I was there. Yo, I was watching the whole thing next to Steve Lombardi who invited me along on the count of he had an extra ticket. Steve has a season ticket package that he shares with a group of co-workers in the lodge section. He's been to hundreds of games at the Stadium and it's safe to say that last night's will rank amongst the most memorable. Back in 1998, I bailed out on going to a game against the Orioles which saw the lead change numerous times and ended with Jorge Posada hitting his second homer of night. "I can't believe you didn't come," one of my friends said, rubbing it in. But I was able to see that game from home and never felt badly about not being there in person. There would be other nights, I thought. Then, I was at the game where Jason Giambi hit the grand slam in the rain in 2002 but I was sick and left in the fifth inning. When I saw the papers the next morning, my heart sunk briefly when I realized I had missed something special. Now, I'm not going to say I called the comeback last night exactly, but after Shawn Chacon was down 2-0, I turned to Steve and said, "I can see the Yanks getting down 4, 5-0 and coming back."
It was a happily noisy night at the Stadium yet for the first forty-five minutes the loudest sounds came from the Rangers' bats. It seemed like they hit everything hard against Chacon. At least everything they hit was loud. But even when the Yanks were down 9-0, the fans still seemed cheery enough. After Johnny Damon--who is playing with a chipped bone in his right foot--singled to start the bottom of the third, the crowd roared when Derek Jeter lined a double over Gary Matthews' head in center field. Jeter made a huge turn past second and was actually caught between the bag and third. But Michael Young was still way off the bag after making the cut-off throw in the outfield. The cut-off throw had gone to the pitcher John Koronka instead, who looked at Jeter. Both men froze for an instant, then Jeter raced back to second as Koronka ran towards him. Young sprinted to the bag as well. Koronka threw to Young who arrived at the bag just after Jeter. The crowd erupted again. This kind of see-saw play and corresponding reaction from the fans characterized the game.
The Yanks closed the scored to 10-5 in the fifth but Miguel Cairo struck out with two men on and Steve and I wondered if that would be the critical play of the game. Nevermind. By the end of the next inning, the Yanks would have a one-run lead. But before the home team came to bat, Jorge Posada was involved in what will go down as one of the unforgettable plays of his career, let alone the 2006 Yankee season. With two men out, Hank Blalock laced a double down the left field line. The ball hugged the corner and Melky Cabrera fielded it nervously--he looks unfamiliar and uncomfortable out in left. Mark Teixeira, who had a great night with the stick and seems to have gotten his groove back, raced around second and now charged towards home. Cabrera finally got the ball to Jeter who fired to Posada. The ball skipped home in time, Posada fielded it and then was crunched by Teixeira, who lowered his shoulder and let him have it. It was as hard a collision as I can ever remember Posada being involved with. The blow knocked Posada backwards and into the leg of the home plate umpire. But he hung onto the ball and the place went nuts.
After a rousing play like that, the Yanks have just got to comeback and win this one, right? One cue, the bottom of the sixth was highlighted by Derek Jeter's three-run home run, Bernie Williams' RBI double--the double tied him with Ruth for number three on the all-time Yankee list for two-baggers--and Miguel Cairo's clutch two-out, two-run single. What a difference an inning makes.
The Stadium was rocking. But the air went out of the place soon enough though when Scott Proctor walked Kevin Mench on four pitches to start the seventh and then gave up a long two-run dinger to Brad Wilkerson. Not to worry. Damon and Jeter reached to start the bottom of the seventh. Alex Rodriguez came to the plate with runners on the corners and nobody out. Rodriguez was robbed of a hit by Mench in his first at bat, popped up, walked and scored and later doubled and scored. Here was another big spot for him. Right before each pitch to Rodriguez, the crowd would hold the noise in anticipation. He is not embraced as a "true Yankee" by the fans, so that brief pause holds a terrific tension--there is an uncertainty there, doubt mixed with hope. Rodriguez checked his swing and tapped back to the mound. Jeter advanced to second but it was not the kind of at bat anyone had hoped for. Damon would score on Posada's sacrifice fly and the score remained tied going into the ninth.
Kyle Farnsworth looked sharp in the eighth inning but Mariano Rivera gave up a run in the ninth and everyone around us was wondering how the Yanks could lose a game like this, one that seemed destined for the YES network's "Yankee Classics." Sure enough, Damon reached on an infield single to start the bottom of the ninth (the hops, and breaks swung New York's way all night). Jeter grounded out and Damon took second. Again, another opportunity for Rodriguez who was all over Akinori Otsuka's first pitch. He lined a single but it was directly at Matthews for the second out. Joe Torre, who told his team in the dugout before the last of the ninth that they had come too far to lose, figured that's baseball luck for you. Rodriguez crushed that one and it was right at someone.
Wasn't it fitting that Posada came up next? Neither Steve nor I had the nerve to predict such a storybook ending and after Posada launched the 3-1 pitch into the right center field bleachers, we could hardly believe what had just happened. Yankees 14, Rangers 13. It tied the biggest comeback in team history, the first time they've come back from down nine since 1987. But I think even more impressive than coming back down 9-0, was winning the game after blowing two leads. Onions!
Steve and I exchanged high fives with everyone within arm's reach, and then did it again. We cheered for several minutes in disbelief. The festive atmosphere spilled out onto the streets and it wasn't until I was headed home on the IRT that my body started to calm down. The train wasn't empty but it was quiet, most of the passangers unaware--or uninterested--in the results of a ball game. I was schvitzing and exhausted, like I had just gotten out of a concert in the middle of July. Still wired, strung-out on pure sensation, I didn't care how little sleep I'd be getting. Even on a school night.
Hey, unless a guy pitches a no-hitter, I never regret not going to a game. But man, was I ever happy I got to share in that experience last night. That's one I'll never forget.