10/09/2003 1:00 AM ET
Decked by knuckle sandwich
Yanks frustrated by Wakefield's flutterball in Game 1
NEW YORK -- The knuckleball evokes different emotions from everyone who sees it.
By Kevin T. Czerwinski / MLB.com
Frustration, yeah that's one. Anxiety, yeah, that's a biggie, too. Then there's impatience. That proved to be a prominent one Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium. Just ask Derek Jeter.
The New York captain couldn't wait to wade into one of Tim Wakefield's floppy, floating knucklers and as a result saw only four pitches in three at-bats. Jeter's inability to connect against Wakefield was just a microcosm of the Bombers' evening as Boston emerged with a 5-2 victory in the opening game of the American League Championship Series.
The Yanks managed just three hits, marking the fewest hits they had in a playoff game since Game 3 of the 1999 ALCS at Boston. The three hits is also the fewest by any team in LCS play since Seattle had two hits against New York in Game 4 in 2001.
Jeter, who saw his nine-game postseason hitting streak snapped, had been hitting .357 [15-for-42] in his career against Wakefield prior to Wednesday. But he swung at the first pitch he saw in the first and third innings, popping up to second and third, respectively. He waited for the second pitch he saw in the sixth before taking a cut and lining out to third.
"He had a good knuckleball going tonight and you can't have too much of a plan against that," said Jeter, who popped up to first in the eighth, swinging at Mike Timlin's second offering. "He didn't even know where it was going, but he was throwing strikes. You try to be patient against it but you don't want to fall behind. You always want to be aggressive and swing at the first pitch. If you get a hit, then you're smart.
"I didn't have a game plan, though. You can't say you're going to wait for a pitch because he didn't even know where it was going to go. You try to be patient, but if he's throwing strikes, you'll find yourself in a hole."
The Yanks finally solved Wakefield in the seventh but that had more to do with his wildness than their bats. Eight of the first nine pitches he threw to Jason Giambi and Bernie Williams were balls before manager Grady Little lifted him in favor of Alan Embree, who surrendered a run-scoring double to Jorge Posada. Hideki Matsui then brought in New York's second run with a sacrifice fly to left, closing the book on Wakefield.
The effort was a marked contrast to the way the Yankees finished up the American League Division Series against Minnesota. New York unloaded on Johan Santana in the fourth inning of that game, scoring six runs to knock him from the box.
There would be no clutch hits against Wakefield. In fact, there would be few hits at all -- Wakefield allowed two hits and the only two walks he allowed came in the seventh.
Matsui and Posada had back-to-back singles in the second. But Aaron Boone flied out to center and Nick Johnson grounded to first, quickly ending the threat. Boone echoed Jeter's sentiments, saying the game was as frustrating as much as it was because of Wakefield.
"He was good," Boone said. "I've faced him three times now and he was good all three times. I don't know if it's any tougher trying to hit him. It's just that sometimes you're not even sure if he knows where the ball is going."
Giambi has never fared well against Wakefield. So it wasn't surprising to see him go 0-for-2 before that seventh-inning walk.
"He was good because he threw strikes," Giambi said. "When he's doing that, he's tough to beat. You try to get your walks, like we did in that one inning, but he was tough other than that. So you have to look for that one knuckler you can hit, and he didn't throw very many that were hittable."
As for Matsui, he didn't come through with a hit off Embree in the seventh but he did drive in a run.
"I thought the whole team really didn't hit against [Wakefield]," Matsui said. "In that sense, he pitched pretty well. I don't know about the approach of others but mine was to just get a good pitch to hit and swing the bat. It's hard to anticipate the pitch and in the case of today you just couldn't help [swinging early in the count]."
Pick the adjective. Frustating. Anxious. Impatient. They all applied to the Yanks Wednesday night.
Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.