The auxiliary press box takes up four full sections in right field. Each row actually takes up two rows of seats, one with a long wood board laid across the top to serve as a table. A security guard named Lee Brown shows me my seat. He is a lanky middle-aged man, with a high forehead and an afro and has the features of the jock-turned-actor, Bernie Casey, only he's thinner. So, I am sitting in the front row, second box from the right. Not three feet to my left is a 25 inch Television set, resting on an additional wood platform. Each row has its own TV, which is playing the Fox broadcast of the game. The TV feed is about three seconds delayed and it is truly surreal being so close to a set, seeing the game the way we normally do in the privacy of our own homes, our own lives, out of the corner of my eye as I look out onto the real Yankee Stadium field.
After the anthem and the pageantry, two jet planes fly over the Stadium. "This gunna be awesome," says Lee as he moves to far right corner of the loge section. As they pass by, Lee salutes and releases with an exaggerated gesture, waving the planes goodbye. The field is cleared and then "Hell's Bells" by AC DC starts to play. The door to the bullpen in left center field opens as six umpires climb out of the Yankee dugout and slowly amble towards the plate. As they move the song continues to play. They plod slowly but with purpose like an unintentional Quentin Tarrantino parody.
Curtis Granderson fouls off the first pitch at 8:20. The game time temp is 70 degrees. I know this because a loudspeaker is blaring the information over our heads. To our right, the bleacher creatures commence roll call. It echoes throughout the press box. The crowd groans as Wang just misses with the 0-2 pitch. It takes a moment to know what the call is because home plate ump, Tim McClellan is always slow to physically indicate balls and strikes. So the crowd and the announcers will wait with bated breath throughout the entire game.
The creatures end roll call with their customary, "Box seats suck, box seats suck." Granderson lines a ball to left and the crowd hushes for a moment. Godzilla doesn't have to move but a few feet and when he catches the ball the crowd erupts. The next two hitters are retired on weak grounders, one to Wang, the other to Cano.
It's a new beginning. It if it takes that to bring some peace to the world," he waves his hands, holding them face down, as if shaking something off. He screws up his face and looks even more like the character actor John Witherspoon than he already had. "Then I'm all for it, you know what I mean?"
Derek Jeter singles in the first but the Yanks do nothing else against Robertson and Magglio Ordonez lines a double off the wall in left center field to start the second. It smacks off the wall with a thump. Man, he did he hit that hard. Wang falls behind Carlos Guillen, 3-0, throws two strikes and then walks him. Pudge Rodriguez squares to bunt and takes a ball. He misses the next pitch, the runners go, and Posada nails Mags at third, Guillen moving to second. Wang throws a four seamer past Pudge. Then misses with a slider, low and away, then throws a nasty sinker or splitter in the dirt and Pudge waves at it for strike three. Craig Monroe grounds the first pitch softly on the ground to Derek Jeter who throws to first to end the inning.
In the third, Giambi is announced and his music plays. He's ready to come to the plate and Robertson is ready to pitch. But they both stand there. Then Robertson crouches down. I look to my left and see a commercial on TV. They are waiting for it to end on at the Stadium too. Robertson hits Giambi with the first pitch. Alex Rodriguez receives a loud ovation as he comes to the plate. Takes a strike and then a ball. "Lets Go A Rod." Ball, low in the dirt. Then a strike, late call, and another ball.
Lee comes down and sits next to me, in front of the TV. A bead of sweat trickles down the right side of his face. He crouches down in his seat. "I dig your vibes, I like you," he tells me. We shake hands. "Well, I'm appreciating every moment of this, I can tell you that," I said. "You resting?"
"No, I'm hiding."
Lee asks how long I've been a sportswriter. A Rod fouls a pitch off, and then fouls one back. I tell him and then mention that I used to work in the movies business. "That's perfect. I'm a stunt man." I ask him if he's on TV. "Well, like everything, it's a process," he says standing up. "You know, a beginning. I've got to get your card before you leave." I remember that I should really get cards again one of these days. Rodriguez lines a pitch that is stabbed by a leaping Placido Polanco. Giambi slides back in safely. The crowd applauds anyway. Rodriguez hit it hard anyway. Matsui flies out to left and Posada singles to center. But Robinson Cano weakly taps a grounder on the first pitch to Inge at third and the Yankees are retired.
Marcus Thames, the former Yankee, falls behind 0-2 to start the third, and then lines a ball JUST fair down the left field line for a double. The first break of the series goes to the Tigers. Wang gets ahead of Inge 0-2 as well, who then grounds out to third. Granderson singles to right but Thames holds, respecting Abreu's arm. Okay, now the Yanks need a double play ball. And he gets it as Jeter has to go to the hole to turn the 6-4-3. Nice turn and mustered on the throw by Cano. The crowd erupts as the first base umpire remains frozen in an outstretched position. He doesn't move, but nobody mistakes the call.
Damon dribbles a ground ball past a stumbling Robertson for an infield hit to start the bottom of the third. With the count 1-2 to Jeter, Lee cops a squat next to me and peers out from behind the TV at the field. He stands up not more than 10 seconds later as Jeter takes two pitches out of the zone to load the count. Damon runs and Jeter lines a base hit into center field. Damon turns second and heads for third and Jeter races for second, thinking double all the way. The throw is off-line and Jeter slides in safely head-first. The bleacher creatures start to rock with Abreu at the plate. I can hear a cow bell and a Spanish chant from the bleachers which makes me think: I'm home. Dominican people making music, loudly. That is so New York. Abreu's smacks the 1-1 pitch into the gap in right center field past Ordonez for a double. Yanks score first, 2-0.
Sheffield lines the first pitch he sees into right center for a single. Abreu scores, 3-0. The dugout camera shows the reaction replay. Jeter stands up and walks up the steps waving his arm around, stopping only to shoot a darting look directly at the camera, letting you know how aware he is of his surroundings. Robertson gets ahead of Giambi quickly 0-2, and the slugger cranks a high foul ball deep to right on the fourth pitch of the at bat. The crowd gasps and Giambi fouls the next pitch right backhe just missed that one. He gets the next one lifting a high fly ball to right. I don't know if it has even juice to get out so I step out of my seat to see it go over the fence, over Mags, and into a kid's hands in the front row. The kid is wearing an away Robinson Cano jersey and he cradled the ball to his right side and held onto it. Hot damn.
Rodriguez lines a single to left, making up for his first at bat and the crowd roars. For the first time all night I want to cheer. Jim Leyland comes to the mound and the Tigers bullpen gets ready in a hurry. Matsui skies out to center and the crowd gasps for more. Posada follows and hits a fly ball to the corner in right field. Mags races over and makes a fine one-handed catch close to the wall along the first base side. That was not an easy catch. Well done by Ordonez. Cano ends the inning with a harmless fly ball to left. Still, a five spot for Wang as Robertson has thrown 58 pitches through three.
Wang jumps ahead of Sean Casey 0-2 in the fourth, and retires the first baseman on a line drive to right. Tino Martinez, who received a huge roar from the crowd when he threw out the first pitch, is wearing a blue shirt and standing in the owner's box. When he sits down, the camera shows his wife, unsmiling, sitting next to him. She does not look happy to be there. Martinez is glowing, looking ahead of him, smiling. Mags skies a pop-out to Abreu in right. There is no sound effect for a moment and no loud cheering, but the park is not quiet like it would be in such a pause during the regular season; instead it is loud with conversation, an enormous wala-wala-wala sound. Carlos Guillen lines a double down the left field line. Wang gets ahead of Pudge 0-2 and the crowd begins to stir. By the time he throws the pitch, they grow louder, then quickly go silent as Rodriguez fouls a ball at the Tigers dugout. Wang misses outside with a slider. Dick Ebersol, Donald Trump and Regis are shown on TV in George's box and Wang misses with another slider, low and away. Pudge tips the next pitch but Posada cannot hang on for the strike out. The crowd starts to clap again. Wang throws another slider and Rodriguez waves at it, his second strike out of the night.
Fox replays a mid-inning interview with Joe Torre as Derek Jeter lines a one out line drive single over Polanco's head for his third hit of the game. The Yanks put on the hit-and-run with the count 2-1 to Abreu, but the pitch is so far inside (it almost got Abreu) that Jeter is hung out to dry. The Tigers catch him in a rundown and then Abreu pops out to left to end the inning.
It hasn't really gotten cool yet but a gentle breeze can be felt between innings, as I am fixated on the feeling that Sheffield is going to make at least one big error at first this fall. For starters, Craig Monroe pounds a 2-1 pitch over the centerfield fence for a solo dinger to start the fifth. It would be nice if Wang could pitch three more solid innings, but the Tigers are now on the board. Thames grounds out to Jeter and Sheffield scoops the throw for the out. Inge slaps the first pitch to right for a single. Granderson flies out to left and then Polanco bloops a double that falls just fair down the right field line. Another break for the Tigers who score their second run. That's two seein-eye hits for them tonight. A meeting on the mound, followed by a hard line drive into death valley by Sean Casey. The Tigers take advantage of their good fortune and are now back in the game, 5-3.
Brain Bruney is getting warm for the Yanks as Magglio Ordonez comes to bat. Ordonez slices the 1-1 pitch right at the ball boy down the first base line. The kid is sitting in his seat and simply puts up his glove to make the catch. The crowd gives him props and he acts cool. Ordonez strikes out on the next pitch, the 70th of the night for Wang.
I stretch between innings and talk to a fit, handsome magazine writer, who is sitting one row behind me, dressed in a light blue smart izod shirt. I tell him that I keep waiting for Sheffield to make a mistake and he says that he can't believe that Leyland took the bunt off twice so far in this game. "Sheffield has never fielded a bunt in his life, I don't get it," he says.
Robertson retires Sheffield without any trouble and then Giambi lines the 1-1 pitch just foul down the first base line before getting hit for the second time in the game. Rodriguez takes strike one and then swings and misses at a fastball, low and outside for strike two. He takes an off speed pitch, just high for a ball and then is called out looking at a cutter on the inside corner. Excellent pitch. Matsui rips the first pitch foul down the first base line. He was all over it, just too quick. Yanks just missing now. Giambi takes second on the 1-2 pitch. The crowd cheers and laughs and buzzes but Matsui taps out meekly to the pitcher to end the inning.
Scott Proctor is announced to be warming up in the bullpen as Wang falls behind Carlos Guillen 3-0. He then throws two sinkers with good movement for called strikes and then gets Guillen to roll a slow grounder to second for the first out of the sixth. Pudge grounds a high-hopper to Jeter for out number two, and Craig Monroe chops Wang's 84th pitch of the night to Rodriguez to end the frame.
You've got to imagine that Robertson is on a short leash here but he's done a good job of recovering after that one bad inning. Robertson crouches down on the outfield side of the mound, again waiting for Fox to return from commercial. Jorge Posada grounds out to third. Lefty Jamie Walker and righty Jason Grilli start to warm for the Tigers. Cano, having a poor night, swings at the first pitch and hits a dribbler to the mound. Inge races in and makes the play. Robbie, you fat ass you. Two out. Damon slices a pitch foul to the upper deck in right and then one to the field level in left before taking ball one. He fouls off another pitch and then serves a single into left, a trademark Damon base hit.
Fastball inside to Jeter, 1-0. Jeter laces the next pitch to left and legs out another double. Geesh. Robertson stays in the game to face Abreu. This will certainly be his last hitter of the night. Abreu swings at the first pitch and places a ground ball just passed the reach of a diving Polanco. Jeter roars home and it is beautiful to watch him, possessed, knowing nothing is going to get him out at the plate. The ball was not struck hard but it was hit in the right place. Break for the Yankees. The fit magazine writer holds his hands out in disbelief looking back at Jerry Crasnick of ESPN. He probably can't believe that Robertson was left to pitch to Jeter, let alone Abreu.
"Shout" plays over the loudspeakers as Robertson is pulled as Grilli sprints to the mound. Before throwing a pitch, Grilli tosses the ball to first, but the throw is high and deflects off Casey's glove into the stands. Sheffield grounds the ball to short for the third out.
The crowd around us explodes as Abreu comes to his position. "Bobby, bobby, bobby." He tips his cap.
Wang is back out there in the seventh and he K's Thames on four pitches to start the inning. Bill Shannon, the official scorer at the Stadium, reads Nate Robertson's line over the press box loud speaker. Shannon sounds a lot like Harry Carey did by the seventh inning of every bottle of Schlitz he ever called. Inge hits a solid ground ball to Cano's left. The Yankees second baseman backhands the ball and makes a strong throw to first for the second out. Joe Torre walks to the mound and a slow cheer turns into an enormous roar for Wang as Mike Myers trots to the mound. They are slow with the music cue for the "Halloween" theme music, but when it starts when Bob Sheppard says, "Now pitching " in his grave voice which makes it feel as if we are living in a scary movie.
Myers floats a pitch outside for a ball and then Granderson runs his hands up to bunt and takes a strike. He swings through the next pitch and then the crowd gets noisy again. A ball low and then a foul tip and then Granderson belts his first career post-season home run into the bleachers. One and done for Myers who exits to a half-hearted boos as Proctor jogs to the mound.
We hear Wang's line on the loudspeaker: 6 2/3 innings, 8 hits, 3 runs (all earned), 1 walk, 4 strikeouts and 1 home run.
Proctor starts Polanco off with a fastball for strike and then gives up a single to right on the next pitch. Ah, the underbelly. C'mon Scotty, hold it together, Meat. We need four outs to get to Mo, buddy. Sean Casey is next and he takes a fastball high and outside for a ball as the crowd begins to get restless. Lots of murmuring, and even some cursing and booing as the next pitch is even further outside. Polanco bluffs a steal as Casey swings through a good fastball. Casey misses the next fastball too, fouling it straight back. I bet he wishes he had that one again. The crowd stands and claps. The writers in the press box lean forward and looked bored. Casey lines a single to right and Polanco takes third. Stirring and moaning from the crowd. Here comes Mags? What do you say, three run dinger right here? A disco whistle blows from the upper deck as Ordonez fouls the first pitch back. A sweaty moment for the Yankees here in Game One. Mags lifts a high fly ball to right. Damon and Abreu call for it. But Abreu demurs and Damon makes the final out of the seventh.
Ronan Tynan comes on to sing a beautiful if bloated version of "God Bless America." He seems to sing more and more slowly as the song progresses. The crowd sings en masse and enjoys ever second of Tynan's turgid rendition. Another big ovation once the song ends and then "Take Met Out to the Ballgame."
The lefty Jamie Walker faces Giambi to start the bottom of the seventh. Giambi takes ball one as the Fox camera shows Cooter Farnswacker warming up. The count goes full before Giambi walks. Walker stays in the game, as does Giambi. Rodriguez skies the first pitch foul down the first base line then takes a pitch in the dirt for a ball. A Rod swings through a change up, jerking his head back to Manhattan in the process before lining out sharply to right field. Two well hit line drives with nuthin to show for 'em tonight for the much-maligned Rodriguez.
Emma Span, who blogs about the Yankees on Eephus Pitch and covers New York baseball for the Voice stops by to say hello. She sits down next to me. Here we are, two Yankee bloggers commiserating in the press box. Matsui grounds a soft grounder to second, good to force Giambi but Godzilla legs it out to first to keep the inning alive. Posada singles to center and Matsui storms third and narrowly gets in there safely. Cano falls behind 0-2 and looks terrible again. He takes a ball outside and then flies out to Mags in right. Tough night for the kid.
Farnsworth replaces Proctor, Andy Phillips subs for Sheffield at first. Oh, man, dying time's here. Starts Guillen off with a ball in the dirt. 56, 291 is the announced paid attendance. Ball two, and then ball three. Boos. Ball four. More boos. I look back. Steve Jacobsen of Newsday is sitting next to the handsome magazine writer. Farnsworth throws a ball to Pudge and I wince, looking back at the writer who smiles. Ball two. A fastball strike and the crowd gives up a sardonic cheer. Pudge lines out to medium deep left field for the first out. Ball one to Monroe. Strike one on the inside corner. Low, ball two. Swinging strike two. The pensive crowd revs up again. Home plate umpire Tim McClellan looks at the next pitch and slowly rises and makes the "Yer Out!" call.
Emma tells me that Suzan Waldman was nice to her and said told her that she looked like Carol King. When Sterling met her, he said, "You do look like Carol King." And it's true, she does a little bit.
Ball one, two and three to Marcus Thames. A called strike, another mock cheer. Foul back, strike two and now the crowd stands again. The reporters continue to sit. A foul ball sliced to the right side. A rocket foul near third base. The clapping stops and builds again and Thames pops the ball up to short left...
The P.A. speaker announces that Mariano Rivera is warming up in the bullpen as Damon faces Walker to lead off the eighth. Johnny goes down looking. "MVP, MVP, MVP." The chants grow thunderous after Jeter belts a solo dinger over the fence in center, the 17th playoff homer of his career. Huge cheers and then eruption as Jeter steps out of the dugout for a curtain call. This is the first time Jeter has ever gone 5-5 in a playoff game. The fans chant "Deh-rek Gee-ter" as Abreu grounds a 2-0 pitch to first for the second out.
Andy Phillips hits a fly ball to the warning track in center for out number three.
The magazine writer puts on his black suit jacket and leaves for the press room as "Enter Sandman" by Metallica begins to play and Mariano Rivera runs across the field. About two thirds of the auxiliary press box is empty now. Dan Shaughnessey is still here though, three rows behind me. He has a pink face and is typing intensely.
Mo. Ball one to Inge. Then a cutter for a strike. Fastball, low, 2-1. Inge waves at a high fastball and the crowd gets loud. Fastball, upstairs, full count. Inge pops the next pitch up to Andy Phillips. One out.
Granderson takes a ball inside for a ball then a cutter for a strike and then he fights off another cutter into left for a single. Bob Sheppard announces Placido Polanco and takes an obvious delight in pronouncing the name.
Mo almost decks Polanco with the first pitch. Then, a fastball outside for a strike, 1-1. Polanco grounds the next pitch to second base and the fans swell in anticipation of what will happen next, a 4-6-3 double play that ends the game. It is 11:34 p.m. and the game lasted three hours and fourteen minutes, not bad for an American League game at Yankee Stadium.
The hero of the game, Derek Jeter is being interviewed on Fox by Ken Rosenthal. The bullpen pitchers and catchers walk across the outfield and Frank Sinatra's recording of "New York, New York" plays as the crowd files out rapidly. By the time Sinatra's song plays for the third time, Jim Leyland is on the TV monitors in the interview room. The audio can be heard over the P.A. speakers. Only four other writers remain in the box. A female guard eats popcorn. Lee cleans up garbage from the aisle to my right as the last of the crowd files out of the park.
A good start indeed for the Bombers. Catch everyone tomorrow.