THE YANKS’ SALVAGE JOB
Who would’ve thought the old men had so much blood in them? The doddering Yankees were nearly dethroned last weekend by the Red Sox, with Manny Ramirez (rocking a natty knickerbockers-and-spats look) playing Lady Macbeth to Pedro‘s dominating highness. But regime change rarely comes easy, and despite being outscored 21-6, New York still emerged from the series as kings of the AL East—thanks to the unlikeliest of heroes, David Wells.
After Boston barreled into town to win the first two games, it was down to Wells to save the Yanks. (In a sign of utter desperation, the injured Derek Jeter was even allowed to play.) To “the biggest challenge of the year,” as Joe Torre accurately dubbed it, Boomer brought baggage old (he recently dissed Torre and coach Mel Stottlemyre on the radio for criticizing his lazy ass, then gave Stottlemyre the silent treatment for a week), baggage new (it was reported Saturday that he’d rather pitch for the Padres—the Padres!—than the Boss next year), and zero victories since July 19. Yet the slovenly southpaw somehow slew the Sox for 7 1/3 innings. (Curiously, Sunday marked the anniversary of both the 1978 “Boston Massacre” and the 2002 Boomer Massacre—that diner fight with Rocco Graziosa, whom Wells is now suing, we regret to note.)
Like Britney Spears after an NFL-concert flop, the Red Sox may be down, but they’re not yet out. As scruffy first baseman Kevin Millar says of Boston’s league-leading offense, “Teams know. Teams are scared.” Virtuoso bunter Johnny Damon (this year’s David Eckstein) and slugger David Ortiz add depth through the order, while run-of-the-millers Millar and Bill Mueller have blossomed into dangerous hitters. For the first time in ages, the Yanks might not make it to October—which gives New Yorkers a reason, for the first time in ages, to watch them play in September. —J.Y. Yeh
BÉISBOL LIKE IT OUGHT TO BE
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico—The Montreal Expos’ Puerto Rico experiment is coming to a close, and the results look promising. In 16 games so far, the Expos have averaged 14,219 in a stadium that holds 18,000. The stadium was sold out for the two games the Voice saw in June, due in part to the presence of local hero Juan Gonzalez, who was playing for the visiting Texas Rangers.
The fans at Hiram Bithorn Stadium (named for the first Puerto Rican major leaguer) are exuberant and baseball savvy, and the ballpark environment is mercifully short on the relentless audio and visual assault that we’ve come to expect in the U.S.: the entreaties to clap your hands like mindless idiots, the giant TV set in center field in case we have a few accidental moments of mental quiet, the incessant musical noodling so ingrained in major league ballparks that you don’t notice it until it’s not there.
In this respect, the whole scene is like minor league baseball, but even more endearing. A cheerleading squad performed during the games the Voice saw, but it was chaste and so dorky that it was touching.
There’s been no shortage of ink spilled about the nature of baseball’s rustic charms, but they don’t really exist anymore in any meaningful sense in the majors, and all of those tiresome new yesteryear stadiums will not bring that feeling back. It is in the small details of the Hiram Bithorn where this charm actually exists, and MLB officials will undoubtedly fuck it up if they bring the team back to San Juan for an increased slate of games next year, an issue that’s yet to be decided. There are plans for a renovation that would increase capacity to 40,000. No doubt this will include the JumboTron, baseball’s harbinger of doom. —Sinclair Rankin
MONTREAL: GOING, GOING, ALMOST GONE
MONTREAL—It’s unclear what MLB will do with the Montreal Expos, but there’s a good chance that this is their last season in the Quebec metropolis. There are only six games left in Olympic Stadium this year, and maybe forever.
You can still bid the team adieu (or, optimistically, au revoir) in person. Getting there is easy via a 380-mile car or bus drive along good highways, a scenic train ride, or a quick flight from New York. The Mets play there September 12 through 14, and the Braves ring down the curtain September 15 through 17.
Baseball or no baseball, Montreal is one of the finest cities on the continent, with superb food, abundant historic architecture, and walkable streets. Stade Olympique is the biggest, most expensive, and most unusual ballpark ever built, with a spectacular 556-foot-high tilted observation tower. A 1990s remodeling made it more baseball-friendly inside, and game tickets are a bargain, ranging from less than $6 to $25 American. Besides, the scrappy, low-payroll Expos swept the Giants in a four-game series last month, and are still in the hunt for a wild-card berth, with players such as Vladimir Guerrero, Jose Vidro, Orlando Cabrera, Livan Hernandez, and Javier Vazquez having fine seasons. The city has a grand baseball history not only as Canada’s first major-league town, but earlier as the Brooklyn Dodgers’ top farm club, which Jackie Robinson led the Montreal Royals to the 1946 International League pennant before making his epochal big-league debut in Flatbush. Try to catch a piece of this tradition before it disappears. —John Pastier