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ANTA -- As Interleague visitors, the New York Yankees are both a blessing and a curse. In fact, they were both during a 3-0 win over the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on Monday night.
As a commercial proposition, the Yankees are completely helpful. They are typically the best road draw of any American League team, and this year is no different in that regard. The Braves and Yankees drew 42,669 fans to Turner Field Monday night. The Braves had an average home attendance of 29,359 prior to the game.
But as competition, the Yankees have typically not been good news at all for their National League adversaries. The Yankees' 162-109 record is the best in the history of Interleague Play. They have been the leading edge of an AL advantage that has kept the NL from winning an overall season series since 2003.
The Yankees are 7-2 against the Braves in Interleague Play at Turner Field. Against the three NL East teams they will play away from the Bronx this year, the Yankees have an Interleague road record of 35-25.
The Yankees left baserunners stranded all over northern Georgia through the first seven innings on Monday, but Ivan Nova pitched admirably for seven innings, and the fielders behind him played superlative defense, highlighted by Nick Swisher's leap at the wall in right to take an extra-base hit away from Brian McCann.
One way or another, the Yankees bring a level of excitement to ballparks on the road that is unmistakable. On Monday night at Turner Field, the cheering was vociferous and competitive. The Yankees fans on hand may have been a minority, but they were a large and vocal minority.
The Yankees are a unique brand, not only in baseball but in all of professional North American sports. Nobody else has anything like their history, their tradition. The opponents who understand that fully appreciate what a visit by the Yankees means.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has a well-rounded perspective on this. He is the Interleague opposition now, but he was a 16th-round Draft choice of the Yankees in 1982.
"They're not wearing the pinstripes right now, but they carry a lot of history and those 27 world championships, and they bring a lot of fans with them," Gonzalez said. "Not that I was born then, but it's probably like traveling with the Beatles. Absolutely, it's different playing against the New York Yankees."
You have to like that Beatles reference, as a measurement of cultural reach. There might be some disagreement among the Yankees about who is Ringo Starr, but really, there can be no losers at this level. Derek Jeter, the captain, would normally be John Lennon, but the personalities are too divergent, so he would be Paul McCartney, which again is either the top of the mountain or very, very close to the summit.
Jeter is an attraction all by himself, not only for NL fans, but for NL opponents who appreciate him as the consummate professional.
"I like watching him because he's a baseball player," Gonzalez said. "If he stops playing [on Tuesday], he goes in the Hall of Fame Wednesday. Captain of the New York Yankees, 3,000 hits, [five] World Series championships, and the way he carries himself off and on the field, it's great. It's great to watch him, the way he plays the game. I've seen him since he was 18 years old in the Florida State League, and he made 40-some errors at shortstop. And here he is. He is just one of those guys that you respect.
The immediate issue for the Braves, both the good news and the bad news, is that they have five more Interleague games with the Yankees this season. It's a challenge. It's something that any real competitor would welcome. The home games represent a big attendance boost for an NL team, but it's the Yankees vs. the National League, and the record doesn't offer much consolation for the guys from the Senior Circuit.
"Six games? Better than 18, if we were in the same division, right?" Gonzalez said with a smile. "But they're playing good baseball, we're playing good baseball. The bottom line is who's going to pitch. It always comes down to who's going to pitch. It's going to be fun."
And these games are fun, although the ultimate enjoyment level generally seems to lean toward the Yankees.
When Yankees manager Joe Girardi was asked on Monday night why his club was so successful in Interleague Play, he responded: "We've had a good team over the years."
This, of course, is a correct but truly understated answer. At that point, I was thinking of Girardi as George Harrison, who was known initially as "the quiet Beatle." But then Girardi did what he later said was an imitation of the "Seinfeld" character Kramer. It was a semi-scream, semi-shout, a blend of anguish and affectation -- you know the bit. Girardi used it to halt yet another discussion of the Yankees' lack of hitting with runners on base.
In a way, it was hilarious, if somewhat out of character for the manager of the New York Yankees. But with the Yankees on the road in Interleague Play, the possibilities are apparently endless.