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The Yankees held onto their fifth win of the season Tuesday in their home opener in front of a record-setting crowd.  The Bombers took a 7-1 lead into the ninth inning after homers by Derek Jeter and Nick Johnson and 2-RBI games from Jeter and Alex Rodriguez.

The Yankees also collected their World Series Championship rings in a short ceremony before the game which each player being announced and jogging out from the dugout to join their teammates along the first baseline.  After each player was introduced, former player Hideki Matsui was announced and he walked out from the Angels dugout.  It was great watching Matsui as he waited to be announced – he looked so proud and as if it was difficult for him to hold in a big smile.

After Matsui ran out and collected the same ring box every Yankee player received, the entire team surrounded him at the pitchers mound and gave him a bear hug.  In an interesting twist, Joe Girardi ran over to give Matsui something before the game and it turned out to be his World Series ring.  Apparently the box that Matsui received did not have his real ring in it – Derek Jeter reportedly substituted the real ring with a fake one to play a joke on Matsui.

The same joke appeared to be played on Nick Swisher after Mariano Rivera was seen handing him a ring after the ceremony.  Rivera said some words to Swisher and Swish seemed to acknowledge that a joke was played on him.

In the game, Andy Pettitte was more then sufficient on the mound, last 6 full innings, holding the normally powerful Angels lineup scoreless and limited to only 5 hits and 3 walks.  He also struck out 6.  Chan Ho Park allowed one run in two innings and in a relatively low-pressure ninth inning, David Robertson promptly loaded the bases and allowed Bobby Abreu to bring the score to 7-5 with a grand slam home run.

Skipper Joe Girardi then brought in Mariano Rivera to finish the game and pick up his 3rd save of the season.

The Yankees offense was sparked by solo home runs by Johnson and Jeter in the first and third innings and RBI singles by Jeter and Rodriguez in the fourth and sixth innings to bring the score to 5-0.  Kendry Morales put the Angels on the board in the 8th with a solo shot off of Park and the Bombers promptly responded with an RBI double by Jorge Posada and a RBI single by Curtis Granderson.

That sent the game into the top of the ninth with the Yankees leading 7-1.  After Abreu’s heroics, Rivera came into get the final two outs and complete the game.

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As the Yankee Universe revolves around spring training, there’s another article by yet another Yankees beat writer on Jesus Montero.

This time it’s Ben Shpigel of the Times with his piece on how much Montero has matured and while his bat is ready for the majors, his body isn’t.

Cashman recalled an instance from last Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Twins, when Montero, after falling behind to Jesse Crain, 0-2, sensed that an outside breaking ball was coming. It did, and Montero poked it down the right-field line for a double.

“It’s amazing that at 20 years old he’s a .320 lifetime hitter,” Long said. (Montero’s career average is actually .325.) “But he’s got to get his body in shape and turn from being a soft kid to a hard-nosed man.

Montero himself even admits that he wants to move up in the organization as a catcher (even though he started as a middle infielder). The Yankees are committed to making that happen and with two former catchers on the bench (Joe Girardi and Tony Pena), and Jorge Posada as a mentor, Montero has everything in place for him to do that.

The catching instructor Tony Pena and Manager Joe Girardi have worked with Montero on refining his throwing mechanics, specifically on shortening his release.

According to the Yankees, Montero usually needs 1.9 to 2.0 seconds to catch and throw the ball to second base, whereas an elite catcher, like Yadier Molina of the St. Louis Cardinals, can do it in about 1.7. Long after his teammates had finished their morning workout Saturday, Montero remained in the Yankees’ bullpen to work on his throwing technique with Girardi.

Pena said: “He has a strong arm — a very strong arm — but he can’t rely on that. If he has the proper mechanics, everything else will take over, and then we’ll have what we like.”

Posada’s contract expires after the 2011 season, and it’s a good bet we’ll see Montero behind the plate in 2012. If not before as the primary backup next year. One thing’s for sure, the Yankees have their Matt Wieters in development-mode.

The Yankees took some time Tuesday to enjoy a little team bonding sponsored by skipper Joe Girardi.  The team haded over to a video arcade this morning for a little fun and Girardi set up three competitions – Indy Racing, Skeeball and Pop-a-Shot (arcade basketball).

AJ Burnett took top honors in the racing, relief pitcher Andrew Brackman took the skeeball competition and minor league pitcher Royce Ring took the Pop-a-shot contest.  Mark Feinsand of the Daily News was the beat reporter who attended the games and took the following comment from Mark Teixeira about the day:

“The highlights were A.J. Burnett just smoking the field in the video game racing, and Royce Ring being probably the best Pop-A-Shot basketball player I’ve ever seen,” Teixeira said. “Those two were hands-down the best at those two events.”

Doing things like this is huge for team chemistry and is going to help with all the new additions on the team this year.  With virtually an entirely new bench and several new pitchers, keeping the same fun and light-hearted clubhouse feeling from last season is going to be crucial to repeating as world champs.

Last season the Yankees had a pool tournament which was won by Mariano Rivera.

The New York Jets Head Coach, Rex Ryan, called the Yankees on Monday to request some help teaching rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez how to slide.  Both Ryan and Sanchez are in their first seasons with the Jets and Ryan apparently met Yankees manager Joe Girardi earlier in the baseball season.

Girardi had some time on Tuesday and headed over to the Jets’ practice facility to help teach Sanchez how to slide.  I was at Sunday’s game between the Jets and Panthers, which the Jets managed to win 17-6.  Sanchez had three runs Sundqay for a total of 27 yards, and each time he landed awkwardly.  One time, he slid headfirst, another time he just crumpled to the ground and a third time he was hit going out of bounds, injuring his already sore left knee.

Here is what Coach Ryan had to say about it, (thanks to Lohud Yankees Blog):

“Today, we had the privilege of having Joe Girardi out here. We had a couple of issues that we needed to go over. Number one, the obvious free agents, who’s available. So, after the counseling and my input, which I know he regards highly (laughter), then we got into the other business. I had Joe come out here and teach Sanchez how to slide (laughter). That’s the truth. I actually did that. We had a little sliding mat out here. I told Schotty (Brian Schottenheimer), ‘I’m going over your head. I’m going over (Matt) Cavanaugh’s head. I’m going over my head. We’re bringing in a world champ to get this done.’ We did have Joe Girardi out here and quite honestly, we spent 10 minutes out there. He was running and learning to slide off his right leg. We literally did that. He’s (Sanchez) too valuable and he needs to understand that we need him out there and people are going to take shots at him if he doesn’t start sliding. I really did want to make an emphasis to Mark and get the best guy that we can in the area. I made a call today to the Yankees and I was really happy that Girardi came over and did that for us.”

I spent nearly 5 hours in the car today and got pretty tired of listening to music, so I turned on sports radio, catching some Mike and Mike in the Morning (who I always listen to), some Colin Cowherd and even a little bit of Doug Gottlieb this evening.

As expected, most of the talk today was about the World Series and the news surrounding it.  There are a few big stories out there that I want to talk about tonight.

First, a lot of criticism is being levied at Yankees skipper Joe Girardi for his “micro-managing.”  As an example, he has chosen to use three pitchers in relief when another manager might have just left the first pitcher in.  Take a look at my previous post for more on this issue.

#2 – Apparently Cole Hamels is tired of the season. He said after his Game 3 loss, “I can’t wait for it to end. It’s been mentally draining. At year-end, you just can’t wait for a fresh start.”  Many people interpreted this to mean he wants the season and the World Series to be over, win or loss.

But, I can relate with Hamels.  One year after an outstanding postseason where he was named both the NLCS and World Series MVP’s, Hamels is struggling on the mound with an ERA over 7.00.  The Yankees knocked him out of Game 3 in the fifth inning.  Obviously the man would probably like the offseason to relax and focus on getting his pitching back to where he feels it should be.

Plus, in the midst of all this, Hamels and his wife just had their first child last month, a baby boy.  I am sure he is proud to be a father and would love to spend time at home with his wife, spending some quality time with the newest addition to their family.

Rumors are abound that Phillies pitcher Brett Myers confronted Hamels in the dugout during Game 5, reportedly saying “What are you doing here?  I thought you quit.”  This was initially reported by Yahoo Sports.  The two apparently had an exchange of words and had to be separated.

Good.  Drama like this can tear a team apart.  Good for the Yankees.

#3 – Shane Victorino told the media today that his hand is fine after being hit on the right index finger during Monday night’s game 5.  I didn’t think a fiery guy like Victorino would even think about missing a crucial game 6.

#4 – The Yankees need some Mark Teixeira.  Fortunately the team is set up well that if one guy isn’t performing, others can step up and clinch a win.  But winning game 6 would be much easier if Teixeira could find a way to spark a good game at the plate.

It seems as if Teixeira is feeling the pressure at the plate.  Most of his hits aren’t falling and he just looks weird at the plate. With the Yankees rallying in the top of the ninth last night, Tex struck out swinging to end the game – with A-Rod on deck.

Tex is not giving us many clues to his actual state-of-mind right now.  Slumps are normal in a baseball season and unfortunately they even happen during the postseason.  It’s just surprising to see a guy who was so clutch in the regular season not be able to be there for his teammates when it truly matters.

Finally, much respect to Alex Rodriguez – who with his 3 RBI Monday night set a new Yankee record of 18 RBI in a single postseason.  After struggling most of the first 3 games, Rodriguez got pissed off about getting hit all the time by the Phillies pitchers and started hitting strong again in Game 4.

It’s nice to see him doing well and setting records.  I’d love to see # 13 retired in Monument Park, right next to  # 2 (Derek Jeter) and # 42 (Mariano Rivera).

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