It's a judgment call as to the player getting to Cooperstown first, Derek Jeter or Ichiro Suzuki. But the instant-replay camera doesn't really make judgments, and that's why we know who first arrived at second base during the third inning at Yankee Stadium, four TV replays later on Wednesday, Sept. 5. To retrace the numerology of the previous sentence, it's as simple as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5: Ich won; Jeter never tagged him; the ump knows it; so do the commentators; so do we.
Ironically, Ichiro lost the call but won the inning. His team later lost the game (10-2), giving up runs galore in the seventh for the second consecutive night before taking a one-day breather, heading to Detroit for a Sept. 7-9 series and a home stand starting Monday, Sept. 10.
During the third, Suzuki had slapped a double-worthy shot to right but wisely stayed at first because of a quick carom that might've brought an accurate throw to second. He waited, then took a shot at a steal. The catcher's throw was accurate and, from a distance of, say, 3,000 miles, you'd figure the M's centerfielder was out. But the camera doesn't figure. It clearly proved Ich never got swiped by Jeter. Uncharacteristically, Ichiro argued the bogus call so vehemently that manager John McLaren felt obliged to arrive at the scene of the crime to dissuade his best player from doing the unthinkable: getting expelled from a game.
It wasn't just any game. The M's at that point had one win in their previous 11 starts. With just two dozen dates left this season, it seemed apparent the Seattle club wouldn't be catching the Angels for the division championship, not with Los Angeles prohibitively ahead. The only race remaining was with these same Yankees, personified for a decade by Jeter, who, after the ump's bad call, betrayed body language any psycho-babble expert would attest meant the shortstop knew he missed Ichiro. It was the run for the wild-card slot, and the M's, despite a weeklong lapse unseen since the Philadelphia Phillies piddled away the National League pennant the final week of the 1964 season, remained competitive. The Seattle club arrived in New York down to the Yankees by two games in the wild-card race, and after a two-game split the margin was the same. It was a scoreless tie when Ichiro was called out, but several plate appearances later, Raul Ibanez clubbed one over the wall with Jose Guillen aboard, and the M's led 2-0.
Sometimes umps who know they've blown one do a give-back. The crew in New York instead did a take-another, oddly ruling that a throw from the same Jeter beat Ich to first during the fifth inning. Observers with even worse eyesight than American League umpires know via the - you guessed it - camera replay that Suzuki was safe. Again McLaren stormed the field to protest, again to no avail, his team now reeling three behind New York for the final playoff position.
So think about all this the next time folks tell you they hate the Yankees. What they may mean is that they detest the whole Yankee reality, which seems to extend to game officials granting special consideration to a New York team playing at home. It's the suspicion that the Yankees get homer calls because of a belief that their presence in the postseason would be great for baseball, TV ratings, corporate profits, etc. It's the idea that a New York playoff team would pose a Hallmark-moment story line, since owner George Steinbrenner is ailing. Outside of New York, "The Boss," as his many slavish George Costanzas know Steinbrenner, is an unlikely sentimental favorite. He's done nothing for baseball except drive up salaries and screw up prospects for small-market teams. His pennant-buying spree may yet eclipse his felony conviction (for illegal campaign contributions to your fave Prez, Dick Nixon) and other transgressions as his main legacy.
Having blowhard Steinbrenner around all these years has meant that not hating the Yankees might be cause for psychiatric evaluation. In any case, some current pin-stripers are less unlikable than others, and Jeter is one. The 33-year-old shortstop, who put the Sept. 5 game away in the seventh with a two-run double, will make the Baseball Hall of Fame - first ballot, of course - in about 2020. Just as his '07 team will leave the M's behind for the wild-card slot, he'll beat Ichiro to immortality, because Ich will only be 46 by then and probably still playing. One hopes it's not with the Yankees.
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