Thursday, October 07, 2004

October Magic in the Bronx

I live for moments like earlier this evening. Bottom of the 12th. Yankees down one run. The Twins came back in a game that looked more like a heavyweight fight than the baseball playoffs. They cracked the Yankees ace reliever only to succumb to yet another wave of October magic in the Bronx.

I cashed out $200 of my Party Poker bankroll and bought my brother playoff tickets for his upcoming birthday. You only live once. Originally I bought bleacher tickets from a ticket broker but those tickets fell through at the last minute due to an error in at the broker's company. After I bitched for about thirty seconds, I was given better seats in the Upper Level. They were more expensive ($250 for 2... when they should have been $45 each) but I got them for $200 as replacement tickets. I was a little irked. I wanted bleacher seats. I wanted to hangout with the Bleacher Creatures. I wanted to be a part of the infamous "roll call" at the beginning of the game when all the fans sitting in the right field bleachers shout the name of every starter, one by one, until they turn around and acknowledge their presence. It's one of those cool unique things that make trips to Yankee Stadium much different from your average baseball game. I had envisioned shouting Derek Jeter's name and having him quickly waved back at us in between pitches.

Derek and I pre-partied at the same bar in front of the stadium where I took Al Cant Hang and Mrs. Hang in June. After a few drinks in the crowded bar, we navigated through a bevy of uniformed police officers on patrol and fans streaming inside. I swear I must have seen a cop every ten feet surrounding Yankee Stadium. Derek bought a $4 pretzel from a street vendor and we made our way up to our seats. They were better than I expected. I was exactly half way between the pitcher's mound and homeplate on the third base side four rows back in the upper tier. The only blindspot was the left field corner. But from my seat, I could view home plate and the Yankees dugout easily.

Before the game began, I ate fries and a footlong hotdog and Derek had an Italian Sausage on a roll. Throw in a $4.50 bottle of water and a large soda... and that made us $30 poorer. Beers were $7.50. Oils cans of Fosters were going for $9.75. Man, we dropped $250 and the first pitch hadn't even been thrown out! I was a little concerned about the high price I paid for the tickets. I'm not what you call a material person. I own not one piece of jewelry. I don't even own a watch. I don't have a car and I never fly first class. I rarely eat fine cuisine. My clothes are non-hipster friendly. All my money goes towards books, traveling, and maintaining a steady high. I had a tinge of buyer's remorse the last few days. I could have put $200 towards paying off my tax bills (those damn capital gains taxes are killing me) or using it to fund my upcoming trips to Rhode Island and Las Vegas. I was worried that I foolishly spent $200 on a shitty game where the Yankees get blown out and I could have watched it on TV instead. Alas, I love to live in the moment. And where else could finer moments happen than at Yankee Stadium?

I always get goosebumps when I hear the National Anthem at Yankee Stadium as you stare at the American flag whipping around in the wind on it's pole in Monument Park surrounded by the memorials of the Yankee greatest players of all time. The fashionably late NYC crowd was still making it's way inside when Paul O'Neill threw out the first pitch. They missed the action. The Twins got off to a fast start, tagging John Leiber for a run in the first inning. The Yankees struck back right away at the bottom of the first when Derek Jeter crushed a home run to deep centerfield off of Brad Radke, knocking a shot into the "black seats". Only two other players have done that in the postseason (Reggie Jackson and Jay Buhner). Instantly, I knew that I was going to be a part of something special.

The Twins came right back in the second with two more runs. The Yankees waited until the third inning to respond when Gary Sheffield rocked a home run to left field to tie the game. I have never seen any player hit the ball harder than Sheffield. Even my brother said, "He hits the ball harder in person." I've been impressed with his season long contribution as the MVP of the Yankees. When he slowly walked back out to the field at the end of the third inning, the fans in right field gave him a standing ovation. Chants of "MVP! MVP!" echoed throughout the now full stadium. Despite the six combined runs the game was moving at a quick pace. Lieber and Radke walked the least amount of players in the AL. They worked fast. And the Yankees were knocking Radke all over the place after they had been shut out the night before. The first five innings last just 1 hour and 15 minutes. At that pace the game was going to be over by 9:30!

Alex Rodriguez hit a solo homerun in the fifth to give the Yankees their first lead of the night. They started out behind, like they had been doing all season long. The Yankees compiled 61 come from behind wins, tops in both leagues. They were a team that knew how to hang on and rally late in games.

Then the game slowed down. ARod picked up his second RBI of the night when he singled in the seventh. The Yanks had a two run lead and things were falling right into place. Flash Gordon came out in the seventh to shut down the Twins. He faltered in the next inning. With one out, he struck out Jacque Jones who reached first base from a wild pitch. That's one of the rarest plays in baseball and I knew it was going to come back and haunt the Yankees. After giving up a single to the next batter, Joe Torre made a questionable move. With 5 outs to go, he brought in closer Mariano Rivera. Prior to the game he has only blown 2 out if his last 33 postseason save opportunities. It made me wonder that if perhaps the Yankees were ahead 1-0 in the series... then he would have let Flash Gordon work his way out of the jam. Instead he went right for Mo Rivera.

I get goosebumps when he jogs out of the bullpen to his well-known background music... Metallica's Enter Sandman. It should have been a done deal. Mo's coming in. It's a done deal. That didn't happen and he gave up two runs which tied the game at 5. The entire stadium was shocked. The boisterous rowdy crowd had been silenced. The invincible Rivera was brought back to Earth. After a scoreless ninth inning, the game headed into extra innings. Free baseball. At least I was getting my money's worth.

Late in the game, home plate umpire Mark Wegner blew several calls. He squeezed Yankee relievers and everytime he missed a borderline call, the crowd grumbled. At one point, he finally called a strike and the restless crowd sarcastically rose to give Wegner a standing ovation. It was not pretty. He called a very inconsistent game which was angering the Yankees and their fans.

In the bottom of the 12th, I'd say that 1/4 of the crowd had left. Those who remained got to see another HR from Torii Hunter. He's been killing the Yanks. It didn't look good. The emotional highs and lows were fast and fierce. I went from pure joy and anticipation when Mo RIvera came in... to utter desperation with one out of the bottom of the 12th.

Arod's clutch hit in the 12th inning.

Luckily the Twins manager bad a poor decision (almost along the lines of Grady Little and Pedro last year in the ALCS) and left his closer in for a third inning. Bad move which cost him the game. Even Wegner's generous strike zone was not good enough for Nathan's loss of control. He walked Miguel Cairo and Derek Jeter on eight straight pitches. With two runners on, ARod came up. He belted a shot to left field and missed a homerun. The ground-rule double was his fourth hit of the night and Derek Jeter should have scored on the play, but the umpires sent him back to third base. For about twenty seconds, the entire crowd thought the Yankees won the game. Not quite. What did happen was something crucial for ARod's future with the Yankees. He officially earned his pinstripes with that clutch hit in extra innings. That's why the Boss pays him an enormous salary. Big time players get big time hits in hairy situations. The Yankee magic rubbed off on ARod, which was exactly what he needed. He's been hitting .600 in the postseason this year and looks like he's not going to let up.

Sheffield was walked intentionally to load the bases for Hideki Matsui. With one out, I liked our chances of winning the game right there. Matsui is the team's best contact hitter. I knew he was at least going to make a productive out. He lined a rocket to right field. Unfortunately, a speedy Jeter tagged up at third base and beat the throw home. The Yankee came from behind, again!

As the crowd left the game, the PA speakers were blasting the usual version of New York, New York by old blue eyes himself. Nothings better than singing along to that song after a Yankees October victory.... four hours and twenty minutes after the game started.

Someday I hope you can attend a live playoff game at Yankee Stadium. There is no other comparable experience in professional sports. The energy, enthusiasm, and excitement are overwhelming.

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