It felt like old times at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, and not just because Mariano Rivera's absence reminded us that good relief pitching is a privilege rather than a right.
The Orioles and Yankees combined for five home runs in the 7-5 Yankee win, a total that felt right in line with the new ballpark's first season when it was derided as a "joke" because balls were leaving the stadium with alarming regularity. It was a jolt, because that hasn't been the norm through the first 12 games this season. Entering Wednesday's game, the Stadium was yielding 2.27 homers per game, nearly a full home run less than the same period last year.
Wednesday's barrage jumped the total to 2.5 per game, good for only eighth in the league and a number that's still considerably lower than the 3.25 a game that were hit in the first dozen games of the 2009 season. It's also a considerable drop from last year's overall total of 2.97 homers per game which begs the question of why the Stadium is playing differently.
An article in Thursday's USA Today points to the departure of Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui as part of the reason. That might account for a slight drop, Damon did hit four homers in the first Bronx dozen of 2009, but they don't account for nearly a homer a night difference. The article also points to Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez having just four homers between them, but that's not particularly enlightening. A-Rod didn't debut until May 8th and Teixeira always takes April off which resulted in the same amount of homers.
Also lacking in the explanation department is the idea that the destruction of the old ballyard has changed wind patterns. Last year there were dozens of meterological theories bouncing around and they all expressed supreme confidence that the number of homers would spike as the weather warmed up during the summer. The opposite happened, however, and that makes it hard to simply say that the answer was written on the wind all along.
Both of those possibilities could play into the change in home runs but when faced like a situation like this it seems to make more sense to look to the most obvious explanation. In this case, that would be the fact that it takes time to figure out how to play in a new stadium. As teams got acquainted with the new park, it became obvious that balls hit to right field were going to go the distance more often than they did at the old place, which was, it bears mentioning, also forgiving for left-handed pull hitters. Once you know that, you change your approach and try to avoid balls lofted to that part of the stadium.
True, it's easier said than done but a good pitching staff can pull it off. The Yankees happen to have one of those, a point underscored by the fact that the three homers hit on Wednesday were given up by bullpen bottom dwellers Sergio Mitre and David Robertson.
First impressions are important, particularly when they help you figure out how to make the same mistakes in the future.