Since 2002, I have attended forty or so Yankee home games. Dad and I were there for game 2 of the World Series in 2003, when Andy Pettitte nearly pitched a complete game shutout and the crowd serenaded Bernie Williams, whose days in pinstripes were numbered. In 2007, I attended not one, but two games when Alex Rodriguez’s home run count sat at 499, and saw Joba Chamberlain hit 100mph as a reliever. This August, my parents and I witnessed a fifteen-inning marathon victory against the Red Sox. On September 9, my friend Laura and I cheered as Derek Jeter tied Lou Gehrig for the Yankees all-time hit record.
Those games all paled in comparison to last night. Game two of the 2009 of the American League Division Series was the best game I’ve ever seen.
That is why I am here, writing a new post for the first time in months. I want to remember this one. I want to remember what it was like to watch from the left-field bleachers on that surprisingly pleasant October night.
Anything can happen in these short division series, so there was a palpable sense of unease in the stands as Twins’ pitcher Nick Blackburn took a no-hitter into the fifth inning. A.J. Burnett pitched well for the Yankees, but lived on the edge, hitting two batters and walking five more. The Minnesota Twins got on the board in the sixth, but Alex Rodriguez tied it up with a single in the next inning. But when the Twins took a 3-1 lead in the eighth, the new stadium became deathly quiet. The Yankees would lose this one, ending their 8-0 winning streak against the Twins and 15-0 run when tied after seven innings.
Or would they?
In every sport, there are an infinite number of subplots, backstories surrounding every player. Tonight, two of those subplots took surprising new turns.
Since 2004, Alex Rodriguez developed a reputation as a high-priced player who couldn’t hit in the playoffs. Coming in to the bottom of the ninth inning, he had already hit 3 RBI singles in the 2009 ALDS. Mark Teixeira, an expensive acquisition, was 0 for 6 in the ALDS until he singled to get on base in the ninth. Then A-Rod came to the plate, waited for his pitch, and sent it flying into the Yankees’ bullpen.
And the crowd roared. The bleachers shook. My friend Lenny and I high-fived each other and any stranger in striking distance. I felt like I’d had a heart attack. We were all stunned, delirious with disbelief. The game had been over, done, the series tied at one. Suddenly, the game was not over. Suddenly, A-Rod was the most clutch hitter in playoff baseball.
The game continued to go back and forth for two innings. Both teams put men on base and failed to score. An umpire blew a call, but the Twins loaded the bases anyway. David Robertson, in his postseason debut, escaped the bases-loaded no-out jam. We chanted, “Let’s Go Yankees,” clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, until my hands hurt from all the clapping.
The game was still tied in the bottom of the eleventh, with Teixeira, A-Rod, and Hideki Matsui due up for the Yankees. If the Yankees were going to win, it would be in walk-off fashion. Everybody was betting on Rodriguez, the newly anointed Mr. October. I turned to my new best friends and bet on Teixeira, who, along with Derek Jeter, had not received a whipped cream pie to celebrate one of the Yankees 15 walk-off wins in the regular season. I bet on Teixeira, who risked becoming the new playoff struggler with his 1 for 7 start.
Mark Teixeira’s home run flew so quickly that we didn’t know what happened. The ball landed just to the left of us, in left field seats. Was it foul? Was it fair? It was gone! Another heart attack for me. Another walk-off win for the 2009 Yankees.
All 50,006 people in the crowd stood and applauded for a good five minutes. We screamed, we yelled, we high-fived, we hugged, we tried to fathom that yes, that actually did happen. We chanted “MVP” for Teixeira, even though Minnesota’s Joe Mauer has that prize sealed. We all stood in our seats and sang along to Sinatra. “I want to wake up, in a city, that never sleeps….” Do you know what it’s like, to hear 50,000 people ecstatically sing that song at the top of their lungs? It’s a little bit of heaven.
I’d never seen any of that before in my forty games at either Yankee Stadium. Never had I seen a crowd that was so united at the end of the game, that just didn’t want to leave. You won’t read about that in any of the official recaps. But I was there, at the House that George Built. It was spectacular.