I have never been to Yankee Stadium. And since I was planning to visit my brother (who lives in Jersey City), I was determined to make a trip to the stadium. Yankee Stadium will be torn down after the 2008 season, and I simply had to see a game there before it's gone.
Luckily, my brother and I (and two of his friends) were able to get decent tickets to a Thursday afternoon game against the Indians. The scheduled starting pitchers were Faustom Carmona (CLE) and Darrell Rasner (NY). I told my brother to expect a lot of runs scored.
From our seats in the second level right down the right field line, we couldn't really get the full panoramic view of the ballpark. But I could see Monument Park, and the view of new Yankee Stadium next door. Besides, it was a thrill just to be in Yankee Stadium.
The game actually started out pretty quiet in terms of offense. I told my brother that the Yankees were a team that worked pitchers incessantly, and they did give Carmona a very hard time. Unfortunately, they weren't able to turn that into runs scored. Carmona's pitch count ran up, but he still managed to go 6 innings, allowing just 2 earned runs. One run scored in the third on two singles and two stolen bases (Damon and Abreu). The other came on a Jason Giambi solo homer in the 6th. I told my brother that it was highly unlikely that anyone would hit a ball all the way to us in the second deck in right field. But I also said that Giambi was our best bet. He didn't hit the ball all the way to us, but he came close. It reminded me of the homer I saw Giambi hit in Cincinnati during an interleague series a couple years ago. That one was a laser beam that almost went through the right field bleachers.
Carmona did a good job of handling the Yankees and working through tough spots. Although he kept falling behind in the count and threw at least 2 or 3 pitches to nearly every hitter he faced, he pitched around his problems. He also (oddly enough) didn't issue a walk. Of course, I should mention that the Yankees were still short-handed due to injuries and were starting Will Nieves (??) at catcher. Doug Mientkiewicz was their starting first baseman, but that was on purpose, or so I'm told.
As for Rasner, he was more efficient than Carmona, but didn't see such good results. He faced the minimum through three innings, but hit a wall in the fourth. I remarked to my brother that sometimes pitchers with marginal stuff do much better the first time through the lineup than the second. And this is the Indians offense we're dealing with.
In the fourth, David Dellucci hit a one-out homer, and then the Indians loaded the bases with one out. Rasner came through, though, getting Casey Blake to pop out and striking out Jhonny Peralta to end the inning.
In the 5th, Rasner got Mike Rouse to line out and then gave up a single to Jason Michaels. It was at this point that Joe Torre took him out for lefty Mike Myers. I was and still am surprised that Torre showed such a quick hook with Rasner. I don't know what his pitch count was, but Torre really should be milking his starters for all they're worth. As Buster Olney remarked, one thing you can fault Torre for this year is his overuse of the bullpen, to the point of imminent injury/catastrophe. He needs to leave in his starters for more innings and just suffer the consequences, if only to make sure that Kyle Farnsworth and Luis Vizcaino live to see September.
The Indians threatened in the sixth, with Myers giving up a single to Travis Hafner and hitting Victor Martinez with a pitch. Myers was lifted for Brian Bruney. Bruney allowed a leadoff single to Ryan Garko, but then retired the next three batters to get out of the jam. It was a narrow escape.
So after six innings, it was 2-1 Yankees. I was thus far completely wrong in my prediction of a slugfest. Fausto Carmona had a world of trouble with Yankee hitters but pitched through his problems and finished with a quality start. Darrell Rasner pitched through his own troubles and was satisfactory, if only for 4.1 IP.
But things were just about to get exciting.
The Indians blew it open in the top of the 7th against Luis Vizcaino, who looks like he's completely lost out there nowadays. David Dellucci knocked in a run with an RBI groundout, but then Victor Martinez blew it open with a 3-run homer just below us in the right field bleachers. Vizcaino's line: 1 IP, 4 ER, 2 H, 2 BB, 2 K.
Aaron Fultz and Rafael Betancourt shut out the Yankees in the 7th and 8th innings, and it was still 5-2 going into the 9th. The Indians scored again in the 9th thanks to an error by Alex Rodriguez, making it a 6-2 game.
By this point, about half the New York fans had left. They would miss one of the most exciting comebacks I've ever seen in person.
"Closer" Joe Borowski came on for Cleveland in the 9th. He retired the first two batters he faced, and was one out away from ending the game. Then the most amazing thing of the whole game happened: Josh Phelps homered. It was a solo homer that made it 6-3, but unfortunately for Borowski it meant he was going to have to face the rest of the juggernaut Yankee lineup. Jorge Posada had already replaced Nieves as catcher in the 9th spot, and after that it was back to the top of the order.
Each successive batter brought another shock. Posada singled. Damon walked. Jeter punched a single into left field for an RBI (6-4). Bobby Abreu came to the plate. I turned to my brother and said, "You kn0w, Abreu needs to hit a home run to make this interesting."
Backstory: one day in 2002 (I think), my brother and I went to see the Cubs face the Reds at old Cinergy Field. The game was moving along a bit slowly. Fred McGriff stepped up to the plate. My brother turned to me and said, "You know, what we need is for McGriff to hit a home run and make this interesting."
On the very next pitch, he did.
I turned and gave my brother the most astonished look in the world. We've tried to recapture that predictive magic since then, but it's never worked.
It didn't work in Yankee Stadium, either. All Abreu did was go with an outside pitch and punch it into left field for a single. Damon scored, making it a 6-5 ballgame. Borowski was pitching like the marginal closer he was. With A-Rod at the plate, Borowski unleashed a wild pitch that sent Jeter to third and Abreu to second. It wasn't a big deal, as it turned out, but it moved the winning runs into scoring position and removed the force play from every base but first.
All of that was irrelevant, as I've said. It seemed impossible that the Yankees -- even though they are the Yankees -- could come back from a 4-run deficit in the 9th. I was thrilled that they'd come this far, as the game had become infinitely more interesting than it was in the early innings. I didn't think it could get any better.
Everyone in the Stadium had the same thought: A-Rod could hit a homer and win it. I had the same though, but wasn't sure. A-Rod's hit a lot of homers, yes, but he can't win every game. It would be too improbable, too much like a movie for him to play the hero again.
And then he hit a long fly ball to center field. Everyone (myself included) just stood up and watched. It sailed over the fence, and the Yankees won, 8-6. My first reaction was shock at the fact that a) he had done it, and b) this was the most amazing baseball game I'd ever seen in person. Then I became positively giddy at what I had just seen, not only how exciting it was, but how I felt like I'd been a part of a great baseball moment. I got a high-five from the woman sitting in front of us, whom I'd never met. Then I just marvelled at what I'd seen.
As we were walking down the concourse, I pulled out my cell phone and called my Dad. He's never been to Yankee Stadium either, and I knew he was a little jealous that we'd get to be going. I told him exactly what happened, with my lively voice mixed in with the still-noisy Yankee Stadium crowd. He said he still has that message on his voice mail.
Yankee Stadium: April 19, 2007. That's what it's all about.