Today, baseball lost one of its great legends Don Zimmer. Zimmer had been hospitalized in the Tampa area (his hometown) since mid-April following heart surgery and passed away peacefully at the age of 83, surrounded by his family. “Zim”, as he was known, spent his baseball career as a player, manager, and coach on some of the best teams ever, including the 1955 and 1959 Brooklyn Dodgers and the 1996, 1998-2000 Yankees. For the last 11 seasons, he served as bench coach for the Tampa Bay Rays, as he chose to make the Tampa area his home for the last 60 years after marrying his high school sweetheart. So many clubs can make claims to Zim — Dodgers, Cubs, Mets, Reds, Padres, Red Sox, Rangers, Giants, Rockies, Yankees, and Rays and the former Expos and Senators and a Japanese team in the 60’s.
Zim’s impact went beyond his abilities on the field and in the dugout, as he was well-liked and admired by players and peers alike. He was everyone’s mentor, everyone’s father, everyone’s grandfather, everyone’s friend. He will be greatly missed. (The YES Network team talk about Zim, remembering him fondly in this video clip.)
The Yankees lost more than a friend tonight. They also lost the game, but it certainly didn’t start that way. In the 3rd inning, the Yankees decided to poke holes in the Athletics’ pitching in a big way. Runners on the corners with a walk and single, Derek Jeter’s single scored a run, and then Jacoby Ellsbury hit a long 3-run home run into the Yankees’ bullpen and put the Yankees up 4-0. This should have been enough to make up for some early pitching struggles. It wasn’t.
Vidal Nuno struggled through his 92 pitches in just 4.2 innings, allowing 6 hits and 2 runs, striking out 5 Oakland batters. The runs came as a solo home run in the 4th and a sacrifice fly scoring a run in the 5th. Matt Daley’s appearance in the 5th quickly shut down Oakland, but a solo home run in the 6th put the Athletics closer to the Yankees’ lead. A throwing error put a runner on base who would go on to score under his relief, Matt Thornton on a sacrifice fly in the 6th. And the game was tied.
In the 7th, the Yankees sent in recalled Jose Ramirez who gave up what would become the winning run, a solo home run to push the A’s in the lead. Recent call-up Wade LeBlanc’s 9th inning was less than desired for his first impact with the Yankees — adding two more runs to the score when one run scored on a hit-by-pitch and one on a sacrifice fly. So the Yankees ended up with a 7-4 loss to Oakland. The A’s took a 4-0 deficit and turned it into a 7-4 win for them by taking advantage of the weak bullpen.
Quick update on roster moves: Ramirez was recalled from Scranton; LeBlanc picked up from the Angels off waivers; Alfredo Aceves was designated for assignment; and Preston Claiborne was optioned back to Scranton.
Now, nothing against Oakland, they are currently on a huge upswing, leading the entire American League standings. (If you’re wondering, the Yankees are 3rd in the AL East, 29-29 or .500 average.) Things are just clicking for them right now. But it does make me think twice about how they win against the Yankees — late in the game, against a weaker bullpen relief. That itself is an interesting thought, one that could use extra dissecting if this were August or September. But I’ve learned my lesson over the years. It’s barely June. I don’t start analyzing game momentum or patterns until after the All-Star Game. The season’s still finding its feet, and surprising as it may seem, it’s still anyone’s game.
And that’s what makes the summer for me — knowing anything is still possible. That positive outlook reminds me of Zim, and that’s what I cling to tonight. His love for the game, his love for the people who make the game possible, and the joy he found in the little things that make baseball a great game.
Go Yankees! (We’ll miss ya, Zim!)