Booming return visit for Giambi

It isn’t every night that an opposing player at Yankee Stadium gets cheered as he rounds the bases on a home run. That rarity was experienced in the second inning Friday night when Jason Giambi drove a 2-0 fastball from A.J. Burnett into the right field bleachers to tie the score for the Rockies.

Giambi, who is getting the opportunity to be in the lineup regularly during inter-league play as Colorado’s designated hitter, once heard cheers on a regular basis in the Bronx in an often productive but also occasionally tumultuous eight seasons with the Yankees during which he hit 209 of his 423 career home runs, plus another six in post-season play, including one in the 2003 World Series.

“The Giambino,” as WCBS radio voice John Sterling calls him, was even accorded a shout-out from the bleacher creatures in the first inning after they went through the Yankees’ lineup, which he acknowledged with a wave from the third base dugout.

“You’ve got to play hard, and they appreciate that,” Giambi said before the game of Yankees fans. “Even when they’re hard on you and you hit a home run in the next at-bat, you get a standing ‘O.’ They’re incredible. They are as passionate as they possibly can be as fans.”

Frankly, after his last season with the Yankees in 2008, Giambi seemed to be finished as a major-league player. He returned to Oakland where he had won an American League Most Valuable Player Award in 2000 but was released in August 2009 after batting only .193 in 83 games. Giambi latched on with the Rockies and has been a useful pinch hitter the past three seasons.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi noted before the game that “Colorado may be best equipped of any National League team for inter-league play,” because of Giambi, who had 4-for-12 (.333) with a home run and three RBI in a three-game series at Cleveland.

Giambi has started 14 of the Rockies’ 75 games and on occasion has looked like his old self, no more so than May 19 at Philadelphia when he hit three home runs in a game. At 40, he became the second oldest player to homer three times in the same game. Hall of Famer Stan Musial was 41 when he hit three home runs July 8, 1962 against the Mets at the old Polo Grounds. I was in the stands for that one as a teenager. The Man’s third bomb that day cleared the right field roof.

Playing again before a Stadium crowd clearly was a joyous occasion for Giambi.

“It’s what you dream about as a kid,” he said. “To get a chance to put the pinstripes on, there’s nothing better on this planet. It challenges you in every possible way as a ballplayer. It’s a tough town, but at the same time, to play on the same field as [Mickey] Mantle, [Roger] Maris, [Joe] DiMaggio, [Babe] Ruth and [Lou] Gehrig and to know those guys wore the same uniform, it’s pretty special. My dad’s favorite player was Mickey Mantle, so I knew a lot about the Yankees as a kid. To have that opportunity to play was something special.”

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