When Raul saved the Yanks (for awhile)

Posted: October 15, 2012 by shawnfury in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

In many ways this post is already dated. The game happened five days ago and the Yankees have played four games since. They’re now down 2-0 in the ALCS and Raul Ibanez’s heroics in Game 3 of the ALDS won’t mean nearly as much if the Yankees’ bats remain dead. Just as his homer in the ninth inning of Game 1 of the ALCS simply extended the game and could do nothing to prevent a brutal loss and a catastrophic injury to Derek Jeter, his two homers against the Orioles last Wednesday might have only extend the team’s season a few more games.

But how can something you’ll remember for 20 years be dated?

Thanks to a ticket from a friend, I attended last week’s game, when Ibanez twice rescued the Yankees. My first playoff game at Yankee Stadium — old or new — and I witnessed one of the great moments in Yankees playoff history. And maybe the beginning of the end of Alex Rodriguez’s career as a Yankee.

We sat in the upper deck, behind home plate. Good seats. From there we could see the entire field, the dugouts and all the fans disguised as empty seats throughout the Stadium. The attendance at Yankees game has gotten quite a bit of attention this postseason, especially when Jeff Passan revealed that ushers were shooing people down from the upper decks to the lower for Game 1 against the Tigers. People who attempt that move on their own during the regular season are subject to being tasered. Now it’s encouraged. The seats did fill in during our game, as Yankees fans have apparently learned from their West Coast hoops brethren, the Lakers, about the benefit of the late arrival.

Mariano Rivera threw out the first pitch, months after he threw his last pitch of the season. When I attended a game earlier this year, it was the first time I’d been to a game at the Stadium that didn’t end with Rivera slowly jogging in for a save. It remains one of the coolest things to see in sports, Rivera coming in from the outfield for the inevitable save while “Enter Sandman” blasts from the speakers. He shows no emotion, no theatrics, throws his one pitch and gets his three or four outs. On Wednesday “Enter Sandman” again played and he again jogged in, except this time it was from the dugout and it was before the game instead of at the end. It was another cool Mariano moment, but also a reminder of what the Yankees lost when he crumbled to the ground in Kansas City. Who could have known another legend would be carried off the field just a few days later?

The game itself had the feel of a July game. Both pitchers coasted, the Yankees’ offense kicked off the demise that continues today and as the ninth inning arrived it seemed likely the Orioles would be one victory away from a surprising series victory. A family of five that sat next to us for eight innings left right before the ninth, eager to beat the traffic or catch a Metro-North. Or maybe they were sick of seeing A-Rod hit and knew he was due up in the bottom of the ninth.

It was strange to see the A-Rod benching in-person. A buzz went through our section but there’s only so much you can see from high above the field. People around us said outloud, “Jesus, he benched A-Rod.” But it’s different than seeing it on TV, where you can see the cameras zoom in on Rodriguez and Girardi and the fans, and the broadcasters can talk about his struggles at the plate and that insane contract while speculating about what the headlines will be the next day in the tabloids. At the game we simply saw Ibanez stroll to the plate, the Yankees moments away from a 2-1 deficit.

That first homer, which tied the game 2-2, was a line shot that quickly left the field. When he hit it I stood and screamed with the lifelong Yankees fans around me, including the one who had given me the ticket. A Minnesota boy cheering on the evil Yankees, the franchise that buys titles and cruelly ushers the Twins out of the playoffs whenever they unfortunately meet in the opening round? Yes. When the Twins are eliminated I cheer for the Yankees, so this year I was pulling for them starting on April 26. As Ibanez rounded the bases the stands were shaking. It’s a cliche, but it was true and if I didn’t know the Stadium survived the New York earthquake of 2011 just fine I might have worried about the engineering and architecture.

In the 10th I jokingly texted my cousin that Ibanez would have to win the game for the Yankees too, considering how horrific every other player in Pinstripes looked when they stood near the plate. They took fastballs down the middle and swung at balls in the dirt. They popped out to the infield and hit lazy flyballs to the outfield.

And then Ibanez did win it, this time with an upper-deck shot in the bottom of the 12th. Everyone stood, everyone screamed, the stands shook. It was the coolest sporting event I’ve seen live, but there weren’t a lot of great contenders before this night. The previous leader? Maybe the night I saw Magic Johnson’s last good game as a Laker, against the Timberwolves in 1996 during his comeback. It wasn’t the most improbable — Augsburg’s final-play TD against the Johnnies last year probably takes that honor. But this was a playoff game in Yankee Stadium, even if it is on the other side of the street from the Stadium that was home to so many of these moments. But all that history does come in to play when the Yankees pull off games like Game 3. You can’t help but think of the World Titles won by Ruth and Mantle. You remember Reggie’s three dingers and all the moments since 1996, whether they involve Jeter or Rivera or Scott Brosius.

Sinatra sang his New York song while Craig Sager interviewed Ibanez. On the elevator leaving the Stadium, the fans in the packed area chanted “Let’s go Yankees” and then for Ibanez. A series victory seemed inevitable, and after that? A World Series title.

Now we know those homers might not help the Yankees win a World Series. Instead of being one of the great moments in Yankees history maybe they become more of a footnote. But no matter how this season concludes and long after it ends, I’ll remember the ball flying off Ibanez’s bat, once in the ninth and once in the 12th. I’ll remember the sound of the crowd. And I’ll remember those shaking stands.

  1. Jerry says:

    Somehow I really don’t think the Twins are going to have to worry about being swept out of the playoffs by the Yankees for a few years…and that may be being too much of an optomist.

  2. Mike says:

    Did you tell everyone around you that like Ibanez, your spanish name in high school was also Raul?

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