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September 15 2005: Revival Meeting

Photo by Cecilia Tan

Photo by Cecilia Tan

The pinstripe faithful rose up at Tropicana Field on Thursday night at a revival meeting led by newly ordained minister Robinson Cano. The bigtop known as Tropicana Field was thoroughly taken over by the hordes in blue and white who came to have their faith renewed.

The first to testify to the miracle of rebirth was Bernie Williams. On Tuesday night, his 37th birthday, the rejuvenated Williams led the Yankees to a 17-run rout of the Rays. Bernie had three hits, threw out the speedy Carl Crawford trying to stretch a single into a double, and made a great sliding catch to end an inning. The crowd tried to call him out for a curtain call after the catch, but he didn’t feel it was right to take a bow in another team’s house.

Yankees fans can be forgiven for forgetting they were not at home. With Rays fans few and far between, and the Yankees romping, the shouts of “C’mon, A-rod!” and chants of “Let’s Go Yankee!s” predominated. The Yankees were cheered every time they left the field, because for once this season they had a game that met the most demanding expectations of the fan base. We expect them to dominate the Rays. We expect them to make it look easy to put up five runs before recording an out, and then the next inning to do it again to prove it. So it was in the first and second innings that night. Then in the late innings, how about another big offensive explosion? No problem.

But previously this year the Yankees had looked like this against the Rays, scoring 19 runs one time, 20 another, but both times the Rays came back the next night to beat New York and make us doubt. This time the precedent did not look good. Chien-Ming Wang was on the mound for New York, while Mark Hendrickson was on for the Rays. Vagaries of fate and schedule had determined that these two pitchers should match up against each other three previous times, and all three times Hendrickson had prevailed. How could that be, when Wang had been so effective and Hendrickson so awful against other teams? Who knows?

This time fickle Fate finally stopped being capricious. Wang was touched up for several runs, but the Yankees bats had enough in them to squeeze out a 6-5 win. We chewed our nails, but they hung on to win, and so the Yankees won the first series from the Rays this season. They had previously lost four straight series to the bedeviling Rays (and had lost only four total series in the previous history of the club!).

Winning the first two games set up the possibility of a sweep. A sweep, which fans felt would somehow signify a return to form, a sign, a portent, that this team might indeed be fated to play into October.

Things did not start that well for New York on this night. Aaron Small, the peregrinating pitcher whose pilgrimage to New York at midseason, in New York’s hour of need, had managed to go 7-0. He had beat Oakland, and he had beat Boston. But trying to go 8-0, he did not have his best control. He was throwing about 50/50 balls and strikes. The pesky Rays jumped out to the lead in the second inning. Small had given up a double to Damon Hollins and had hit Alex Gonalez. With two out, Toby Hall doubled in both men.

The Yankees. meanwhile, were unable to mount much of a threat against Seth McClung, a pitcher who, according to the Devil Rays scoreboard, had to overcome numerous surgeries and even a brain tumor before appearing in a Devil Rays uniform. In the fifth, it looked like they might break through, when the youngsters rose up. Greeted by rousing versions of “Let’s Go Yankees,” Robbie Cano hit a double to lead off the inning and Bubba Crosby, playing in his third straight game (starting in right while Sheff rests his tweaked thigh), promptly singled him in. But although Bubba would eventually move to third base, he would be stranded there. Still, the Yankees had halved the lead.

That state of affairs would not last. Small would give up a three run homer in the bottom of the frame and some fans might have thought, “well, there goes the ball game.” And even a week ago, they would have been right. The Yankees have looked flat all too often this year, especially against the Devils. But we believed. We knew it was only a matter of time before they would strike back. Small was struggling, but the Yankees would prevail.

We knew it.

They didn’t make us wait. The first three men of the next inning, the sixth, all reached. Up came Cano. As of Tuesday night he was batting .067 with the bases loaded, but in the 6-5 win, he came through with a hit in that situation. Now the question was, could he do it two nights in a row? In batting practice this night he had drilled a few balls deep into the right field seats. I had stood there with the other Yankees fans, begging Ramiro Mendoza to toss us balls, when Cano’s ball had hit a seat many rows behind us, where no one was standing.

This time, the bags were full and Seth McClung was thinking about how he was a strikeout and a double play from getting out of a jam.

Robbie was thinking, oh no you won’t, either. He planted a drive into those right field seats, in just about the same place he had put that one in BP. The grand slam tied the game and you knew they were not done. A Jeter walk and and A-rod blast added two more runs in the inning. And they loaded the bases again, and though they didn’t score any more that inning, you felt they had mashed the Devil Rays’ face into the mat and didn’t let up.

It was only a two run lead, but it felt like more. Meanwhile, the out of town scoreboard showed Boston losing to Oakland, and the taste of a one-and-a-half game deficit in the division race was in everyone’s mouths. The chanting became near-constant. “Here we go, A-rod, here we go.” The Yankees fans in attendance would pick up each other’s chants and join in.

The Rays threatened. The Yankees turned them away. Mariano shut the crack in the door in the eighth, and the Yankees responded with two triples (Cano and A-rod) and two more runs in the top of the ninth to give him some cushion. The Rays responded in the ninth by going down one, two, three.

We believe. The Yankees have waited a long time to find this form. But they are finding it at the right time. Just in time. Tonight neither Derek Jeter nor Jason Giambi got a hit, and yet they picked up their struggling pitcher and put nine runs on the board. This is what they will have to do the final days of the season. Every man will have to contribute and they will need to find a way to win games–almost every game. We doubted, but no longer. They took two of three from Boston, two of three from Oakland, and swept Tampa Bay. Now we believe.

(Did you enjoy reading this blog entry? Please consider buying me a hot dog.)

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