Another tribute to a Yankees captain

Yankees fans are everywhere, not just in the New York metropolitan area. One place where they are plentiful is in Southern California. I can attest to that.

Watching the wild reaction Wednesday night in Anaheim when Derek Jeter homered in the second inning of the Yankees’ 9-2 victory over the Angels reminded me of an incident in the same ballpark 20 years ago.

The date was July 24, 1994. The Yankees were finishing off an 11-game trip to the three West Coast cities with a Sunday afternoon game against the Angels. The Yanks entered the ninth inning trailing Mark Langston, 4-2, but got a rally going with one out when Mike Stanley singled and Jim Leyritz walked.

Angels manager Marcel Lachemann replaced the left-handed Langston with Joe Grahe, a journeyman righthander. Yankees manager Buck Showalter countered with Don Mattingly as a pinch hitter for outfielder Gerald Williams. Mattingly, the regular first baseman, had been given the day off unless an opportunity to win the game presented itself, which in this case it clearly did.

As Jeter is today, Mattingly was the Yankees’ captain and the face of the franchise two decades ago. The response from the crowd was favorable as he stepped to the plate. Despite it being a road game for the Yankees, there was considerable cheering for them in the Big A crowd of 25,754.

During the at-bat, Grahe threw a wild pitch that advanced the runners. First base was now open, but the rule of thumb is not to put the potential go-ahead run on base, so Grahe continued to pitch to Mattingly — a big mistake. Donnie got all of a 3-2 fastball and drove it to right field for a three-run home run that put the Yankees ahead (they would add another run for a 6-4 victory).

The sound at Anaheim Stadium as Angel Stadium of Anaheim was then known while Mattingly ran around the bases was so thunderous that if you closed your eyes you would have sworn you were at Yankee Stadium.

Only one other time had I ever heard such a response to a visiting player. It was at a game in the Polo Grounds in 1962 when the Cardinals’ Stan Musial hit three home runs against the Mets. The third cleared the roof in right field, and the fans gave “The Man” a standing ovation during his home run trot.

Such was the appeal of the Yankees and Mattingly, just as Wednesday night the cheers for Jeter were due to his appeal. Barring a postseason date, this was the Captain’s last appearance in Anaheim, which treated him graciously throughout the series.

The Angels presented Jeter with a paddle board before the game, then gave him an unintentional gift in the first inning when Collin Cowgill collided with Mike Trout tracking a Jeter fly ball that fell free. Cowgill was charged with an error that helped fuel a five-run rally.

Mark Teixeira knocked in two runs with a double, Yangervis Solarte one with a sacrifice fly and Brian Roberts one with a single. Another run scored on a throwing error by pitcher Hector Santiago, the eventual losing pitcher whose record fell to 0-6.

Jeter’s first home run of the season with one out in the second pushed the Yankees’ lead to 6-0, a very comfortable cushion for Vidal Nuno, who had an impressive night. The lefthander allowed only one run and four hits with one walk and three strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings. His catcher, John Ryan Murphy, drove in two runs in the eighth. Carlos Beltran added a sacrifice fly to pad the Yankees’ lead some more.

Anaheim has always been among Jeter’s favorite stops in the American League. His 2-for-5 performance Wednesday night improved his career numbers there to .339 with 15 doubles, two triples, 11 home runs and 43 RBI in 336 at-bats.

It was in every way a fond farewell.

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