Over the five or so years I’ve written Deep In the Red, I’ve been given the privilege of writing about baseball — most especially the Yankees, of course — from a unique if not wholly singular perspective.
YESNetwork.com has given a virtual free hand that enables me to switch from wearing my well-worn Yankee cap to my press box sport jacket, if not at will, then mostly so, and often at short notice. As a fan I’ve tried to bare my honest thoughts and emotions to the bone in hopes of capturing the passion shared by countless other fans. In the role of journalist and analyst, I’ve tried to write with an unsensationalistic objectivity, respect for players, and balance I often find lacking in the work of far too many sportswriters who view the game with jaundiced eyes — and, in some cases nowadays, keep those eyes firmly on their Twitter pages rather than the games they’re supposed to be watching and reporting on.
This forum is something for which I am beyond grateful. I consider it a blessing.
When I’m functioning as a member of the working press, I’m given the professional courtesies all media people are afforded. And when I’m in my seat at the games wearing my Yankee cap there are no special benefits. I’m just one of 50,000 or so other paying customers there for a night out at the ballpark.
Saturday night at Yankee Stadium, at a game my wife and I had highly anticipated, the obduracy and thoughtlessness of one security staffer took some of the luster off the thrill we should have taken from an epic postseason win.
I should mention that my wife’s a stickler for preparation. The preparation part is useful when you’re going to a game during which you’ll be sitting out in the left field bleachers on a night when temperatures are in the 40’s, a nor’easter is supposed to be blasting in and rain delays are expected throughout the game.
I can’t tell you how much insulation Suzanne wore under her long winter coat, scarf and hat. All I know is that it was a lot. And that as we prepared to leave our apartment for the game, she wondered if people would think she was a little crazy in all those clothes. Walking to the subway station, we laughed because she could hardly bend her knees. It was the double tights, Under Armour and what-not she’d layered on. She was also carrying a rolled up blanket in some kind of tote. Oh, and an umbrella. She’s on the slight side and needs to bundle up in bad weather.
We were fortunate in that the rain held up till late in the game — I think it was around eleven o’clock. It was chilly for most of the night, though. And when it got wet and windy it felt downright cold out in the bleachers.
When I looked over at Suzanne at some point around the ninth or 10th inning, I noticed she was shivering under her umbrella. And that the umbrella wasn’t doing much good in the slanting rain anyway.
I asked if she was okay, and she said she was. But when you see your wife trembling, and her knees knocking, and her lips getting white, even if you haven’t been married forever like I have, you know she’s only saying that because she doesn’t want to ruin your time and make you feel as if you’d better leave early.
I told her that maybe we ought to go home. But she’s as averse to leaving a Yankees game in progress as I’ve always been, especially a playoff game, and insisted she just needed to get out of the cold and rain for a little while, and would find someplace to stand in the concourse, maybe have a coffee to warm her up.
“You stay here,” she said. “I’ll call you on the cell and let you know where I am.”
I told her not to be ridiculous and went with her.
At this point — I’m guessing it was the eleventh inning — the crowd had thinned significantly out around the left field bleachers. Some were people with kids, others were people with long drives home, and I guess still others were just tired and cold and soaked. Whatever their reasons, they were heading for the aisles in bunches.
There was a section back there that had been designated as Standing Room Only for the playoffs. It has a kind of overhang that blocks the rain, and a wall behind it that cuts down the wind stream. The last two holdouts in that section were a guy with no shirt on and a beer sloshing in his hand, and another guy who was kind of prowling around looking shady. Everybody else had departed.
Suzanne had warmed a bit in the concourse. She had gotten some color back in her face and her teeth weren’t chattering. She wanted to try and hang in and root the team on for the rest of the game, just not in the bleachers where the wind was still ripping over and through her coat. So we figured we’d give the SRO section a shot.
Now, I understand about moving into different seats than the ones you’ve bought. It’s one thing moving down to better, more expensive ones nowadays, even if they’re empty. Back in the old days that was okay, but now it isn’t, and I accept it. But you wouldn’t figure somebody would mind your moving to a worse, cheaper section with no place to sit down, let alone one that was now completely deserted except for the two stragglers I mentioned.
We went into the SRO section and had been there about three minutes when the security guard came over and asked if we had tickets.
“We’ve got bleacher seats,” I said, showing my ticket to him. “But my wife’s soaked, and couldn’t take the cold anymore. It okay if we stay here?”
“Unless you have tickets for this area, you have to leave,” he said. “You have bleacher seats. This is Standing Room Only.”
“But there’s nobody left standing here,” I said.
The security guy just shook his head. Meanwhile, the bare-chested guy came running over. He’s completely toasted but, I realize, trying to help.
“This is the shirtless section now,” he tells the security guard. “And me being the only guy here, I say they can stay, man. They can even keep their shirts on!”
The security guard ignored him.
“You have to leave,” he told me again.
“Look,” I said. “My wife and I aren’t causing problems. We’re into extra innings on a miserable night, and she’s freezing, and it’s a playoff game. We just want to see the end.”
Robotman couldn’t have cared less: “You have to leave. I’m just doing my job.”
“But if I went to a customer service desk, and told them my wife was uncomfortable , they’d probably put us somewhere else right now anyway. Since there are all kinds of seats available.”
I don’t know whether or not the part about the moving’s true. I think it might be. But when you’re in extra innings, and it’s one o’clock in the morning, five hours into a game that can end in a heartbeat with an error or a home run, the last thing you want to do is have to seek out customer service at an enormous Stadium and miss that last play.
Meanwhile, for maybe the fifth time, the security guard is repeating his mantra. “You have to leave, I’m just doing my job.”
Behind him, the shirtless guy’s signaling for us to walk away and circle back from the other direction. And behind me, the guy who’s been roaming aro
und looking shifty tries to grab my wife’s tote bag, which she’s set down against the wall. She yanks it out of his hand at the last minute and he takes off running. I don’t find out about this till later. My back is to him, and the security guard, who is facing in his direction, is too busy telling me he’s doing his job to notice.
“Jerome, let’s just go,” my wife says. “It’s not worth it.”
I’m looking at the guard. I’m pretending not to think he’s the world’s biggest jerk as I oh-so-politely ask one final time to give us a break and am again told to move on. I’m also pretending not to think that maybe he ought to stop repeating that he’s just doing his job and instead try using his head.
And I’m thinking one other thing under that cap of mine that I’ll get around to in a second.
First, though, to make a long story short, we moved. We found a bench in the last row bleachers that was entirely vacated, and had a little coverage, and my wife wrapped herself in her blanket, and we watched the end of the game. The security guards there weren’t hassling anyone. Give them credit.
Finally we cheered and clapped when Hairston ran home on that error, and waited for the pie, and then headed out of the Stadium with the crowd.
We were both a little subdued as we left, though. I wasn’t grinning from ear to ear the way I ordinarily would have. I wasn’t high-fiving anyone, or thinking about what a classic game I’d seen. I was glad the Yanks won and glad, too, that I was going home. It had been a great night for the Yanks but not such a great night for me or my wife.
And as for the final thing I thought under my Yanks cap about the uniform in the SRO section:
What I was thinking was that I would write about him today in this column. Write how he showed no discretionary judgment, no human kindness, no wisdom, no common consideration or decency. Write that I hope he reads this, and I hope even more that somebody takes him to task for it. He stunk at his job and frankly doesn’t deserve to have it.
This morning, I mentioned a little of what happened last night to a pal and fellow journalist — one of the guys who actually watches the games he writes about in the newspaper. He replied that he hoped my wife and I enjoyed the end of the game anyway. I told him we did, but that our enjoyment was a little diminished by our experience.
My memory of Game 2 of the 2009 ALCS will never be an entirely happy one.
Kind of stinks.
Figure things probably won’t be as easy the rest of the way. It’s hard to believe the LA Angels of Anaheim will continue to bumble and stumble around the field like Ringling Brothers clowns flopping out of a circus train down at the Garden. And most of all, the Yanks won’t have CC Sabathia on the mound every night for the rest of the LCS.
Friday night, though, the first night of the series, that baby belonged to CC. Somewhere over the Yankee Stadium frieze, and the lights, and the hard, cold wind blowing in from left field, and the wet snow early in the game, and the sheet of gray October clouds spitting that snow down our hooded heads, somewhere high above it all in the New York City sky, the stars and moon and planets were aligned over CC, were shining down on him as he stood there throwing lightning for strikes in the middle of the infield diamond. Even the flags out in left were pointing stiffly at him as if to say, “This night belongs to you.”
Big stage. Big night. Big man, that CC.
And the crowd let him know it once he got to mowing through that Angels lineup. See ya later Figgins, it’s hard to run wild on the bases when you can’t get on. Fuggedabout it Abreu, you can’t draw a walk when the Big Man’s pounding you with strike after strike. Props to Torii for getting the first of those four Angels hits, but a single won’t hurt CC when he’s firing 95 mph heat to get Guerrero to line out, especially when he then spun him and his humongous lumber in a helpless circle after Vlad touched him for that one mistake in the fourth.
Tough to remember exactly when the chanting started. With the wind ripping into us up in the frozen stands, we were still getting loose those first few innings, still trying to get our blood circulating under layers of clothing that made us feel like kids dressed for a snow day — our coats and hoodies and thermals and Under Armour, our gloves and double socks. Those first few innings, couples were still snuggling under their blankets while trying to stay warm. We’d clap and yell but our brains were too frozen and numb to come up with something special. Something to fit the occasion.
And then we heard it. Maybe from somewhere in the right field grandstand, though you know those Bleacher Creatures will want to take the credit. But it really doesn’t matter where it started, or who got it going, because the one who counted Friday night was the guy that got everybody on their feet and out from under the snuggle blankets, the guy that growing, rhythmic chant was all for, the big man on the mound, big man in a big game in the Bronx, where some of the biggest in the history of baseball have been played:
“CC! CC! CC!”
Straight on, no frills, and nothing could have felt more right, because that’s CC in a nutshell. He doesn’t showboat and rarely flashes his emotions. He just plants his foot on the rubber and mops that wide brow of his and deals. Seven, eight innings. 100, 115, 120 pitches. It was like that all summer, and here we are in the fall, and now he’s showing the Yanks, who will tell you over and over he’s their horse, that he wants them to ride him into November’s baseball dreamland.
“CC! CC! CC!”
115 pitches last night. 76 strikes, four hits, one run, eight innings. And then the ball to Mo. Figure it won’t be as easy the entire series. But it was Friday night.
Must-see CC hurls the Yanks toward a big postseason win.
Big as big can be.
There were obvious reasons to earmark Monday night’s Yankees-Angels game in the Bronx — a makeup of a May 3 rainout — as a potential look ahead into the playoffs.
The New York Yankees entered the game with the best record in baseball, the largest division lead (seven games) in the American League, and the near certainty that they will clinch the AL East sometime in the next couple of weeks.
The L.A. Angels of Anaheim came in tied with the Dodgers for the second-best record in baseball and holding a six-game lead over their nearest opponent in the AL West, the Texas Rangers.
The likeliest postseason scenario right now in the American league is that the Yankees will face the Detroit Tigers in the Division Series, with the Wild Card-winning Boston Red Sox matching up against the Halos. It doesn’t take a much figuring to see that the second round League Championship Series could be the Yankees-Angels. If that happens, it will be the third time since 2002 that these teams meet in postseason competition — and Yankee fans are ruefully aware that Anaheim has not only come out on top in both previous series, but has long been bane of the Yankees in the regular season as well.
So these were the obvious hooks to Monday’s game — but it had deeper layers of intrigue. In 2002 and for several years thereafter the Angels built their winning formula on the cornerstones Mike Scioscia’s daringly unpredictable play-calling, and a lockdown relief corps modeled after the Yankee pens during the team’s 1996-2000 dynasty seasons. Their most solidly constructed team overall was arguably 2002’s, with a solid if less than great pitching rotation, a versatile offense capable of scoring bundles of runs, and, very critically, the pen: veteran closer Troy Percival and a supporting cast consisting of pitchers Brendan Donnelly, Scott Schoeneweis, Ben Weber, Scot Shields and others. In September of that year, a Minor League call-up named Francisco Rodriguez was added to the mix. And, of course, K-Rod’s supercharged performances against the Yankees in the ALDS, the Minnesota Twins in the ALCS, and the San Francisco Giants in the World Series helped fire the team to a championship.
Parallels have been drawn between this year’s Yankees and the 1998 version of the Bombers, but the better comparison might be to those 2002 Angels. Beyond CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte, the starting rotation going into the playoffs is loaded with maybes, but the offense is flat-out magnificent and the bullpen is by leaps and bounds the best in the Major Leagues.
Meanwhile, the Angels have changed from what they were in 2002. In terms of how the team is built, its starting rotation is similar — okay but not great, with the exception of Jered Weaver, who’s having a career year, and the fact that ace John Lackey is rounding into form. (Lackey is 2-0 with a 0.35 ERA in his last three starts, allowing one earned run over 26 innings.) There’s less power in the lineup then there was back then, but batters hit for higher average and still run, run, run like crazy. The biggest difference throughout the season, however, has been the bullpen. Although it showed some late improvement, it was among the Major League worst in earned runs allowed for much of 2009. It is no longer a strength for the Angels, but a point of vulnerability.
Scioscia, of course, remains Scioscia. He pushes things. He prods. Chaos is his handprint. He rains it on opposing teams, dares them grapple with it. And for some reason, year after year, the Yankees have been prime victims of his unorthodox strategies.
But Monday night in the Bronx the Yankees beat the Angels, and they did the way the Angels usually beat them. And though it’s September and not October, and it was only one regular season victory, there were signs within the game — signs you can bet nobody on either team missed — that the current Yankee team has the ability to cast off the Angels’ dominance when it really counts.
“They’re definitely not a team that you want to get into a bullpen war with,” the team manager said after the game.
This was Scioscia, not Joe Girardi, talking about a Yankee pen that held his team in check for five innings after Joba Chamberlain’s truncated outing — the most encouraging of the current Joba Rule era. It’s true Phil Hughes surrendered a single run that allowed the Angels to briefly tie the game in the eighth, but it was a single run after he’d loaded the bases with the heart of the Angels order, loaded them with no outs, and the Yanks took those runs back, and more, at the bottom of that inning.
In 2009, the Yankees bullpen is no welcome sight to any other team in baseball. Now, in mid-September, that is hardly a revelation. The pen has proved itself time and again, and its success more than anything has become Girardi’s particular handprint.
But what Girardi showed Monday night — showed Scioscia, his Angels, and thousands of roaring fans at Yankee Stadium — was that he now has chaos at his fingertips too. And has the guts to lock, load and fire away when ready.
Everyone who saw the game knows how it went down. Bottom of the eighth, one out, and Mark Teixeira smashed a line-drive ground rule double to right. And then Alex Rodriguez walked, and Scioscia finally pulled Jered Weaver and went to his bullpen. It was Darren Oliver on the mound to face Hideki Matsui, lefty versus lefty, that was his move and there was nothing wrong with it. It was textbook, it was orthodox, it is what Scioscia or any baseball manager might have been expected to do.
Monday night, it was Girardi who did the unorthodox, pulling a gutsy offensive substitution. Suddenly it was Brett Gardner on the bases to pinch run for Teixeira. This wasn’t a game tied in the ninth inning. This was still the eighth, and if the Yankees didn’t score it would have stayed tied, and Girardi would have lost his potent No. 3 hitter for the remainder of the game. And if the Yanks had gone on to lose the game, you can bet he would have heard about it from the media and fans the next day.
But they didn’t lose. What happened was the speedy Gardner stole third on a pitch, which was what he was there to try and do. And while he was doing that, running like quicksilver, A-Rod was busy stealing second, and Angels catcher Mike Napoli fired the ball to his third-baseman, and missed, and Gardner came racing home to give the Yanks a 4-3 lead. And then they padded that lead by a run, and in came Mariano Rivera, and it was all over.
Girardi’s Yanks had turned the tables on Scioscia’s Angels, given them a taste of their own medicine, fill in the saying of your choice. What counts is that both teams knew it. And most importantly because they’ve been at the wrong end of things for so long, the Yankees knew, and it gave them a confidence you could see in their faces and hear in their voices after the game.
“We could leave the other guys out there if we wanted to play station to station … so he (Gardner) understood, what we walked about, was to try to get bags. And that’s why we put him out there,” Girardi said. “We also know what it does to the attention of everyone around. Pitcher, catcher, everybody.”
“I think you all should go talk to Skip,” said Nick Swisher, whose two hits in the game included a home run in the third. “Making a great change, putting in Gardy … for him to get that stolen base and then come in to score, hat’s off
It was one game in September, with postseason ramifications insofar as the team with the best record gaining homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. October may or may not see a rematch between them in which the stakes would be immeasurably higher. Should it occur, however, Monday night’s game gave us a tantalizing hint that this year’s Yankee squad may finally have the manager and players to fly past the Angels toward greater glory.