Bittersweet. For some reason, this was the word that was going through my head even before the game in the final moments between the opening ceremonies, the national anthem, and Tino Martinez’s ceremonial first pitch and the time when the boys in pinstripes would take the field for what would be the final time in 2015. Bittersweet. I don’t know why. It just seemed like the right emotion.
And I blame Bud Selig. A few years ago, former MLB Commissioner Selig decided that the league could use one more playoff game and created the one-off Wild Card game. So technically then, according to the previous way of doing things, the Yankees would be the ones facing the Royals in the ALDS later this week. To be fair though, I’ve respected the hardworking Astros since the beginning of the season, and they deserve to be in the postseason. But I was counting on them being the AL West leaders and not facing the Yankees for this one-off game.
It was a rather electric atmosphere in the Bronx leading up to that first pitch by Tanaka. Fans trying to get in before first pitch found themselves stuck in huge pedestrian traffic as Gate 6 was temporarily closed due to a medical emergency with a fan. People in line took to social media to vent their frustrations about their nearly an hour wait to get into the park. To be fair, it’s the playoffs, and the gates open early for things like batting practice. Even at a regular game (especially during special promotional gift nights like those silly bobbleheads), lines getting in at just before game time are rather packed.
Even still, it was a sell-out crowd with 50,113 fans crowding into the stadium, making it the largest attendance this season. And for the first few innings, most people were on their feet and cheering at everything from a nifty fly out to a 2-strike pitch count to a great double play. But then the game looked less and less in the Yankees favor, but still the people lingered, hoping for Yogi’s famous saying to come to fruition. It wasn’t going happen though. Final game for the pinstripes ended with a near-silent crowd brokenhearted.
Whittled down to 25 men, many veteran Yankees (like Betances) made their postseason debut tonight, and eight rookies appeared on the roster — Mitchell, Pazos, Severino, Sanchez, Bird, Refsnyder, Heathcott, and Noel (Bird and Refsnyder also started tonight’s game at 1st and 2nd, respectively).
Masahiro Tanaka was pegged to start tonight’s game, going head-to-head with an easy Cy Young contender this year, the Astros’ ace (Dallas Keuchel). And honestly, with a couple of perfectly placed pitches, the two pitchers were rather evenly matched tonight. Tanaka went 5 innings, throwing 83 pitches, giving up 4 hits, 2 runs, and 3 walks, and striking out 3 Houston batters. On the other side of things, Keuchel struck out 7 Yankees batters in his 6 innings, though in all fairness, the strike zone after the first 2 innings was rather generous for the Astros pitching as it was back in June when the Astros were last in the Bronx (with the same home plate umpire and same Astros starter, by the way). Tanaka’s runs allowed were both 1st pitch lead-off home runs in the 2nd and the 4th innings.
The Yankees were able to get on base and set up some good opportunities for their batters to do something, anything really. But like so frequently these last few weeks, leaving their players stranded on the bases continued to be a pattern tonight as well. When fans at the stadium realized this, it was getting harder to stir the fans into a frenzy only to be disappointed once again.
Reliever Justin Wilson came on for Tanaka in the 6th and threw into the 7th, getting a good 4 outs and keeping the Astros from adding to their lead. Dellin Betances came on in the 7th and promptly walked his first batter. That runner stole 2nd and then scored on an RBI single to give the Astros their 3rd and final run of the evening. Betances buckled down through the 8th inning, and save that allowed run, he threw a decent game, including 4 (of his 5) outs as strikeouts.
Though Andrew Miller clearly had the best inning — 11 pitches in the 9th, including 2 strikeouts. As everyone crossed their fingers for a last-minute rally at the bottom of the 9th. It was not to be, as the Yankees went down in order — 2 strikeouts and a ground out to end the game.
Final score in the Bronx: 3-0 Astros, Astros advance to the ALDS to face the Royals.
My postseason predictions: I’m 0-for-1 so far this October. Still have Pirates over Cubs for tomorrow night. And I’ve picked out my Division Series teams. The hardest part about picking out my teams for the postseason is deciding which teams I want to win over which teams probably will win (basically, do I admit I could be very wrong?). Okay, maybe that’s not the hardest part — that would easily be rooting for a team that isn’t the Yankees.
Oh well, what a sad way to end 2015 for the Yankees. What’s that word again? Bittersweet. Yes, very bittersweet evening. And like I said on Twitter, see those boys next year at Spring Training.
Is it March yet?