Wilkerson, who had entered as a defensive replacement, tracked the ball, leapt and speared it before bumping into the wall. Wilkerson and Damon are friends.

“Great play,” said Damon, who smiled after the catch and later acknowledged making an off-color remark to Wilkerson.

Earlier, Damon had scored by tagging from third base on a foul pop fly to second baseman Joe Inglett. The throw beat Damon, but catcher Rod Barajas could not handle the throw. That run cut Toronto’s lead to 7-4.

“If I had to do it over again, I probably would second-guess myself,” Damon said. Like Giambi, Damon is growing a mustache. “His ’stache is looking good,” Damon said. “Whatever it takes.”

Giambi’s hit took the onus off Cabrera, who let a line drive by Alex Rios bounce off his glove in the fifth with two on and the score 2-2. Cabrera said after the game that the drive “knuckled” on him, but had he caught it, he could have doubled Inglett off second.

Instead, the Blue Jays took the lead and Wang failed to finish the inning after giving up six earned runs, five hits and four walks. Wang discussed his recent problems and some advice he received from Jorge Posada, who played his first game since he went on the disabled list April 28 with a shoulder injury that will require surgery in the off-season.

“Posada told me that my arm slot dropped low,” said Wang, who acknowledged that he was “confused” by his struggles.

Posada had one hit and one walk in four plate appearances. He threw once to second base in an unsuccessful try to stop a steal but said he felt no pain.

Another key hit for the Yankees was a two-run homer in the sixth by Wilson Betemit against Jesse Carlson to cut the Blue Jays’ lead to 7-6. It was Betemit’s second home run in two nights and third of the season.

The finish overcame a five-R.B.I. explosion by Toronto’s Matt Stairs, whose two-run homer in the fourth inning hit the top of the fence in right field and bounced over.

It came about two hours before Giambi’s blast and landed two decks below it. Although both counted the same, Giambi’s proved decisive in a game that left the Yankees smiling, a little sheepishly.

“We didn’t play well,” Giambi said. “We got away with one.”

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