Yanks not worried by homer-filled start
Club thinks new park will play fair after hot start for hitters
NEW YORK -- The Yankees knew that some history would be written as they moved into their new home. But perhaps no one could have anticipated just how much would come on the inaugural homestand at the new Yankee Stadium.
The first games across 161st Street will be remembered for a power display in the record books, as 26 home runs were belted through the first six games, setting a new Major League record and eclipsing an old mark set in 1955 at Kansas City's Municipal Stadium.
Of those roundtrippers, 17 were hit to right field or right-center field, fueling speculation that there may be a jet stream helping to carry balls out of the yard at a quicker pace.
"It looks like it's going to be a good hitters park, but you don't know," the Yankees' Mark Teixeira said. "[Tuesday] was brutal and the balls weren't really flying. [Wednesday] was a little better, even though we had the rain. We just have to see what happens the rest of the year."
Appropriately, the homestand ended Wednesday on a game-winning home run by Melky Cabrera, though Derek Jeter was among those to remark that Cabrera's line drive would have left most other stadiums around the league.
"I understand everyone is making a big deal out of home runs, but there's a lot of balls that were hit good," Jeter said. "It's not like there's a bunch of cheap home runs being hit. I think people are swinging the bats well and hitting home runs.
"There were a lot of home runs hit in that blowout game [on Sunday], but we didn't hit them. It's not like they're blowing out for one particular team, so I think people are jumping the gun a little bit with how the ball is carrying here."
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said that he has spent almost no time discussing the stadium and wind patterns behind closed doors, believing that the data of six games -- plus two early April exhibitions against the Cubs -- is too small to analyze how the park plays. He has a point: at 4.33 home runs per game, Yankee Stadium would project to host 351 this season, compared with 167 last year across the street.
Because those trends tend to even out over 81 games, Cashman said that he is more concerned with what has transpired on the field, most prominently the struggles of former staff ace Chien-Ming Wang, who served up eight runs -- including a three-run homer to Shin-Soo Choo -- and recorded just four outs in a 22-4 drubbing by the Indians.
|"It seems like it may carry more during the day than at night, but it's such a small sample that I'm not going to get caught up in it right now. To be quite honest, there's nothing you can do about that anyway. What you can do is try to play better baseball and get healthy."|
|-- Brian Cashman|
"On Saturday, Cleveland put 22 on the board. We only took four," Cashman said. "That wasn't a stadium issue. Whoever we threw at the Indians that day, they crushed. Whoever they threw at us, they suffocated us. I think it's more of a baseball problem than a stadium issue, to be honest."
The Yankees have entered full laboratory mode to figure out what is wrong with Wang, shipping him and his 34.50 ERA to Tampa, Fla., to pitch in an extended spring game on Thursday. Teamed with those struggles and the injury concerns of Alex Rodriguez and Xavier Nady, Cashman said his hands are too full to worry about if the new stadium is a homer haven.
"It seems like it may carry more during the day than at night, but it's such a small sample that I'm not going to get caught up in it right now," Cashman said. "To be quite honest, there's nothing you can do about that anyway. What you can do is try to play better baseball and get healthy. Those trump the stadium for me, and it is a beautiful stadium, by the way."
But not an exact replica. An image circulating on the Internet this week claimed that while the posted distances of the outfield walls at Yankee Stadium are the same as the 2008 version, the outfield fences are not exactly identical. The left-field and right-field manual scoreboards cut a straight line on the warning track, as opposed to the old stadium, which had a gentle curve. Ever so slightly, the fences may be closer in places.
"I'm told that it's the same exact dimensions as the old ballpark," Cashman said. "But I suspect the fence height is different, because I see outfielders able to make plays on balls that they wouldn't have been able to make before."
Cashman said that there was nothing in the preseason engineering studies performed for the Yankees that indicated that balls might carry better to right field. There was, however, speculation that balls flying to left field might be affected by the demolition of the old Stadium, since winds in the South Bronx would no longer be blocked.
The inaugural homestand also saw two home runs reviewed by umpires for possible fan interference, and there is a thought that it may not be an uncommon occurrence. In both instances, a fan reached from the front row of the outfield seating area -- Jorge Posada had a pinch-hit drive to right field upheld on Sunday, and Kurt Suzuki was credited with a three-run homer to left field on Wednesday.
The old Yankee Stadium saw adjustments made after Jeter hit an aided home run in the 1996 playoffs, snagged by 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier, who was standing in an aisleway that was later railed off during games. But in the new Stadium, those seats are on sale, as they are at Baltimore's Camden Yards. Teixeira said that he expects on-field review delays to be more frequent here.
"They are on top of it, and it's going to happen a lot, unfortunately," Teixeira said. "That's the way they built the stadium. It's great for the fans, because they get to be close up there and they get to snag some home runs."
One question that will remain for pitchers is if they would or should alter their style of play to adjust to the new Stadium. The old place was considered a good place for left-handed pitchers to pitch, counteracting the short right field porch, but perhaps a sinkerball pitcher -- Wang's troubles aside -- will now become more valuable.
"This is the park we play in and the park we've got to pitch in," CC Sabathia said. "I think the park is going to play fair on both sides. It's early now. We've just got to go out and attack the zone and get ahead. That'll be the biggest thing now, especially if the park plays small. Getting ahead limits everything."
Andy Pettitte won his first start at the new Stadium on Tuesday after logging the last win at the old place on Sept. 21, and he said that he had no trepidation about heading out to the hill even after watching the fireworks displays in the Indians series.
"You realize that the ball was flying out, there's no doubt about it," Pettitte said. "The biggest thing is you've just got to deal with it and mentally you've got to block it out. I wasn't going to change my approach and let the ballpark dictate that.
"I had the opportunity to go to Houston for a few years and had to pitch a little bit differently than I did in the old Yankee Stadium when I left here. It's just about making pitches and making adjustments, just like you do during the game."
Jason Giambi received chuckles from approximately four dozen media members on Tuesday when he marveled that the new Yankee Stadium felt "like when people first walked into the Titanic," besides the sinking part. But despite the changes, some Yankees like Pettitte insist that the new structure does a good job of capturing the original's essence.
"I feel really comfortable as far as the mound and the view I've got," Pettitte said. "It feels the same, it does for me. You all know I don't look around a whole lot. My head is down and I see Jorgie and I see the dirt on the pitchers mound. That's really it for me."
After locking down Tuesday's save against the A's, Mariano Rivera agreed. You can talk all you want about the wind patterns or the ritzy martini bars or the tasty steakhouse, but with the ninth inning and a lead on the line, this new building felt just like home for the longtime closer.
"Definitely, it is Yankee Stadium," Rivera said. "Yankee Stadium is Yankee Stadium, wherever you put it. It's Yankee Stadium, so it doesn't matter. It has the same feel."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.