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ALDS Game 1: September 30 AND October 1 2011… Recap

October 02, 2011 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Great Games, Yankee Fan Memories

Well, that was the longest game I’ve ever been to. Yes, even longer than the record-breaking All-Star Game at the old Yankee Stadium (II). This one started yesterday, and didn’t finish until today.

Yesterday started usually enough. corwin and I packed up rain ponchos and scorecards and headed for the stadium at 5pm from Riverdale (the hoity toity part of the northern Bronx where a good friend and fellow fan has a welcoming fold-out couch). It takes about a half hour to travel down the Grand Concourse from here to the environs of the Stadium. On weekdays, the parking spaces around the courthouse become legal to all comers at 6pm. If you get there by 5:30, you too can sit in your car in one of those spaces until 6pm and then leave. There are even a few local characters who act like “parking attendants” directing people to park in the spaces. I presume once in a while some tourist gives them some money, but they seem to do it just for the fun of it.

On a normal day, we’d lock the doors and walk to the Stadium one hour before the first pitch. However, because this is the postseason, first pitch wouldn’t be until 8:37 pm. That meant we had plenty of time for dinner at El Molino Rojo (The Red Mill), a Dominican joint just two blocks from the Stadium. Look into that dining room on any night before game-time and all you will see is a sea of pinstripes and NY logos. And cops. A lot of the local cops eat there.

After stuffing ourselves well for very little money, we moseyed the rest of the way to the Stadium. Compared to many postseason visits to the Stadium, this was a warm night. We took a lap around the lower deck concourses, just soaking in the atmosphere. corwin remarked at one point on our walk, “Isn’t it remarkable that this never gets boring?”

It never does.

We were in our seats in plenty of time to take in the ceremonies, which included the usual introductions of all the rosters of both teams. Miguel Cabrera was the only Tiger who seemed to be booed much (and later in the game was serenaded with chants of “DUI, DUI” from the bleachers).

Then came the ceremonial first pitch. For those who don’t think the first pitch is a Big Deal, all I can tell you is that I overheard at least two different conversations at the Red Mill speculating on who it would be, and earlier that day I’d remarked to corwin myself that I thought they wouldn’t bring out the “big guns” like Yogi until the World Series. “Tino, maybe?” corwin thought maybe we’d get lucky and it would be Bernie and he’d play the National Anthem, too. I thought that would be more likely in the ALCS, should we get that far. “I bet we might get Pettitte,” I guessed.

I thought for a moment I might be right when they started introducing the person throwing out the first pitch… but it quickly became obvious it wasn’t Andy the announcer was talking about. As it turned out, the ceremonial first pitch was thrown by a hero of similar vintage to Pettitte, but one who is still in uniform. Mariano Rivera took the ball.

And then they introduced his catcher, and Jorge Posada came out in full catching gear, and I admit I got a little choked up. So did a lot of folks. It’s difficult to encapsulate what people feel about Posada. His bad baserunning and slumps drive a lot of folks crazy. But we can’t help it. We love the guy. He’s been here so long, and been a part of this team’s success for so long, it’s staggering to realize how many team leaderboards he’s on. He was never a Superstar like Jeter, but people forget how punishing the catching position is, and just how difficult it is to produce as a catcher year after year. Look at Joe Mauer for an an example of a guy who looked headed for the Hall of Fame when he won the batting title, and now looks human, all too human, when troubled by injuries and of late pneumonia. (Yeah.)

Posada waved his glove at Mo, as if to say “Go from the rubber!” So Mo did, and threw a ball that was just a bit outside. It seemed weird to have current players doing it, and yet it created an emotional moment. And the Yankees are not above doing what they can to enhance the drama of October. Heck. That’s the whole point.

So, we had the pitch, and the anthem with the giant West Point flag, and the introductions, all like usual. The Stadium always looks even more like a giant birthday cake than usual when all done up with bunting.

And then the actual game, the much touted match-up between aces Justin Verlander, the shoe-in for this year’s Cy Young award, and CC Sabathia, one of the two who probably would get runner-up for the award if such a thing were given. Scouting reports on Verlander were to watch his velocity. If he was getting into the upper 90s, it would mean he was too hyped up and was vulnerable. CC, meanwhile, has had some rocky starts of late, but would be going on extra rest.

CC took the mound first, and looked sharp, hitting the corners in two strikeouts, and then giving up a solo homer to Delmon Young that just cleared the wall into the short porch in right. It looked for a second like maybe Swisher had a chance to rob the homer, but no, it went out. CC and the crowd shrugged it off. CC still looked good and that would have been an out in any other park.

Verlander, meanwhile, started the inning throwing 93-94 and got faster as the inning went on. But he also threw ball one a lot, showing his control wasn’ quite there. He also walked two men. But although he didn’t allow a hit, he still let in the tying run. Derek Jeter, leading off the game, did something that happens fairly rarely: he reached on a dropped third strike. (Official scoring: strikeout wild pitch.) And he ended up scoring the Yankees’ first run, moving over on a walk to Granderson, then a Cano groundout, and then A-Rod grounded out to bring him in.

The next batter was Mark Teixeira. (I did not see an explanation as to why Cano was batting third and Teixeira fifth instead of the other way around.) Just as Tex worked the count to 3-2, it began to rain. He walked. But then Nick Swisher grounded out.

CC had a one-two-three second inning, but the rain had not let up. What had been a 20% chance of showers turned into a steady, heavy rain. The tarp came out, and I checked the weather radar on my phone. The forecast was not good. A line of showers appeared to be passing not across the Bronx but ALONG it, keeping us in steady rain while some other areas very close by were getting no rain at all.

After more than an hour delay, MLB announced that the game would be postponed until Saturday, and Saturday’s game would be moved to Sunday at 3:07pm.

This was a disappointing turn of events, to say the least. After all that build-up and to have barely gotten anything of the game in!

But what else could we do? We made our way back to the car in the pouring rain, and drove home. We got a good night’s sleep. (corwin slept 11 hours.) Then we got up and went into Manhattan for a late lunch. We went to the Momofuku Noodle Bar, David Chang’s hipster ramen restaurant, and we were not disappointed with that foodie adventure. And then we discovered Veniero’s Bakery, continuously operated as an Italian pastry shop since 1894. There were a bunch of bakeries in that neighborhood but this was the only one with a line out the door. Seemed a good recommendation. So we loaded up with pastry to eat later during the game. Then we trundled up to the Stadium, arriving at the courthouse at almost exactly the same time as the day before. Unfortunately, it now being Saturday, the prime parking was not available, but we found a space on the street just two more blocks down.

It wasn’t quite six o’clock when we approached the Stadium this time, and so the gates were not open yet. People were lined up outside. We went to buy some bottled water (Tip: buy it for $1 outside and keep it sealed and they will let you bring it in. The same water is $5 inside.) and ended up watching some of the Phillies/Cardinals game on the big screen TVs at the McDonald’s. We had been listening to the game on the drive, and things had looked good for the Cards then, leading off the game with a three-run homer from Lance Berkman. The Cards’ Kyle Lohse escaped a jam and worked around an error in what we watched, but we’d later see that for naught as the out of town scoreboard would reveal Howard and Victorino going back to back. But that was later.

Water acquired, on to the Stadium we went. The place felt deserted. There were more FanFoto photographers in the Great Hall than fans. We were stopped by several and let them take our pictures.

Then corwin had a brilliant idea. “Let’s go to Monument Park!” We discovered no line at all to get in, and the place only sparsely filled.

I saw something there I’d never seen at the Stadium: a goldfinch. The FanFoto guy assigned to the MP logo pointed it out. It was a tiny, cute yellow bird, hanging on the netting and looking at us all suspiciously. Then it flew off and tried to get through the windows of the batter’s eye bar, but failed.

“I hope his cousin the Bluebird of Happiness is around, too,” I said as the bird flew off.

We had a leisurely stroll through the Monuments. I’ve never had such a relaxing time in Monument Park since the new Stadium was built. It’s always been crammed with people when I’ve gone. But while we were talking to Babe Ruth (I know I’m not the only one who talks to the Babe, am I?) it started to rain again. The wind was biting, and I began to wonder if we were even going to get this game in. But it was only 6:30. More than two hours to go.

Up at our seats it was deserted. And cold. Very cold. Yesterday’s balmy temperatures were gone. And it was raining again. We tried drinking hot chocolate, but we were still cold.

“Do you think I should buy a blanket?” I asked corwin.

“Just think how cute the photos will be of our kittens sleeping on it,” he said. That decided it. I went in search of a souvenir blanket prepared to pay whatever exorbitant price they offered.

The first two souvenir stands I visited, though, did not have blankets. Both advised me to try the big store. I took the elevator back to the Great Hall and went into the really large team store there, asking a uniformed employee where the blankets were. “There might be some downstairs,” he said. “Someone’s trying to bring some up, but I don’t know how long it’ll take.”

“Wait, you mean you don’t have them in stock, but you might have them in storage?” I asked.

“Basically.” He shrugged. Two more people came up and asked him the same question.

Just then a guy pushing a cart full of inventory boxes came into the store and several other store employees pounced on him. “Is that the blankets?” “Are the blankets in that box?”

He shook his head. “This is hoodies. Just hoodies. Lots and lots of hoodies.”

“What about blankets?” several people asked him.

“I don’t know about blankets,” he said. “We sent someone around to all the stores to see if they have any.”

Well, that didn’t sound too promising, but I tried the large store at the top of the escalator, too. No dice. No blankets. And for once there were none of those “get a free gift for signing up for a credit card” offer stands, either! Many times in the past they’ve offered a blanket, but I’ve never been that tempted. Tonight I would have happily gotten a credit card with a ridiculous APR if it would have gotten me a blanket.

Instead, we just had to huddle for warmth. By the time of the first pitch, the seats had filled in a little. I’d say it ended up about 85% -90% full which was certainly far better than I had feared a few hours before. If anything, the crowd was more raucous than the night before, perhaps because of the cold and perhaps because it was all die-hards there.

Because the “first pitch” of the game at 8:37 pm was actually the 53rd pitch of the game, there was no national anthem. The umpires met at the plate and then the game jumped right into the bottom of the second inning. The lineups were the same, but the starting pitcher’s were not.

Doug Fister was on the mound for the Tigers. They got him from Seattle at the trade deadline, and he had gone 8-1 with an ERA under 2.00. In fact, the Tigers had gone on a tear at the end of the season. Another way to look at it, though, is that in their final 50 games of the season, the Tigers faced a team with a better than .500 record only four times. How much of Fister’s success was facing weak opposition?

Well, the Yankees looked poised to jump on him right away. Jorge Posada led off the night’s festivities with a single that brought roar out of the crowd. That was followed by a Russell Martin double, and with men on 2nd and 3rd and no outs, it really seemed the Yankees had spent all night grinding their teeth waiting to get up to mash the ball.

But. Then Gardner hit a soft grounder to third and for some reason Jorge Posada was caught halfway to home plate with a deer in the headlights look. He was tagged out, and then there were men on first and second and one out. Not nearly as much fun. Fister then balked! So, it was men on second and third again, but Fister wiggled out of it, striking out Jeter and Granderson to escape.

In the top of the third, the Yankees took the field for the first time that day, and the Bleacher Creature roll call seemed even louder than usual. What ensued was a pitchers duel in which Ivan Nova and Fister traded 1-2-3 innings for a while. In the top of the fifth, Nova got into and out of trouble, helped by a some fabulous defense. After striking out Victor Martinez, he walked Alex Avila. Ryan Raburn then had a soft hit, and Avila went to second. Up came Jhonny Peralta, who lined a shot into center field, but Granderson came up throwing, pegged Jeter, who pegged Martin, who pegged the baserunner Avila in a play that wasn’t even that close! The runners moved up to second and third, but then there were two out, and Granderson hauled in a fly ball in left center to end the inning.

Fister also had a modicum of trouble in the fifth, but this time the Yankees looked on the verge of getting to him. First Gardner led off with a shot to right that went to the warning track and on a warmer night or one where the wind wasn’t blowing briskly in (brrrrr, it really was in our faces the whole night) it would have been a home run. Jeter grounded out, but then Granderson singled and it felt like a breakthrough, first baserunner since that first inning of the night (which was actually the second). Cano followed Granderson’s hit with a long drive of his own, which bounced off the top of the wall. This ended up going to video review to prove it was a double and a good call. Cano stayed at second, but Granderson scored to make it 2-1 Yankees, at least. A-Rod followed that with ANOTHER long drive to the warning track, this one to center, this one caught.

It could have come apart for Nova in the top of the sixth, but it didn’t. After a leadoff walk to Austin Jackson, Magglio Ordonez swung the bat in a hit and run… but Cano ran to cover second and the ball was a hopper up the middle. It meant Ordonez hit into an easy double play instead of avoiding it by starting the runner. Cano snagged the ball right at second base and threw easily to first to complete the double play. And then Delmon Young sent a flare into right that Nick Swisher caught in a full body dive to end the inning.

It could have come apart for Doug Fister in the bottom of the sixth or he might have escaped it. But he did not escape this time. Teixeira doubled to lead off the inning, but Swisher stranded him there staring at a called strike three. Then Jorge walked, but Martin grounded out. One more out and Fister would wiggle free. But Gardner hit a seeing eye single through the infield, scoring two, and then Jeter followed that with a hit-and-run single that send Gardner to third. Granderson then walked to load the bases, and with the score still 2-1, manager Jim Leyland went to his bullpen. On came Al Albuquerque, whose last name is so long, the poor clubhouse guys had to sew his name onto the back of his jersey almost in a full circle around his number.

On Albuquerque’s second pitch, Cano hit one almost all the way to Albuquerque. It was a no doubter, grand slam, into the second deck. If a stiff wind hadn’t been blowing in, I think it would have been the third deck. The score was suddenly 8-1 Yankees, and that was pretty much the ballgame.

There was a smattering of action toward the end. The Yankees scratched one more off a reliever names Daniel Schlereth in the eighth, and Nova finally reached 100 pitches in the 9th (but it was like the 7th since it had been the third when he started pitching) and the Tigers finally reached Nova. He’d given up only two hits prior to the inning, but with one out he gave up two hits and a walk, and left the mound to a thunderous ovation. Luis Ayala came in to mop up, but only made more of a mess, giving up two more hits and allowing two men to score, at which point Girardi had had enough and just went straight to Mariano Rivera to get the final out of the game.

Three pitches later Rivera had mowed down Wilson Betemit, good morning, good afternoon, and good night. And now it is time to say good night. I’ll be back at the Stadium tomorrow for the 3:07 pm first pitch.

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

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