Yankees fans were right to boo Vazquez

NEW YORK -- Javier Vazquez had thrown a mere 14 pitches before the fans were at full grumble, before his coach, Dave Eiland, made a comical visit to settle things down.

This was a bad start to what would be a worse day in the sun. The last time Vazquez was seen in the demolished ballpark across the street, a Boston leadoff man named Johnny Damon converted his very first Game 7 pitch into an epic grand slam.

The fans carried that ghastly ALCS memory to the new Yankee Stadium, and didn't leave behind that second Damon homer off Vazquez, either. So after Kendry Morales' RBI double in the sixth knocked him out of Wednesday's 5-3 loss to the Angels, Vazquez lowered his head and did that dead man's trudge toward the dugout while some fans -- not all -- exercised their right of free big-market speech.

"I feel like it's unfair," Vazquez would say, "because [2004] was so long ago."

It was not unfair, even if in some witnesses viewed the relatively mild jeering as embarrassing to all right-minded fans.

The crowd reaction fell within the boundaries of fair play. As an accomplished starter hired to help the Yankees defend their title, Vazquez deserved to hear some boos.

He was ripped by the Rays in his first start, and this time around threw 100 largely indifferent pitches in allowing six hits and four runs.

"Javy didn't throw a bad game," Joe Girardi said.

He didn't throw a good game, either. And when a family of four is laying out hundreds upon hundreds of dollars for tickets and concessions, that family has a right to let an $11.5 million pitcher know he wasn't worth the 23 bucks to park.

"It's always the fans' right," Brian Cashman said. "What they used to do to Alex Rodriguez was way out of line; it became the thing to do to boo Alex whenever he didn't get a hit. Compared to that, what happened with Javy today was nothing.

"This is an opportunity, a new challenge for Javy to fuel his fire the way it did for Alex. The only way to stop the booing is for Javy Vazquez to be Javy Vazquez, which is one of the best right-handed starters in the game over the last 10 years. I believe he'll do that."

A-Rod finally stopped the booing by hitting the ball hard when it counted.

"Roger Clemens wasn't supposed to be a big-game pitcher when he came to us," Cashman said, "and he had to overcome that. Everything's about being judged in New York, and you've got to overcome."

The fan base only follows the lead of the franchise, which posts the same mission statement year after year after year -- win the World Series. If Vazquez truly sees any 2004-inspired booing as "unfair," he needs a quick history lesson on the world's most famous ball team.

Joe DiMaggio was booed by a Depression-weary fan base after he fought (unsuccessfully, of course) to get a better deal than the $25,000 his employer, Col. Jacob Ruppert, wanted to pay him.

Mickey Mantle was booed for struggling at the plate, and Roger Maris was booed for not being Mickey Mantle while he chased down the Babe. On July 15, 1990, Don Mattingly was booed after fouling out to a White Sox catcher with two men on base in the fourth.

"It's their right," Mattingly said that day. "If they don't like what they see, I won't be the first guy they booed, and I won't be the last."

Tino Martinez was booed for not being Don Mattingly. Jason Giambi was booed for failing to live up to his contract, A-Rod was booed for being A-Rod, and Derek Jeter was booed for going 0-32 in 2004.

"What do you want them to do?" Jeter asked Wednesday. "My family was booing me, too, and they were at the games."

Jeter was booed again in 2008 after committing the mortal sin of having a bad game in the middle of July.

"The bottom line is they're Yankees fans and … they come here to cheer for you," the captain said. "Everyone's been booed at some point, but you can't let it affect you."

So will Vazquez let it affect him? As an even-keeled connoisseur of fine art and wine, Vazquez doesn't strike anyone as the unraveling type.

And it's worth remembering that he was an All-Star for the Yanks in 2004, before his 10-5 record and 3.56 ERA in the first half devolved into his 4-5 record and 6.92 ERA in the second half, when Vazquez endured a case of pinkeye and suffered with shoulder pains he didn't disclose to the team.

"We kept asking him if anything was wrong," Cashman said, "and he pulled a John Wayne on us."

Now Vazquez needs to get back on his horse, sooner rather than later. His velocity is down, and too many not-so-fast fastballs are drifting across the heart of the plate.

In fact, one Yankee scout who watched film of Vazquez's start against Tampa Bay was shocked that the veteran wasn't savvy enough to set up his fastball with more off-speed stuff early in the game.

But this isn't about the present as much as it's about the past -- a past Yankee fans would prefer to forget, but can't.

"Hopefully I'll start getting some W's and they'll forget about [2004]," Vazquez said. "It's the first game, so [the booing] is a little disappointing, but it's part of the game."

If it's been a part of the game here for Joe D, the Mick, Mattingly and even Captain Jeter, it's going to be a part of the game for Vazquez, too.

So if there was anything "unfair" about Game 2 of the Yankees' home schedule, it wasn't the booing.

It was the $11.5 million pitching witnessed by those who paid 23 bucks to park.

Ian O'Connor is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.