It was as if all the stars were perfectly aligned for today’s win. And there’s so much to talk about. Today was the designated Hideki Matsui Day at the Stadium because free agent Matsui agreed to sign a one-day minor league contract with the Yankees and then retire as a Yankee, his first team in the US, and where he made such an impact, like winning the MVP of the 2009 World Series. It was truly remarkable to see Matsui in pinstripes again, even if it was just to throw out the ceremonial first pitch (one of the better ones I’ve ever witnessed). Welcome back and congrats on your retirement, #55!
There were a ton of “Super Captain” and #2 shirts, which is no surprise usually, but the significance today was in honor of Derek Jeter’s 2nd return to the season, after his recent stint to rehab a quad strain. And today (like a few weeks ago), he helped his team win with style. But this day, he seemed back to the Jeter we knew before the October injury. (More on this later.)
And I had the honor of sitting with the ultimate Yankee fans — the Bleacher Creatures in Section 203. Every game, following the first pitch, the Creatures do a Roll Call — cheering on each Yankee player to which each player takes a turn greeting the fans with their own particular recognition (Gardner does a “muscle man”, some point, Granderson did a little two-step, most infielders just raise their gloves). It’s really so much fun, and today, after the last fielder, a “MAT-SU-I” cheer went out to honor his significance to the Yankees. I must say that there is something about watching a game from the bleachers; it’s like touching a bit of history, something I think my grandfather would have enjoyed and did enjoy when he would catch games on his lunch break when he was like my age. If you can, catch a game from the bleachers; and if you like loud, make it Section 203 at Yankee Stadium.
Oh, and there was a game today… boy, was there a game!
Starter Phil Hughes really had a rather rough outing today, giving up 9 hits and all 5 runs the Rays earned today, via an RBI double in the 2nd, a 3-run home run in the 3rd, and a lead-off solo home run in the 5th. It looked awfully bleak when Preston Claiborne entered as his replacement two batters into the 5th inning, but Claiborne did what he’s really proven his capable of doing and that’s keep the Rays scoreless for 2 innings. Then Logan and Robertson kept the momentum going for the 7th and 8th innings.
Okay, so leave it to Derek Jeter to start the run rally today. In the 1st inning, Jeter took the first pitch he saw into the left-center field seats. Then Robinson Cano and Alfonso Soriano each singled, where Vernon Wells could hit a nice sacrifice fly and score Cano. Soriano would then score on Ichiro Suzuki’s single. And the Yankees would end the 1st inning ahead 3-0.
The Rays would jump ahead by the bottom of the 3rd inning 4-3, but the Yankees never let them lead too long. So Jeter leads off with a single, and then Soriano decided to re-earn his pinstripes with a 2-run home run. And the Yankees were back up 5-4. The Rays would tie up the game in the 5th, and there the teams would sit. As the sun began to shine and push the sprinkling rain away, the innings and outs ticked by.
And then came the 9th inning, on a stroke of genius, Girardi’s call to the bullpen was to put in Mariano Rivera, which was the ultimate treat on an already special day. Rivera took 12 pitches to get his 3 outs and would walk away with today’s win. In the bottom of the inning, Brett Gardner walked and then they intentionally walked Jeter (much to the dismay of the entire booing crowd), which brought up Alfonso Soriano. Soriano promptly singles straight up the middle, scoring Gardner and getting surrounded by a cheering Yankees and 40,000 cheering fans. Gardner later thanked him by dumping the Gatorade jug onto Soriano, perhaps a much needed relief because of the rising heat off the field.
And the Yankees take Matsui Day 6-5 from the Rays, celebrating Jeter’s solid return and honoring one of the great Yankees. And if it hadn’t rained through the first half of the game, it might have been just about perfect. It’s a great day to be a Yankees fan. But then again, isn’t it always?