Friday, May 15, 2009

How I Nearly Missed Melky's Walk-Off (Postgame Notes 15 May 2009)

Scene: 12.30 PM, Fordham area, Bronx, NY.

Dan and I make our way up to the fourth floor of my building, where my apartment is. Dan doesn't have a lot--you don't need a lot when only staying for a weekend--but he puts it down on my coffee table, which I worked so hard to clean last night.

The plan was to go to Central Park, toss a frisbee and find a bar to watch the Yankees.

You could not have asked for nicer weather.

I'm sitting on the couch, checking my email while Dan's putting his contacts in, when I get an idea.

"Hey, want to see if we can find cheap tickets to today's game?"

"Sure, why not?" He says.

I go to Stubhub and look for tickets. I can't do Grandstand or Terrace--Dan is not a height person--so I look around at the Main sections. I find one where the tickets start at $20. I click; I find two tickets for $26 each. I go to to compare face value. Face value on gameday is $80. It's a no brainer.

I buy, they send, and we walk over to the library to print.

5.30 PM Near New Yankee Stadium, Bronx, NY.

Dan and I get off the subway. It's quite hot out right now, the air from the city sitting heavy as it likes to do in the summer.

"Would you like to go to Stan's or into the Stadium?" I ask. Dan's a beer and bars fan. I can't drink beer and I get claustrophobic in bars, but since Dan is visiting, it's up to him. If he wants to go to the bar, we go to the bar. It's reversed when I visit him.

"Well..." He gives it some thought. "It's early. Let's go to Stan's, I'll get a drink, then we can head over."

So we go to Stan's. It's crazy crowded, and the music is really loud, but the music is good music. I can't remember now, so many hours later, what they were playing, but I know the mood it set: life is good. Forget your troubles. Life is good.

Second Inning, Yankee Stadium.

Justin Morneau comes up to bat.

I think, but do not say, it would not be surprising if he hit a home run here. A few pitches later, I watch the ball sail over the right field fence. I do not even rise from my seat to see the ball land; there is no way it is going to come down in time for Swisher to have a chance.

At the end of the inning I am amazed it is only 1-0. The Yanks are still in this.

Third Inning, Yankee Stadium.

Dan and I have great seats, for the most part. We can see the entire field, and the players are large enough to be human, to be nuanced and flawed.

But we cannot see the pitches well.

From our angle, down the right field line, we can only tell if pitches are way high, way low or way inside--because the player jumps out of the way. We cannot see movement and location on close pitches.

When Johnny Damon strikes out, we are not sure how to react--and then Johnny Damon makes it clear for us.

He argues. There's no question what he's arguing about and no one is surprised when he gets tossed. We wonder if it'll give some life to the offense; we don't realize what, exactly, the consequences of bringing in Brett Gardner to play center will be.

Later in the Third Inning, Yankee Stadium

We kind of knew this would happen.

We kind of knew that Alex Rodriguez would be called on to do something big. Bases loaded here, one out, the Yankees down by one run, and all the Yanks need is a single to take the lead.

A-Rod's timing is still off, however.

A few more weeks, and some of those pitches go way over the centerfield wall.

Not tonight.

The chorus of applause turns to boos. This is, after all, New York.

It's refreshing to see some things never change.

Fourth Inning, Yankee Stadium

Minnesota's just scored again on a sacrifice fly.

I text Joe from River Ave Blues, who's at the game.

Me: Way too many pitches.
Joe: I'm just glad he got out of it.

How is the score only 2-0?

It baffles us.

Fifth inning, Yankee Stadium

Justin Morneau is at bat again.

I don't think about him hitting another home run, but this is what he does.

It's now 3-0 Twins. It's by no means undoable for the Yankees, but eventually the runs will continue to build. If Phil Hughes can keep it here, we have a chance.

I look at the scoreboard. I can't believe it's already the fifth inning. I can't believe it's only the fifth inning.

Later Fifth Inning, Yankee Stadium

Derek Jeter is at bat.

The count goes to 0-2 (or so I think. Later I see the count was actually 2-0, but somehow I've missed this.)

"Please," I say, "please, please do not strike out on three pitches."

He doesn't.

He plants one over the right field porch. The Stadium comes alive: We are still in this.

Sixth Inning, Yankee Stadium

"You know, Rebecca," Dan says, "I think this is the best idea you've ever had."

I want to agree; it's hard when the Yankees are losing, but there is time yet.

Seventh Inning, Yankee Stadium

Phil Coke comes into pitch.

It's been a few days since Coke has pitched and he's perhaps the only other reliever in the bullpen capable of getting outs.

It's refreshing to see him again.

So refreshing that he serves up a home run to Joe Mauer.

Not so refreshing after all. He settles down and gets two outs before Joe Girardi brings in Brett Tomko.

"Uh Oh," I think.

Then, two pitches later, the side is retired. Maybe it's not such a big deal after all.

Later Seventh Inning, Yankee Stadium

There are two quick outs and Brett Gardner comes up to bat. It does not seem too promising, and soon enough, Gardner is down in the count, 0-2.

"He's going to strike out on three pitches," I say.

"The last time you said that, there was a home run," Dan says, not really amused.

So I watch, but I don't expect much. Gardner doesn't have Jeter's power.

Gardner doesn't hit a home run. Well, it doesn't seem that way...just a bloop down the line...but then it gets past the third baseman and the left fielder, and Gardner never stops running.

He's flying around the bases and by the time he gets to third the Stadium is in an uproar, because we all sense it: Gardner can make it home.

We egg him on. He keeps running. He slides, and is safe.

I have never heard the Stadium this loud. None of us have ever seen an inside-the-park-home run before. We don't realize it'll get louder later.

Ninth Inning, Yankee Stadium

It's a 4-2 game and the Yankees have to hold it here to have a chance. Against Joe Nathan it will likely not be much more than that, just a chance.

"You never know," says the man sitting in front of me. "That's baseball."

"You're right," I admit.

Dan brings up an issue that is on both of our minds: it is getting late.

"Well, if the Twins hit a two-run home run here, against Edwar, we're leaving," I say. They don't hit a home run, but they do send to the bullpen for José Veras. You can hear the Stadium's collective "Uh oh", you can see the mass exodus.

Dan and I have a 15 block walk from the subway back to my apartment. It's late and we, despite being city people, still find ourselves preoccupied with our safety.

"All right," I say, "let's go."

We walk down the ramp and are heading towards the exit. We are in the great hall and I can see the Babe Ruth Plaza outside the gate.

Ten steps, eight, seven, six, five....

And with that, Vera strikes out the side. Do they have a rally in their bones?

I grab Dan's arm.

"You know what? Let's stay."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah. It's Nathan. It'll probably be quick, anyway."

We walk up to the edge of the field level concourse. A crowd has gathered, all like us, all nearly out the door and deciding at the last minute to stay. Hey, why not?

So I try to watch Gardner's at bat--I can't see the field that well, because there are too many people in front of me, but I can see the screen.

I expect Gardner to strike out, but he doesn't. He hits the ball to the gap. He slips as he rounds first and still winds up at third. If he doesn't slip, he quite possibly has another inside the park home run.

"Dude," I say, "I've never seen one inside-the-park home run before, and we nearly had two."

Mark Teixeira follows. We just want a ball in the outfield. Something to score Gardner.

He obliges with a single.

It's now 4-3. The Yankees are only down one run, there's no one out, A-Rod's at bat. We can taste it. We are in this. We can win this.

"He's rattled," says the tattooed man behind me, referring to Nathan.

After A-Rod walks, it's clear, Nathan's definitely rattled.

We root for Matsui, who strikes out, and then root again for Swisher, who grounds out but moves Teixeira and A-Rod to second and third in the process.

This is key.

It's key because Joe Nathan and Joe Mauer and the Twins decide to intentionally walk Robinson Canó. It's a good idea in theory. Vaguely.

"Horrible idea," says the tattooed man.

"I know," I say. "Robbie's not good with men in scoring position and Melky's been hot. Gardner has a inside-the-park home run and a triple. You know Melky wants to do something."

"It's the competition. It's working. A little center field competition," smirks the tattoeed man.

While Robbie is being walked the Stadium starts chanting Mel-ky, Mel-ky.

Melky's already given the Yankees one walk off this season. He's been one of our most clutch hitters.

Right now, either he comes through and it's the most amazing experience I've ever had at a Yankee game, or he doesn't and we go home heartbroken, but right now, at this moment, none of us think Melky won't come through.

This has walk-off win written all over it.

Nathan pitches.

Melky dunks one in there.

The Yankees win.

The Stadium is howling with WHOOO, YAY, and everything else in between, including a lot of four letter words.

Brent calls me and is excited and I can't let him get a word in edgewise. This is way, way, too amazing.

10.30 PM, outside Yankee Stadium

Dan and I take a taxi back, instead of the subway. It's a little on the pricey side, but it's well worth it. The cabbie plays the Yankee postgame in the car.

"You know," says Dan, who is from Boston and a Red Sox fan, "I almost, just for a second, got caught up there. I almost had to cheer."

"It's the best $25 I've ever spent on baseball," I say.

I don't add: it's also the best two feet I never walked.