What a lovely night in the Bronx. Beautiful weather, a festive atmosphere, and a fine ballgame that swept the taste of a lackluster September right out of our mouths.
I arrived at the Stadium earlier than planned, as the traffic driving from Boston was not nearly as bad as we’d feared. Plenty of leaf peepers were out on the roads, but the backups were few and minimal. At 6pm we pulled into our favorite parking lot (#8) and got a space on the bottom level. With two and a half hours to kill before first pitch, we decided to walk around the neighborhood and see what there was to be seen before committing ourselves to the stadium.
Stan’s was already in full swing along River Avenue, with loud music pumping and large screen TVs showing the Rays/Rangers tied at one apiece, along with some college football. I was somewhat interested to see the matchup in Arlington, Texas, but didn’t really want to stand in a bar to watch.
Outside the McDonalds, we ended up filling out a survey for Chevrolet to get free Chevy/MLB Postseason logo towels. I didn’t mind telling them that I drive a 1997 Saturn hand-me-down and that the only car I’m interested in finding out more about is the Volt, the electric car. Until they invent a flying car, that is. Yay, free stuff. And we ended up telling the canvasser the story of how we almost got into a fistfight at Fenway Park that one time. (I’ll re-post that story one of these days. It was the Bryce Florie game.)
Then we ran into Freddy the Fan outside the Great Hall, on Babe Ruth Plaza or whatever they call that expanse of sidewalk outside, and we banged the pan for luck. (That sounds far kinkier than it should; for those who don’t know about banging the pan, Google Freddy the Fan and I believe you will find his Wikipedia page.) This was the first time I actually had a chance to bang the pan all year; looks like I saved it for a good night.
After that we went into the Stadium. Since we didn’t have to rush anywhere, we took our time wandering around. We’d seen the museum and Monument Park fairly recently, and decided to have a closer look at the Food Court. We were already pretty well aware of the food choices, including the chinese noodle soup and bubble tea (which I got), the Lobel’s steak sandwich, and the fried dough and friend Oreo stand, but it was the first time we had enough time to look at all the photos blown up above all the stands. All of them are food-related vintage photos of Yankees (and Steinbrenner). Many of them are of Joe DiMaggio and Yogi Berra, and I assume this comes from an era when depicting “Italians and Food” was a common publicity cliche. There are also many of Ruth, and Ruth and Food was a love affair followed in the press all of Ruth’s life. There’s also one of Jeter pouring an entire pitcher of milk into a gigantic bowl of cereal, presumably at the press conference when he appeared on the Wheaties box? Another is of Steinbrenner wearing a 1992 Olympic sun hat and biting into a hot dog, his World Series ring quite prominent on his hand.
The crowd was in good voice right from the opening introductions, breaking into Let’s Go Yankees immediately, and even a spontaneous “USA! USA!” after the National Anthem. Yogi Berra threw out the first pitch. It was good to see him at the stadium after he missed Old Timer’s Day due to a fall he took at home. He threw the pitch from about 20 feet away, to his personal catcher… Ramiro Pena? Pena looked quite excited to be doing it and the cameras caught him chattering away to Yogi afterward. I could only imagine Yogi was thinking, who is this young pup? Is he a batboy or something?
Around that point I began thinking it was odd and disappointing that the scoreboard department didn’t seem ot have made any season montages like last year’s to he Black Eyed Peas “Tonight’s the Night.” I took a last trip to the women’s room before first pitch, and just as I returned to my seat they finally hit us with a 2010 montage, to the song “Magic in Me.” The scoreboard guys really went overboard with the sparkle special effect, but it was fun.
Around 8:30 the umpires gathered at home plate, all six of them, and it was somewhat comical to see such a large group of them standing around. (As one of the beat writers joked, they were discussing which one of them would screw up tonight.) They were waiting for the signal from TBS, I suppose, and then at 8:34 the Yankees finally took the field, and Phil Hughes took the hill.
The entire drive from Boston we were listening to XM Radio, and the universal feeling among their guests and interviewees was that the Twins were done. One of the Minnesota beat writers was on, and he said they were acting like a beaten team who were trying to invent ways to motivate themselves on the plane flight to New York.
I figured if Hughes could shut them down, they wouldn’t be able to do anything, but if he faltered, the Twins would smell an opportunity the way sharks smell blood in the water.
Well, Hughes never blinked. He faced down all his weaknesses: lefties, pitching at home, home runs And he didn’t give an inch.
How good was he? He was the first Yankees postseason starter to give his team seven scoreless inings since Mike Mussina in the 2001 “Jeter flip” game in Oakland. I was wearing my lucky Mike Mussina jersey tonight.
It didn’t hurt that for once the Yankees took the lead first. In the second inning Robinson Cano led off with a triple. Thames popped up, but Jorge Posada hit a line drive on the first pitch he saw to cash him in. Te next inning, Swisher doubled, and came in right away on a Mark Teixeira single. And meanwhile Hughes had sat down nine in a row on only 32 pitches. The Twins finally got a baserunner in the fourth, as leadoff man Denard Span greeted Hughes with a single, but a quick tailor-made 6-4-3 double play on the next batter erased that.
Then the Yankees had a long bottom of the fourth, starting with an infield hit by Cano. As Thames came to the plate, I turned to corwin and said “This would be a great time for a two-run shot.” On the next pitch, Thames took Duensing deep, and I had called my first homer of the postseason. In the end they scored three runs and might have had more, sending eight men to the plate and causing Hughes to have a long wait in the dugout. Would the layoff affect the righty? Maybe just a little, as Hughes did give upa one-out hit and then walk a man, but he got Cuddyer swinging (his fifth strikeout victim) and then a popup from Danny Valencia. Very tidy.
The Twins got two men on in the sixth, but again it never felt like the game was about to get out of hand. The crowd was raucous and noisy, jubilant, and full of cheers and songs. In the upper deck, as some frat boys in Twins jerseys got up to leave, they were serenaded with “Na Na Goodbye.” The bleacher creatures apparently got several chants going against Denard Span, who foolishly gestured to them. One chant we could make out was simply “Torii Hunter.” Hughes had a one-two-three seventh inning and left the mound to a standing ovation.
Swisher tacked on solo shot, and we were hardly nervous when Kerry Wood had control problems and loaded the bases in the eighth. Boone Logan and David Roberton each got their man, leaving it all a formality until the next inning, which was Mariano time.
No, it wasn’t a save situation, but why give the Twins any hope? Only two postseason series since Mariano became the closer have been finished by someone else. In 1999 Ramiro Mendoza was on the mound to end the 1999 ALCS, and in 2003′s ALDS is was Gabe White. (I had to look up who Gabe White was–I honestly couldn’t remember. He was a lefty pitcher who came in the Boone trade.)
Anyway, with Mo on the mound, the crowd was on its feet and chanting the entire inning. “Let’s Go Yankees” turned into “We Want Texas!” and “Sweep! Sweep! Sweep!” Some folks even managed to talk security into letting them bring brooms. And then it was over, and then 50,840 people (the largest crowd recorded yet at the new stadium) were singing “New York, New York.”
We stayed through one who round of Sinatra and then headed for the exit. On the giant screen in center field they were showing scenes from the champagne spray in the clubhouse. Once outside we made our way to El Molino Rojo, the Dominican food joint just up the street, where we had a great meal and picked up some tres leches cake to have with champagne back at the house. I write this from a friend’s apartment in the Bronx, where we have had our champagne and cake and now are exhausted. We’re all hoarse from cheering and very glad we don’t have to do it all again tomorrow. Thank you, Phil Hughes.
And now we wait to see who wins, Texas or Tampa Bay.
(Did you enjoy reading this blog entry? Please consider buying me a hot dog.)