Game 32: CLE vs. NYY — It was a bumpy journey, but the Force was with the Yankees

All across baseball (and the world, really) is celebrating Star Wars Day. Because it’s May the 4th… as in “May the Force be with you”, a familiar phrase from the Star Wars movies (and its extended universe). And in that spirit, the Yankees giveaway for the day was a bobble head of Aaron Judge as a Jedi. And all of this is terribly awkward for anyone who still thinks of the Yankees as the “Evil Empire”, but might be kind of fun as the Yankees play the ceremonial march music (from A New Hope) during their announcement of the starting roster at every home game.

CC Sabathia, one of the biggest Star Wars nerds on the team, got the honor of the start in the opening game of this home stand against the visiting Indians (both his former team and the Yankees’ 2017 ALDS rivals). Sabathia worked some of his own force and threw a great game — 92 pitches in 6 scoreless innings, giving up just 3 hits, and striking out 7 Cleveland batters. Dellin Betances followed suit and threw a great scoreless 7th inning.

In the mean time, the Yankees offense found its first opportunity to break through on the scoreboard in the 4th inning. Walker led-off with a single and moved to 2nd on a force attempt and fielding error that allowed Andujar to reach safely. Then Gleyber Torres smacked his first career home run, a 3-run shot to left field. (The fan who caught it later negotiated its return for her and her 8 friends to get a personalized clubhouse tour and some autographed gear.)

One out later, Aaron Judge hit a solo home run to join in on the fun. And Gary Sanchez later led-off the 5th with his own home run. (Was the Force stronger over in the left field seats?)

And then there was the 8th inning. With the Yankees up 5-0 over the Indians, the Indians took advantage of an off-night from Chasen Shreve, who just couldn’t find an out tonight to save the game. He gave up a walk, a single, a 3-run home run, and a single before they finally pulled the plug on his night. David Robertson had his own issues in relief. After the Yankees defense failed to turn two, the next batter hit a 2-run home run to tie up the game.

Determined, the Yankees came back in the bottom of the 8th to break the tie. The Yankees loaded up the bases with Andujar’s fielder’s choice, Torres’ single, and Gardner’s walk. And then Judge’s “forced” in the go-ahead run to give the Yankees some hope. (Totally stole that one from Twitter.) So Aroldis Chapman needed just 3 outs for the save. The Indians needed 1 run to stay alive. The Indians got their wish as a lead-off single, moved to 2nd on a 1-out hit-by-pitch, advanced to 3rd on a wild pitch, and then scored on another wild pitch to tie up the game again.

But the Yankees weren’t just going down without that big final battle and “good guy heroics”. Stanton led-off the 9th inning with a double and later moved to 3rd on a ground out. After Walker walked and moved into scoring position on defensive indifference, it would be Miguel Andujar that would be “strong in the force”, knocking a bloop single into shallow right center field that easily scored Stanton for the walk-off run.

Final score: 7-6 Yankees

Further, in honor of Star Wars Day, the Yankees welcomed a parade of characters from the movie and the upcoming prequel movie Solo, about one of the main character’s origins and directed by the Yankees’ special guest tonight — Ron Howard, who also threw out the first pitch.

And finally, a big congratulations to Ichiro Suzuki who will transition to special advisor for the Mariners (his current team). Ichiro was always a fan-favorite (with the Mariners, Yankees, Marlins, and back to the Mariners) and a favorite in every clubhouse from his days playing in Japan to his time around MLB. He closes out a great career and will be in our discussions when he’s elected to the Hall of Fame in five years.

Go Yankees! (And Happy Star Wars Day, fellow nerds!)

Game 111: CLE vs. NYY — A busy Sunday, another one bites the dust, & a milestone

Another pinstripe legend from the 2009 team is hanging up their cleats and a former Yankee favorite hits a major milestone… but more on that after the game recap.

Today, the Yankees sent Masahiro Tanaka to the mound for the weekend finale against the Indians. Tanaka kept things very well under control for almost his entire outing. He threw 101 pitches into the 7th inning, gave up 6 hits, no walks, and a season-high 8 strike outs (including his 400th career strikeout). Through 6 innings, he kept the Indians scoreless. But a lead-off double spelled the end of Tanaka’s afternoon.

Adam Warren came on for Tanaka. A fly out moved the runner to 3rd before a single easily scored the runner. It took some finagling, but Warren eventually found his way out of trouble. Tyler Clippard came on for the 8th inning, and things got interesting. He struck out his first batter who then got tossed from the game for arguing balls and strikes with the umpire. Then a walk ended up all the way at 3rd after a throwing error as he stole 2nd.

And it was onto Dellin Betances. A walk added a runner on the corners, and a wild pitch scored the runner from 3rd before Betances got the strikeout to close out the 8th. He eased his way through the 9th, starting with a challenged but successful double play, before shutting the Indians down effectively and earning his 2nd save of the season.

The Yankees, perhaps spurred on once again with a departure announcement, were anything but silent at the batter’s box. Brett Gardner led off the bottom of the 1st with a beautiful triple, sliding just under the 3rd baseman’s legs. He then scored on Jacoby Ellsbury’s sacrifice fly. In the 4th, Didi Gregorius celebrated his bobblehead day (today’s giveaway at the stadium) with a 1-out solo home run to the right field seats. And in the 5th, Ellsbury worked a 2-out walk and then scored on Mark Teixeira’s double.

The Indians starter and reliever actually did a really good job. Together, they racked up 12 strikeouts, allowing only 5 hits and 2 walks. Comparatively, the Yankees’ pitching staff matched the 12 strikeouts, but gave up 8 hits and 3 walks.

Final score: 3-2 Yankees, Yankees win series 2-1.

Okay, so Alex Rodriguez will play his final game as a Yankee on Friday, August 12 against the Rays. After the game, he will be unconditionally released by the Yankees and signed to a special contract where he will become the Yankees special adviser, reporting directly to owner Hal Steinbrenner, and an instructor. Rodriguez has been known around baseball for years now for his teaching ability, instinct on player development, and general love for the game. While not clearly set yet, his focus will probably be on Spring Training and player development as part of the system with the Tampa High-A team.

Best of luck to him, and I look forward to the last 4 games featuring Alex Rodriguez.

{Media links: YES Network reports on what CC Sabathia said about Alex Rodriguez, YES Network broadcasters discuss Rodriguez and his career, and the full press conference here.}

{Blog post note: a special feature on Alex Rodriguez will come on one of the other off-days this month.}

And while I was writing this blog post, I got word that a very special, fan favorite former Yankee (now with the Marlins) Ichiro Suzuki just hit his 3,000th hit with MLB on a stand-up triple in the 7th inning against the Rockies. Ichiro is the first Japanese player to reach 3,000 hits and is the 2nd player to reach this milestone on a triple. (Paul Molitor did so September 16, 1996.)

Now, technically, Ichiro has 4,278 career hits when you factor in his professional career in Japan, but MLB records only count hits made during the regular season and as part of one of the recognized MLB clubs. And if you’re keeping track at home, Pete Rose currently holds the MLB record at 4,256 career hits. So if you’re giving this record to Ichiro in your mind, you’re certainly not alone in that line of thought over here. Congrats on the milestone!

Go Yankees!

Game 63: NYY vs. MIA — Miami hotter than Tanaka, just barely

The Yankees flew south for the summer… well, for two days, at least. For an odd 4-game split with the Marlins, the Yankees are in Miami for a couple of days before they turn around and host them in the Bronx. Because the MLB schedule said so, I guess. I’ve said this before, but the schedule is rather strange this year for the Yankees, and this 4-game split is just one example to prove my point.

It would have been a much better game for the Yankees if their offense hadn’t dried up — 3 hits and 3 walks, striking out 10 times over the game. The lone run the Yankees scored was a big solo home run in the 2nd by (who else?) Mark Teixeira, his 18th homer of the season. And that was it. The Yankees just weren’t hitting or scoring runs beyond that.

Now, due to some pretty decent planning (nice job, Girardi!), the Yankees will send up their two starters that have pretty decent hitting records (or at least hitting records in the fairly recent history) — Tanaka tonight and Eovaldi (the former Marlin) tomorrow. And why is this important? Because the Marlins play in the NL, which means no DH.

So it was Masahiro Tanaka who got the start today against the Marlins, and he really did a decent job once again — 94 pitches over 7 innings, giving up 9 hits, 2 runs, and no walks, and striking out 6 batters. In the 2nd, a double scored on a deep single to tie up the game. Then in the 7th, a lead-off home run pushed the Marlins into the lead.

Now, then things got interesting. A single was sitting on 1st, and Tanaka threw over for a pick-off attempt. The runner was called safe, the Yankees challenge, and it was rightly overturned. And the game finally got interesting.

In the 8th, both starters were out of the game. And the Marlins called on what has to be their equivalent to Betances. He faced 3 of the Yankees good hitters and struck them all out — his fastballs ranging from 97-100mph and interspersed with curves and sliders in the low-80s. It was really nasty to watch. They have quite the gem in that pitcher.

And then it was Jose Ramirez’s turn on the mound for the Yankees, though he probably wishes he could get tonight back. A single, a hit-by-pitch (to Miami’s version of Jeter), and a walk loaded the bases without a single out. That was it. It’s one thing to lose a game when the opposing team earned their win, but it’s quite another to just give it away and let them run with it. So it was on to Sergio Santos, who desperately needed to redeem himself after his Yankee debut last week. Santos threw 10 pitches to get Miami batters to strike out twice and then line out directly to right field to a waiting Garrett Jones.

Final score: 2-1 Marlins.

For most of the game, it felt like it was just dragging right up until things started getting interesting — that 7th inning challenge and then that really rollercoaster 8th inning. But despite the feeling, it was still just a 2 hour, 41 minute game. And there were 33,961 fans (an almost sold-out crowd) to watch the show, decently split down the middle on loyalties. There were plenty of Yankees fans, often split family loyalties all over the stadium to enjoy the game.

Okay, tonight’s weird discovery (because I don’t really follow any of the other teams for obvious reasons): the Marlins are one of the many teams that have their players’ last names on the back of their jersey. But on the back of #51 isn’t “Suzuki” but rather “Ichiro”. Now, in case you were thinking that because the Japanese reverse the order of their names (surname then first name) that this actually works, you are wrong. His family name (surname, last name, whatever you call it) is Suzuki, and his first name is Ichiro. But I don’t think most people would know who of him would ever think “Suzuki”. I think he’s just “Ichiro” to everyone — like many other one-named phenomenons (Shaq, Jordan, Magic, Tiger, LeBron, Babe).

 

Injury update: Ivan Nova will complete one more rehab start before his return in pinstripes. He’s still with the AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre team to do so, but the reports are coming back great. It’s going to be good to get Nova back in the rotation and shake up the pitching a bit. It will be interesting to see how everything falls into place around that move.

Go Yankees!

(And congrats to the Chicago Blackhawks on their Stanley Cup win. I know a ton of Lightning fans who aren’t very happy tonight, but there’s always next year. Or the year after that…)

January tidbits — awards, moves, a fire, contracts, and a goodbye

The BBWAA (Baseball Writers Association of America) held their annual dinner in New York tonight, honoring various noted players, alumni, and important baseball figures from this past year, including Dellin Betances, Brett Gardner, and Mark Teixeira. Betances was given the Sid Mercer-Dick Young New York Player of the Year Award, Gardner the Dan Castellano “Good Guy” Award (for his “candor and accessibility to writers”), and Teixeira the Joan Payson Award (for excellence in community service through his Harlem RBI programs). Also recognized was Derek Jeter with the Joe DiMaggio “Toast of the Town” Award (for a player who has become a New York favorite) and Pete Frates with the You Gotta Have Heart Award (for despite his struggle with ALS, he introduced the world to the Ice Bucket Challenge which raised millions of dollars for ALS research).

Yankee fans, it’s time to bid farewell to Ichiro Suzuki as he heads south for a year with the Marlins. Pending a physical, Ichiro will continue his long career as the 4th outfielder in their roster. Fans can catch Ichiro in Orange and Black against the Yankees in mid-June during a 4-game split (2 games in Miami and 2 in the Bronx). He will be missed, but we wish him the best of luck as he continues to add to his 4,122 hits (between Japan and the US) on his march to the inevitable Cooperstown bid.

Also, the Yankees quickly traded away recently acquired pitcher Gonzalez Germen to the Rangers for cash considerations. Easy come, easy go in this off-season.

On Wednesday, a 7-alarm fire engulfed a large apartment complex across the Hudson River from Manhattan, nearly destroying everything, but surprisingly, the loss was simply material and no lives (not even of the furry kind) were lost in the fire. One of the many residents displaced is long-time Yankees’ radio announcer John Sterling, who lost everything but the clothes on his back and his 2009 World Series ring (because it was the one he was wearing). Sterling’s loss includes 4 other World Series rings, 2 Emmy awards, and countless pictures and memorabilia. Sterling remains upbeat and positive, preferring to hold onto his memories than the “things”, cherishing the intangibles over anything that is or can be lost. Our prayers are with Sterling and all the residents as they rebuild and recreate their homes.

Last week, the Yankees came to terms with three pitchers who were arbitration-eligible — David Carpenter, Nathan Eovaldi, and Michael Pineda. Carpenter agreed to $1.275 million, Eovaldi to $3.3 million (though not officially announced), and Pineda to $2.1 million. Every contract is written differently and evolves differently depending on the progression of the player’s career, but often, at the end of the first major contract with a team, a player becomes arbitration-eligible for the final year of said contract, meaning they can negotiate a better (or worse, depending on the player and team) salary for that final year. It’s kind of like a negotiation — the player promises a good year and the team gifts them with what they think is a fair salary for that year. It’s often then used as a future negotiating point for their next contract negotiations, a good outcome can mean a huge raise and multi-year deal.

Our prayers go out to the family and friends of the great Ernie Banks, who passed away yesterday, just 8 days before his 84th birthday. Banks played his entire 19 year career with the Chicago Cubs at shortstop and 1st base (1953-1971). A 14-time All-Star, 2-time NL MVP, and with stats like 2,583 hits and 512 home runs and 1,636 RBIs and .274 batting average, it’s no wonder “Mr. Cub” was a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 1977. Banks was the first African-American player to wear the Cubs uniform and quickly became the face of the organization and fan favorite of Wrigley Field. In return, the Cubs retired his #14 and put a statue outside Wrigley in his honor. Banks was elected a member of the All-Century Team and is considered (along with the likes of Yogi Berra, a good friend of Banks) a prime example of the outstanding players that aided the transition between Baseball’s Golden Era and the Expansion Era. Known for his positive attitude and contagious smile, Banks will be remembered as one of baseball’s “Good Guys”. He will be missed.

Go Yankees!

World Series Game 2: The Royal response, Giant loss

If anything can be said about the Royals is that they just don’t roll over and take it, and it’s really the only reason they’re playing in October. Well, I guess the same could be said for the Giants, but tonight, the honor of longest holdout is awarded to the home team. As if they were solely responding to the pounding they endured yesterday in front of their rabid fans in blue, the Royals only trailed briefly before coming back and pouncing on the Giants. For some reason, the Giants starter and bullpen just wasn’t nearly as sharp as they have been.

Okay, if I’m being honest, neither team really pitched a fantastic game tonight. Both teams were awarded with high hit counts (10 total for the Royals, 9 for the Giants), but the Royals were more efficient in how they scored their runs and thus ended up scoring the most.

The Giants struck first with a lead-off solo home run in the 1st inning, but the Royals responded in the bottom of the inning to tie up the game with an RBI single before adding to their score with an RBI double in the 2nd inning. Of course, the Giants tied the game back up in the 4th with their own RBI double. And they kind of stayed knotted there briefly. Until the Giants starter struggled in his 6th inning putting runners on base with a single and a walk before they put the ball in the hands of a reliever.

Unfortunately for the Giants, the reliever wasn’t exactly having a good night either, promptly giving up an RBI single. This began the pitching dosey-do, of sorts. The next pitcher got the first out of the inning before another pitcher was called in. He was having an off day too — a 2-RBI double and a 2-run home run to push the Royals up 7-2. Well, that was it for the Giants as they finally called in the “big guns” (also known as the guy who has one of the lowest postseason ERAs), who promptly shut down the inning in 5 pitches to get those final 2 outs of the inning.

And despite their best efforts, the Giants weren’t going to make up the difference for that terrible 6th inning. It’s been said a million times that if you don’t have pitching, you don’t have anything. And that has never been more true that in this World Series. Yesterday, that was the story for the Royals, and tonight, the tables have turned for the Giants. That’s the thing about baseball — you just never know what’s going to happen; much like life, there are very few guarantees. Winning is never a given until that final out is declared; there’s always a chance your opponent can do something better, even at the last second. “It ain’t over until it’s over”… and this Series ain’t over yet!

World Series Game 2: Royals over Giants 7-2, Series tied 1-1

And now for your new favorite postseason tradition (can I really call it a “tradition” yet?): “This Day in Yankee History” — we go back to 2001. Being delayed due to the events of 9/11, the postseason was pushed back almost a week. So the Yankees, defending their 3rd straight World Series title, faced off against the surging Mariners for the ALCS. On this date 13 years ago, Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill, and Tino Martinez all hit home runs in Game 5 to clinch the ALCS (and New York’s 38th AL pennant) with a score of 12-3. The Yankees would go on to face the Diamondbacks in the World Series later that week in what would be the most dynamic World Series ever played due to the traumatic events of that year and the history being made on the field (think “Mr. November”); the Diamondbacks ended up taking the Yankees in Game 7, but it still sticks out to me as one of the most important Series ever played in baseball history.

Interestingly enough, on the other side of the field on the day mentioned above was a young Japanese rookie making his dynamic mark and beginning his legendary MLB career with the Mariners; his name was Ichiro Suzuki, and he was celebrating his 28th birthday as the team he would one day play for went on to celebrate their win. Today, however, he celebrated his 41st birthday as a Yankee. A very happy birthday to one of the greats, still a favorite in his former home of Seattle and very much a favorite in his new home of New York!

Go Yankees!

Game 162: NYY vs. BOS — Final game, final farewell

Fenway final
Final game of the year at Fenway (photo via MLB.com)

Well, it’s finally here. 162 games. End of the season. Those who wore the pinstripes today will be scattered about the country, headed homes to the families that have patiently waited for their returns all season. I suppose the advantage of baseball is that they’re home for the major holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years) and a good portion of their children’s school year. But there are those who will be hanging up their cleats for good after this season. And of course, the primary focus of this season all the way down to today’s game in Fenway is Derek Jeter.

Today, prior to the game, the Red Sox’s manual scoreboard transitioned from “SEPTEMBER 28, 2014” to “WITH RESPECT 2 DEREK JETER” to “WITH RE2PECT 2 DEREK JETER”. And then the last “not a farewell tour” ceremony began as Jeter jogged his way out to the outfield grass behind the area he played a good portion of his 153 games in Fenway (officially setting the Yankees record for the number of games played at Fenway, ahead now of Gehrig and Mantle at 152, Berra, and Ruth). Former Red Sox players and captains and several former captains of other Boston professional teams came out to join Jeter in the ceremony. A former minor league coach of Jeter’s and current Red Sox 3rd base coach Brian Butterfield gifted Jeter with customized LL Bean duck boots (to signify how many errors Jeter made in that rookie season with the Yankees in 1992 — “to boot” is to make an error, nice pun).

Then the entire Red Sox team came out, single-file to greet Jeter, led by long-time Jeter friend and competitor Ortiz; one player even to get a selfie with the Captain. And the final player 2nd baseman and long-time Red Sox Pedroia gave Jeter a customized 2nd base to signify the base they often met at during many of their games as rivals. Ortiz and current starting shortstop (and wearer of #2 on the Red Sox because of his childhood idol Jeter) Bogaerts gifted Turn 2 with a $22,222 check. And a placard from the same material of the Green Monster that said “RE2PECT” and signed by the entire 2014 Red Sox team. And because Jeter participated in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge earlier this year, the guy who started it all (Pete Frates), who is currently battling ALS, came onto the field to meet Jeter and honor him, though I think the Captain might have been the one who most felt honored to meet Frates.

Then a Massachusetts native and recent “The Voice” contestant sang the Aretha Franklin classic “Respect” to the Captain before the ceremony was over. After her rendition of the national anthem, it was play ball in the last game of the season for the Red Sox and Yankees.

The first time since 1993 since neither team was destined for October baseball. My brother called it almost an exhibition game, and I can’t say that I’d disagree entirely because the entire atmosphere in Fenway was unlike most Red Sox-Yankees games. There wasn’t really any rivalry or gentle animosity that has become so dear for these teams and their loyal fans since longer than most of any of them have been alive. Not when Yankee gear outnumbers Red Sox gear 2 to 1. And Jeter was cheered on with the entirety of Fenway on their feet, cameras flashing away, chanting “Der-ek Je-ter”, even some tears shed in the crowd. It was not the same Fenway Yankee fans are used to. You might even say, it was a little too New York for Boston.

But then again, it certainly was a Yankees’ dominated game, especially offensively. In the 3rd, with 1 out, Cervelli and Pirela on base with a walk and a single, Ichiro Suzuki smacked a ball deep into the oddly shaped corners of Fenway for a 2-run triple. Jeter stepped up to bat with the crowd overjoyed at what would be his final plate appearance and singled. Hit number 3,465 had Jeter standing on 1st base. But then he opted to leave it all on the field and exit the game. Stopping to greet the Red Sox pitcher first, Jeter made his way back to the visitor’s dugout, hugged by several long-time teammates, and his family watching as always with pride and a few tears. A bittersweet moment for all of baseball — one we are sad to see but happy to remember. Jeter bid farewell to the crowd one last time and faded into the din of the dugout to enjoy the rest of the game.

Brian McCann was Jeter’s pinch-runner, and Gardner’s double moved McCann to 3rd as Mark Teixeira stepped up to the plate. Now, let me preface this interesting turn of events with something that happened during pre-game warm-ups — that featured a home run derby batting practice and races to discover who is officially the slowest Yankee. The latter honor was down to Teixeira and McCann, the men who were 90 feet apart at the beginning of this paragraph. As the rest of the team cheering (jeering?) them on, McCann received the honor with pride (humility?). Now, with Teixeira’s sacrifice fly, it would be the Yankees’ slowest runner to outrun the ball and score the run. Teixeira, meanwhile, found this hysterical and wasn’t afraid to point it out.

Then in the 7th, the Yankees were up 4-0, so they added to their numbers. Cervelli and Young each singled and then scored on Jose Pirela’s double. Perez’s single put runners on the corners, and John Ryan Murphy’s single scored Pirela. As there were still no outs recorded, the Red Sox went to their bullpen. Austin Romine came in to pinch-hit and promptly doubled home Perez. one out later, Chase Headley’s single scored Murphy before the Red Sox finally got out of the inning.

At the 7th inning stretch, the Yankees were up 9-0 in Boston. So far so good.

Michael Pineda got the start for the last game of the season and really put in some great work this afternoon. In his 6.1 innings, he threw 89 pitches, gave up just 3 hits and 1 run, and struck out 10 Red Sox batters. (Yes, 10! He was on-point today.) That run started off as an allowed single in the 7th inning, just before the Yankees called on Esmil Rogers for relief. But Rogers was anything but relief as Pineda watched anxiously from the bullpen as the Red Sox attempted a rally.

Rogers quickly loaded the bases with a walk and a hit by pitch to add to Pineda’s single, before a 3-run double jumped the Red Sox up on the scoreboard, due in part to a fielding error. (Again, the oddly shaped outfield at Fenway can be rather daunting for new players out there.) Another walked batter, and the Yankees called on Adam Warren. Warren gave up a 2-run double to the first batter he faced before getting out of the inning, with the Yankees still in the lead 9-5.

Warren’s 8th inning was virtually flawless, which set up what can only be David Phelps’ best inning pitched all year. The Yankees clung to their 9-5 score and won their final game of the 2014 season.

Now, one of my favorite moments of the afternoon was the surprise rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” on the acoustic guitar by former Yankee Bernie Williams. About halfway through the song, the crowd at Fenway began to lightly sing along. It was one of the best versions I’ve ever heard, but then again Williams is a well-known musician now, and I always enjoy his music. (Seriously, if he ever plays near you, go see him live.)

A fun fact: Mickey Mantle and Jeter share two interesting trivia bits. Jeter’s final game in Yankee Stadium was last Thursday, September 25, 2014. Mantle’s last game in Yankee Stadium was September 28, 1968 (a Wednesday, by the way). Jeter’s final game at Fenway was today Sunday, September 28, 2014. Mantle’s last game at Fenway was September 28, 1968 (a Saturday). Yes, for all the comparisons to DiMaggio, it would be Mantle that shares the most with the outgoing Jeter. (More on that in an upcoming post!)

And that’s all she wrote… at least for this season… and for the Yankees. Tomorrow begins the race to the World Series that unfortunately once again doesn’t include the boys in pinstripes.

But still, forever in my heart…

Go Yankees!

Game 159: BAL vs. NYY — Jeter says farewell to the Bronx

Jeter-finalYS
photo credit: YES Network

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.

Go Yankees!