It was a near perfect afternoon in the Bronx yesterday as the Yankees and Orioles played the final day game at Yankee Stadium. Amid sharp shadows and under a cloudless sky, the Stadium gleamed, the cool early autumn air adding a crispness to the day. The Yankees and Orioles played scoreless baseball for eight-plus innings, but the lack of action on the field mattered little as most everyone on hand and watching at home was more concerned about drinking in the doomed ballpark, which has rarely looked more welcoming or more vibrant.
Afredo Aceves got things started off in style in the first inning. Following a Brian Roberts lead-off double, Adam Jones popped up a bunt in front of the mound. Aceves, who has shown himself to be a solid infielder, caught the ball on a lunge before tumbling forward to his knees. He then spun to double Roberts off of second, but Roberts had been running on the pitch and had actually rounded third base slightly, so rather than throw to Cody Ransom covering second base, Aceves, with a big grin on his face, jogged the ball over to second for an unassisted double play, a play rarely turned by a pitcher (paging Bob Timmermann).
Aceves wouldn't allow a runner past second base all day, and after six innings and 92 pitches, he was replaced by Brian Bruney, Damaso Marte, and Mariano Rivera, who kept that streak intact. The Yankees didn't do much better against lefty spot-starter Brian Burres. With two outs in the first, Bobby Abreu doubled and moved to third on a wild pitch, but Alex Rodriguez popped out to strand him, and the Yankees didn't get another man past second until the bottom of the ninth.
Though it would ultimately prove a fitting conclusion to a beautiful day, the bottom of the ninth started off ominously when a 1-1 pitch got away from rookie reliever Jim Miller and hit Derek Jeter on the back of his left hand. Jeter spun to avoid the pitch, but it caught him flush and sent him skipping toward the visiting batting circle in obvious pain. Joe Girardi and trainer Gene Monahan quickly attended to Jeter, who was the DH yesterday to give him a breather before today's final game at the Stadium, and almost immediately pulled Jeter from the game. Jeter didn't make a fist with the hand when Monahan was checking him out on the field, and as he headed into the tunnel toward the clubhouse, Jeter slammed his batting helmet on the dugout floor. Fortunately, post-game x-rays were negative and Jeter is expected to be in the lineup for the Stadium's finale . . . of course.
Brett Gardner ran for Jeter at first base and stole second base easily on Miller's first pitch to Abreu. After Miller fell behind Abreu 3-0, Orioles manager Dave Trembley decided to make use of that empty base and pass the buck to Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez took two strikes then hit into a near double play, but managed to beat out the relay to put runners on the corners with one out for Jason Giambi. Trembley called on veteran lefty reliever Jamie Walker to pitch to Giambi, and Walker responded by striking Giambi out on six pitches. Rodriguez stole second on strike three, so Trembley had Walker put Xavier Nady on base and pitch to fellow lefty Robinson Cano. Cano, who still holds the distinction of having hit the last home run at Yankee Stadium, jumped on Walker's first pitch, delivering a line-drive single just to the right of second base, plating Gardner with the winning run.
So in the final day game at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees beat the Orioles 1-0 on a walk-off single by Robison Cano. Mariano Rivera got the win, and the Yankees staved off elimination for at least one more day. The day was so close to perfect that, in some peverse way, I almost wish yesterday's game was the last ever at the Stadium. The only way tonight's game could be better would be for a Yankee to hit a home run and for Jeter to be somewhere other than the trainers' room when the game ends.
I have to give tremendous props to the YES Network for their broadcast of yesterday's game. In general, YES does a fantastic job on the Yankee broadcasts, save for Michael Kay's voice and histrionics, and the only exception in yesterday's broadcast was that Kay was appropriately humbled by the significance of the day. YES's original plan was to have native New Yorkers Kay and Ken Singleton broadcast the game with Bobby Murcer. Murcer was obviously missed, but having just the two New Yorkers in the booth recounting not just their memories of broadcasting or playing in the ballpark, but of attending games as fans, set just the right tone. Singleton confessed that he had gone out to the left field bleachers before the gates opened to reflect on his childhood trips to the Stadium in the days of Mantle and Maris. Kay said he had done the same, climbing to the last row of the upper deck behind home plate, where he often sat as a kid in the 1970s.
What really made the broadcast exceptional, however, was the photography and direction of the YES crew. Putting cameras in various nooks and crannies, YES reveled in the details of the old park, from the back of the frieze in center field, to Pete Sheehy's plaque in the Yankee dugout, to Bob Sheppard's microphone. With the sun making the colors of the park almost hyper real, the high-definition transmission was one of the most beautiful I've seen.
YES also succeeded with a variety of flashbacks and film clips, their very tastful, wordless opening montage of images of the Stadium (in place of Kay's usual hyperbole), and this closing montage set to Frank Sinatra's "There Used To Be A Ballpark," which was recorded in 1973, the final season of the original Stadium. I only wish YES had tonight's game as well.