Thursday, May 15, 2014

Yankees Come to Milwaukee

All photos of Yankees-Brewers series available on Flickr.

For the first time since 2005, the Yankees played a series at Miller Park - and just like the last time, the Brewers managed to take 2 out of 3.  These two franchises were in very different places 9 years ago than they are now.  The 2005 Brewers were just beginning the slow climb back to relevance after a decade in the cellar and featured Ben Sheets at the top of the rotation.  Mark Attanasio had recently purchased the team and Rickie Weeks had yet to debut.  The Yankees were in the midst of a run of 6 trips the World Series in 10 years and still had Joe Torre and George Steinbrenner running the show.  Robinson Cano was a rookie that season.  Today, one could argue the roles have reversed.  The Brewers have put together a series of competitive seasons, and it is the Yankees who struggle to find consistency despite the obese payroll.  

One thing, however, has remained a constant these past 9 years, and that is Derek Jeter at shortstop.  I have never taken for granted all of the times I have gotten to see Jeter play, whether that was on the Tour in '07 while still in his prime, or this year on his Farewell Tour pushing 40 years of age.  Quite simply, he is one of the greatest Yankees of all-time, and one of the last great players of his era still in the league.  The game will not only be losing a great player, but a great ambassador, following his retirement after the season.  He has remained one of the last true role models and fan favorites of the sport the last 20 years, and I think that will be the hardest part to replace, even moreso than his talent.  Baseball more than any other sport places importance on statistics - and he has definitely put up amazing numbers - but beyond that, I have just always been in awe the intangible parts of his game.  Always hustling, always saying the right things, and doing all the little things right both on and off the field to put the team in front of himself.  I saw him give his pink Mother's Day bat to a little kid before an at-bat and then bust it out of the box on a routine grounder to SS on a bum ankle; I mean, this guy just exudes professionalism, and I hope the young Brewers players were paying attention.  Derek Jeter is one of the last players left that I grew up watching, and it will be sad when he is no longer a part of the game I love.  Jeter (along with Ken Griffey Jr.) was definitely the Mickey Mantle of my generation, and I was honored to see him play on his last trip ever to Milwaukee.  In honor of this final trip, the Brewers bestowed upon him a bronzed bat with all of his hits in Milwaukee engraved on it, as well as a check for $10,000 to his charity.  Very generous gifts, but I have to be honest, I was kind of hoping he would get a Harley and a case of brats.

There were 3 sellout crowds at Miller Park that weekend in the hopes of seeing Jeter play one last time, and he ended up playing in the Friday and Sunday affairs.  There were other storylines though besides Jeter that made the series very interesting.  This series marked the return of CC Sabathia for the first time since the playoffs-clinching game he pitched for the Brewers in September 2008.  He pitched on Saturday and got knocked around pretty hard, and ended up going on the DL with knee pain the following day.  He seems to be going through what Gallardo and Lincecum are going through right now - losing a lot of zip on his fastball as he ages and having to learn how to be a finesse pitcher.  I sincerely wish him all the best, and I would have to say that most Brewer fans do as well.  He got several warm ovations that day in recognition of his gritty 3 months of service helping the Crew get to the playoffs for the first time in 26 years.  Besides seeing Jeter, the main reason I made sure to have tickets to all 3 games of the series was so I had a better chance of seeing CC pitch, as well as Masahiro Tanaka.  Tanaka was the big free agent pitcher signed in the offseason who posted a career 99-35 record, 2.30 ERA, and over 1200 strikeouts in 7 seasons in the Japanese Pacific League.  Tanaka is 36-0 since the beginning of 2013, including 6-0 with the Yankees.  Not surprisingly, he dominated the Brewers Friday night with his assortment of junkballs and offspeed pitches.  The big question with Tanaka is if he will go the way of Yu Darvish and continue to dominate with high strikeout totals, or if he is going to flame out in 3 years like Dice-K.  Another story that got somewhat lost in the shuffle is the other Japanese guy on the team - Ichiro.  Like Jeter, this year is most likely Ichiro's farewell tour as well, as he is a 40-year old 5th outfielder in the final year of his contract.  Ichiro was the best and most exciting player of the 2000s without question, and I was glad I got to see him slap a couple of singles per the usual.

For as much grief as the Yankees get for "buying" championships and spending extravagantly on overpriced free agents, they are still the Packers of baseball, and always will be.  It's a team you can't help but root for with followers all over the country, and that could not have been more evident to me than this past weekend.  Seeing many, many people wearing Brewers hats with Jeter t-shirts and giving standing ovations to players on the other team was very cool, and I wish more opponents garnered that type of respect.  It was surely a nice change from being angry for 4 hours whenever the Cubs or Cards are in town.

Brewers 26-15, +5.0, (3 @ Cubs, 4 @ Braves)
Reds 18-21, -7.0 (3 @ Phillies, 3 @ Nationals)
Twins 19-20, -6.5 (3 v. Mariners, 2 @ Padres)

Erik - 2 (+2 worked)

Peter - 11

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