Only for Derek Jeter could the Yankees script such a storybook farewell in the last game he would ever play in Yankee Stadium. It poured all over New York all day long, and suddenly as game time approached, the skies cleared, the tarp came off the field, the drying agent applied to the infield, and it was game time as scheduled in the Bronx. And there would be no rain, but instead a glorious orange sunset streaking across the sky as the Yankees warmed up for their final home game this season.
Hiroki Kuroda started tonight’s game, in what may be his own last game in pinstripes (as he has yet to announce his plans for next year). And despite a rocky start, Kuroda settled down and just put the Orioles in their place. In his 8 innings, he threw 95 pitches, gave up just 3 hits and 2 runs, and struck out 9 Baltimore batters. Those runs came as back-to-back solo home runs in the 1st inning. But after that, Kuroda became the Kuroda the Yankees know and love, just keeping those pesky birds from doing much in front of this sold-out crowd.
The Yankees, however, weren’t going to let the Orioles just have this game. In the 1st inning, Brett Gardner singled and then scored as Jeter doubled. Jeter then stole 3rd on a wild pitch and scored on a fielding error that got Brian McCann safely to 1st. The game was tied 2-2 at the end of the 1st inning.
Then came the 7th inning, which has to be the inning where the Orioles realized they weren’t going to win this game. I watched this inning and honestly wondered how a team so sloppy in their defense could possibly be where they are in the standings (much like I did in the first game of this 4-game series). Drew led-off with a strikeout, but ended up safely at 1st due to a passed ball (a rule I still don’t understand exactly, but I’m happy to watch it land in the Yankees’ favor). Ichiro Suzuki then walked, in what could also be his last game in pinstripes, as he too has yet to announce his plans beyond Sunday’s game in Fenway. And then Pirela singled on a bunt and the bases were loaded. Gardner’s groundout gets Drew trying to come home.
Bases are still loaded as the Captain steps up to the plate, and the Orioles bring in a new pitcher as this guy certainly wasn’t doing the job. Jeter actually has a really poor hit on a broken bat, but the Orioles’ shortstop bobbles it badly, so Ichiro and Pirela each score as Jeter and Gardner end up on the corners. Another new pitcher and it’s McCann again for a sacrifice fly to score Gardner.
And it’s 5-2 Yankees.
And into the 9th inning, Jeter takes his place at shortstop for the last time in the Bronx; chants of “Der-ek Je-ter” echo through the stadium, met with a couple of tips of the hat and waves with his glove; David Robertson on the mound for the 9th inning; Yankee fans just praying for those 3 outs to victory. A lead-off walk on base and one out, a 2-run home run to the 2nd deck of left field put the Orioles within 1 run. Another out. And then another left field home run to tie up the game. You could feel the air being vacuumed out of the stadium in an instant. Robertson would get out of the inning with a blown save.
No one moved like the usually do at this point. The guy they came to watch was up 3rd, and his family was right behind the netting, waiting for his final at-bat. Everyone in New York (and I’m guessing across the viewing audience) was praying for something spectacular. Pirela led-off with a single, before speedy Antoan Richardson was pinch-run for him. Gardner’s sacrifice bunt moved Richardson to 2nd. And the world waited. An 86 mph change-up was all it took — a single into right field, Jeter rounding 1st, ball thrown into home, Richardson sliding in… SAFE! WALK-OFF!! It’s what Girardi himself ordered for Jeter’s final at-bat. And when the boss puts in an order, the Yankees deliver.
Game over. Yankees win 6-5. And the madness in the Bronx began. It was as if they had won a Championship. The entire team celebrated, hugging their Captain goodbye. Former Yankees Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, Tino Martinez, Gerald Williams, and Bernie Williams were waiting to celebrate with former manager Joe Torre. Interviews, time alone on the field, greeting his family, more interviews, the customary Gatorade shower (by Gardner and Sabathia), and the final walk down the dugout steps to the clubhouse for the final time. And that was it.
Another farewell that makes me a little sad is that with Jeter’s final at-bat also goes the “Voice of the Yankees” Bob Sheppard. Before Sheppard passed away in 2010, three years after he stepped away from the microphone in 2007, Jeter specifically requested that his at-bats at Yankee Stadium were always going to be Sheppard’s voice announcing him: “Now batting, number 2, Derek Jeter…. number 2”. It’s as nearly familiar to any Yankee fan as Jeter himself. So as we in New York bid farewell to the one announced, we also bid farewell to the Voice that echoed through Yankee Stadium since 1951 announcing the likes of DiMaggio, Mantle, Berra, Rizzuto, and Jackson. It’s part of the old game that now fades into the history books and our memories.