Crystal — who had been signed by the Yankees to a one-day contract as a 60th birthday gift — managed to work the count to 3-1 before whiffing at two pitches by Pirates starter Paul Maholm to strikeout.
Crystal was set to come to bat again in the bottom of the third but, with a runner on first and two out, he was swapped out for star slugger Johnny Damon, who the Yanks apparently figured was their best chance to push the lone base-runner home. Damon came in, took one pitch and promptly grounded to third on the next pitch to end the inning.
They may as well have kept Crystal in. He, at least, in his lone at-bat, was close to working a walk against a pitcher who was at the top of his game, throwing four shutout innings of one-hit ball against some of the most powerful bats the Yankees could muster.
While Crystal may have finished his professional baseball career with a lifetime batting average of .000, perhaps for his next act — given his very disciplined at-bat — he could run a batting clinic for the free-swinging leadoff hitter for the Yankees’ cross-town rivals. We know Crystal already has a Mets’ hat he can wear if need be.
Billy Crystal — yes, that Billy Crystal — has signed a one-day minor-league contract with the Yankees and will be playing in an exhibition spring-training game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday. Crystal could be seen Wednesday taking batting practice and warming up with Derek Jeter in the Yankees’ Tampa facilities. The signing was a gift from the franchise to the famed comedian for his 60th birthday, thanking the life-long Yankees fan for his support of the team over the years.
But some fans and sports columnists have lashed out at the move, arguing that it undermines the seriousness of spring training. Others have objected to Crystal on the grounds that he is a part-owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks, who dealt the Yankees a crushing defeat in the 2001 World Series.
Not that this is the first time a celebrity has played in a spring-training game — Garth Brooks, Tom Selleck and Bruce Hornsby have all played in spring-training games before.
It is yet to be determined how many at-bats Crystal will get or whether he will play the field but, according to ESPN, when a fan asked him what position he will play, Crystal responded “DH — designated Hebrew.”
UPDATE: Watch Billy Crystal get ready for his big day:
Hat tip for the video: JTA’s Ami Eden