Did I say that I love Jason Giambi too?
I LOVE YOU JASON!
NEW YORK — With two consecutive at-bats Tuesday night, Jason Giambi showed Padres lefty Randy Wolf that there’s no room for error when the Yankees slugger comes to the plate.
Giambi first sent a curveball soaring over the right-field wall, then made Wolf pay for a fastball right down the middle, knocking a two-run homer to left-center field.
Lately, Giambi’s made a habit of punishing pitchers for making mistakes. Since May 4, Giambi is batting .355 with 12 home runs and 26 RBIs.
“When I’m getting that one mistake, I’m not missing it,” he said following New York’s 8-0 victory.
Giambi’s recent success has helped pull him out of an early season slump. The veteran came out of Spring Training with high expectations, only to struggle with a .150 batting average through his first 26 games.
But something sparked the slugger.
Giambi said he’s been keeping it simple, just seeing the ball and getting into a good routine. He also credited his teammates for getting him the right pitches.
Batting sixth behind Alex Rodriguez and Hideki Matsui — who are hitting .326 and .325, respectively — Giambi has been able to take advantage of his position in the lineup.
“It goes all the way down the line,” Giambi said. “It definitely puts me in a good spot when those guys are on base and getting some pitches to hit.”
And while Giambi was quick to note the accomplishments of his teammates, it’s his own bat that’s boosted the Yankees’ offense.
“The last month, he’s swinging the bat as well now as I’ve seen him swing in a long time,” left-hander Andy Pettitte said. “I’m happy for him. I know that he was grinding the first month of the season and trying to get it right. He’s worked extremely hard, and he’s in the same boat as all of us. When you get it going, you want to ride it as long as you can.”
Production at the plate has taken on even more importance for the Yankees, because the starting rotation took a blow when ace Chien-Ming Wang injured his right foot Sunday in Houston.
But Giambi doesn’t appear to be slowing down, and manager Joe Girardi pointed to the slugger’s health as an important bright spot.
“He’s been healthy, he’s been strong, he’s running well, he’s been playing good defense,” Girardi said. “It’s good to see guys come back when they’ve had some injury-plagued seasons — to come back, rebound and do the things that you’re used to seeing them do.”
Giambi said it’s because of Girardi’s communication before camp that he’s been able to stay in good shape. The manager told the veteran to come to camp prepared because he would play every day. And the hard work has paid off as Giambi’s numbers continue to climb.
THIS IS WHY I LOVE HIM…
OAKLAND — This is where it all began for Jason Giambi, a stone’s throw from the choked traffic of the Nimitz Freeway and the scheduled rumbling of the BART trains.
All these years later, each trip to Oakland still conjures up youthful memories for the 37-year-old slugger, glad-handing folks who were here when Giambi cut his teeth as a budding rookie and helped the A’s develop a new generation around him.
In the last year of his contract with the Yankees, this green-and-gold concrete structure also serves as a stage for something else. Giambi may not move around like a kid anymore, but he feels a whole lot younger than the back of his bubblegum card indicates he is.
“No doubt, oh yeah,” Giambi said. “I’d like to play until I’m about 40. My body feels great this year and I’ve taken care of it.”
“As far as I was concerned, I was doing the points of the game that I could control,” Giambi said. “I was getting a good pitch and hitting it hard. You can’t control results in this game and that’s why you’ve got to stay focused and not get depressed.”
Flash forward to Tuesday, with Giambi having raised his average to a respectable .254 by hitting .323 (31-for-93) since May 1. He’s slugged a team-leading 14 home runs — matching his total from the 2007 season — and a new contract somewhere doesn’t seem quite so far-fetched.
“The key for him is his body holding up,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “That’s the key for all players as they get older, your body holding up. His conditioning and his health have been great this year, so you’ve got to feel good about that if you’re him.”
In fairness, no one is quite sure what the future holds for Giambi, least of all himself. The Yankees will almost certainly exercise a $5 million buyout for the 2009 season instead of triggering a $22 million option, and it seems quite possible that Giambi is playing his final season in pinstripes.
Still, Giambi being able to at least play first base on a regular basis has freed Girardi to have more flexibility with his lineup, using Johnny Damon as a left fielder and moving Hideki Matsui to DH. Giambi credits his more active on-field lifestyle for the success.
“It’s one of those things with the pounding of the game,” Giambi said. “I just had to change up and run a lot more. I think being back out at first base gave me that opportunity. Once I fixed my feet — I never really realized how bad my feet are — everything has been a lot better.”
Giambi has historically been a much better hitter when he’s able to keep his blood flowing by playing first base instead of serving as a designated hitter, but it’s no stretch to rule out a National League team making a serious run at Giambi.
At this moment, Giambi shrugs off any such speculation, saying, “I love playing in New York and I’ve still got a World Series to win.”
Though he’s made it to the playoffs every year and even one Fall Classic since signing with the Yankees in 2002, each season has ended with one twinge of disappointment or another.
Entering Tuesday’s game at .500 yet again with a record of 32-32 after splitting a four-game series with the Royals, Giambi delivered an understatement when he said the Yankees need to find a way to put a winning streak together.
“Whoever in a million years would have thought that Jorge Posada, who’d never been on the DL before, would go on the DL?” Giambi said. “That’s a big blow, especially with what he can do offensively and behind the plate. Alex Rodriguez, the best player in the game, goes down [and] he has normally, most of his career, been healthy.
“You just can’t predict those types of things. Luckily we’ve played good baseball and we’re right at .500 — we’re not way out of it; thank God nobody’s run away.”
Nor does Giambi move away from the memories he created at what is now known as McAfee Coliseum. He laughs and says he understands the jeering fan reactions he receives nightly, saying that the fans are just upset that he left.
No matter what the rest of the year holds for Giambi and the Yankees, it seems clear that Oakland will always have a place in his past — and perhaps, just maybe, his future.
“I loved playing here,” Giambi said. “Man, it was fun. I had a ball. I have a ball now — I don’t think I’ve really changed. There were good times. Why wouldn’t you want to remember?”
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