The baseball watching public will always have fond memories of the final day of the 2011 season, where within a few minutes, in four separate ballparks, the Red Sox and Braves completely collapsed, and the Tampa Bay Rays and eventual World Series champions St. Louis Cardinals snuck into the playoffs, with some particular drama unfolding in Tampa Bay.
Everyone was so excited about it that baseball owners and Commissioner Selig instituted a second Wild Card berth in the playoffs, in order to keep baseball competitive down the stretch in September, rather than the sight we were all too used to: two teams in a given division, a few games apart, both with playoff berth’s locked up, and no excitement for a few weeks until the tournament started.
Well, it worked: games were meaningful until the final day of the season, culminating in a winner-take-all showdown between the A’s and Rangers with the A’s coming all the way back to win the division and avoid a one-game playoff, a playoff that saw the two-time defending AL Champion Rangers go quietly into the night to the Orioles. Drama achieved.
But the funny thing about all this is that the one ‘screw up’ in this whole situation is providing the greatest spark for drama: because the second Wild Card was instated very late in the offseason, and travel schedules could not be coordinated, the Division series was broken into a 2-3 format, rather than 2-2-1, with the home team getting three games at home to finish the series. The Yankees have taken full advantage of that with one of the most thrilling victories in the Bronx in a few years last night.
There is so much to talk about: Hiroki Kuroda, the starter everyone was pretty unsure of….will he? wont he? was absolutely BRILLIANT! I mean that with every bit of me; I watched him carefully throughout the game, and he was just dominant. A few bad pitches left the little confines of the Second Yankee Stadium’s playing field, leaving the Yankees in the 9th inning, with Kuroda on the mound, down 2-1. Suddenly, Joe Girardi, or Binder Joe as Yankee fans have called him, threw the numbers and figures away and went with his gut. He pulled Alex Rodriguez from the game and pinch hit Raul Ibanez.
We need to rewind for a second though. For the better part of this young postseason (the Yankees had only played 2 games going into last night) A-Rod had really been the Lightning Rod, with Yankee fans all over calling into radio stations and posting on social media that the man who, after this year, is facing a 5 year, ~$150M contract, should be dropped or removed from the lineup. The talking heads laughed this off, because hey, whether he hit 157 HR on steroids or not, Alex is an all time player. So gametime comes, and Alex is right there in the 3 spot, where nobody wanted him. The guy goes 0-3 with 2 strikeouts, and things are looking dire. In comes Girardi’s gut, in comes Ibanez, and out goes the baseball.
Since this new Yankee Stadium on the other side of 161st St opened, Ibanez sits up there with Curtis Granderson as the two guys who can crush a ball over the right field short porch better than anyone. Ibanez regularly reaches the second deck when he gets a hold of a fastball, and last night was no different. What was different though, was the situation: this wasn’t the regular season. Nobody had ever hit 2 home runs in a postseason game that they did not start. Nobody had ever hit a game tying and game winning home run in a postseason game. But the gut feeling was there, and I’m sure today Joe Girardi couldnt be happier.
If there is one lesson to be learned from all this, it is that if you spend enough time at Yankee Stadium, something great is bound to happen. I’m far from a Yankee fan, but it’s pretty incredible how these kinds of things happen. For 90 years now, there have been Yankee moments that are forever referenced (Bucky Dent, Aaron Boone, the Flip play, etc). I spent a day at Yankee Stadium, and watched them score 13 runs in the 8th inning to win. It just sort of happens.
So I guess, none of this is surprising.
There is much more going on: 3 runs from the A’s in the 9th inning to force a winner-take-all Game 5 in Oakland; the NL-best Nationals taking a beating in the first playoff game in DC since 1933. It’s October, and the storylines aren’t slowing down any time soon. Just sit back and enjoy the baseball….I hope you’ve all learned that it truly ain’t over til it’s over.