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New York Times


April 12, 2004

Big Hit With Yankees Fans, Crosby Hits Homer and Wall

A throaty roar rose abruptly from the crowd at Yankee Stadium yesterday after Jorge Posada looped a single with two outs in the eighth inning. A new Yankees favorite, already identified by just one name, would have one more at-bat, one more ovation.

Richard Stephen Crosby, who was nicknamed Bubba as an infant when his older sister could not pronounce brother, popped out to shortstop. But Bubba Crosby was the star of the Yankees' 5-4 victory over the Chicago White Sox anyway.

In his first start with the Yankees, the 27-year-old Crosby hit his second home run with the team and made two catches against the wall in center field.

He also remembered to acknowledge the fans during the first-inning roll call -- in part because he feared being booed if he did not.

"That's what I'd heard," he said.

By the fourth inning, after he gave the Yankees a lead with a three-run home run, he was prompted to bound to the top of the dugout steps. Crosby took his batting helmet in his hand and thrust it upward twice, as if it were a common occurrence. "A guy like me doesn't even think about hitting home runs," Crosby, who stands 5 feet 11 inches and weighs 185 pounds, said with a sheepish smile. He hit only 40 home runs in six minor league seasons.

By pounding a home run off the upper-deck facade on a 2-0 off-speed pitch, Crosby erased a first-inning deficit created by Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina. Mussina went on to win his first game of the season and the 200th of his career.

"People in New York appreciate someone who comes home dirty," Yankees Manager Joe Torre said of Crosby.

Torre gave Crosby a start in center field yesterday because he needed someone to get dirty for his lethargic team, now 4-4. Who better than a player whose favorite ballplayer as a child was Lenny Dykstra?

"He was all over the place," Mussina said of Crosby.

Crosby, a native of Houston whom the Yankees acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers last July in a trade for Robin Ventura, looked like a stock car careering off a retaining wall as he tracked a fly ball hit into the gap by Magglio Ordˇ˝ez in the third inning.

"I told him: 'Good catch. But you didn't have to catch the wall, too,'" right fielder Gary Sheffield said.

By the end of the game, fans in the crowd of 37,484 were chanting "Bubba!" on routine fly balls to center.

Mussina was the main benefactor of Crosby's efforts. Mussina had such a poor pitching line in his first two games this season -- 0-2 record, 11.00 earned run average -- that his statistics from last season were posted on the scoreboard before the game.

His statistics are not much better now. He is 1-2 with an 8.22 E.R.A. after allowing three earned runs, seven hits and two walks in six and a third innings. "I wouldn't say one game puts away everything yet," he said.

Torre did not want to say that, either. But Torre did say of Mussina, "Maybe a win will help him let it come out of his hand better."

The Yankees are hitting only .208 as a team, and three high-priced stars are hitting below .200: Alex Rodriguez (.172), Hideki Matsui (.172) and Bernie Williams (.167).

Jose Valentin, the second batter to face Mussina, reached base after Mussina muffed a ground ball back to the mound. After Ordˇ˝ez singled, Frank Thomas drove in Valentin by flicking an 0-2 pitch from Mussina into center field.

Carlos Lee belted a two-run double between Crosby and Sheffield to drive in two more runs. The crowd gave Mussina a mock cheer after he threw a strike to the next hitter, Paul Konerko, with a 3-0 count. Konerko walked anyway.

"I was happy, in retrospect, that he had that kind of inning," Torre said, "because he was able to pitch his tail off from there on out."

Mussina got out of the inning, and the Yankees scored in the bottom of the first on a single by Sheffield. They took a 4-3 lead on Crosby's home run, but Valentin tied the score with a fifth-inning home run that barely cleared the right-field fence.

Sheffield rapped a two-out double in the bottom of the fifth to score Derek Jeter and give the Yankees the lead at 5-4. Sheffield, who spent the last 12 years in the National League, finished the game with a .286 batting average.

"It's an adjustment every at-bat," he said. "I don't know these pitchers."

Mussina got out of the sixth by getting a double-play ball from Joe Crede. Tom Gordon and Mariano Rivera pitched three scoreless innings of relief for the Yankees. Rivera earned his third save.

Crosby does not know what will happen next. He earned a spot on the Yankees with a magnificent spring training in which he hit .357. But the Yankees already have Kenny Lofton and Williams as center fielders. So Crosby could be sent to the minor leagues if the Yankees need a roster spot.

"I have a feeling you haven't seen the last of him," Torre said.

Crosby said he could live with a demotion and would play just as hard in Columbus as he has in Yankee Stadium. But he is already popular here.

"It just really makes me get the job done more so," Crosby said.