If you hung on to the bitter end on Sunday night, then you can imagine what a pain in the ass this game is to try to write about. For the first six innings the story line was about the continuing ineptitude of the Yankee bats, as Boston starter Daisuke Matsuzaka was dominant throughout. The recap for that game was called “The Darkness on the Edge of Town,” and the story pretty much wrote itself: the Yankee swoon continues, the Twins and Rays are now the top two teams in the league, and the Red Sox and ’64 Phillies are looming.
But then the seventh inning happened and I ripped that first story up. With one out and Mark Teixeira on first base, Alex Rodríguez came up to face Dice-K, a pitcher against whom he’s always struggled. A-Rod quickly dug himself into a two-strike hole, then lashed at an inside fastball with a swing very much like a Rafael Nadal two-handed backhand. At contact my first hope was that the ball would dunk in in front of an outfielder, but then as the camera panned upwards both outfielders were racing towards to the gap in right center and suddenly I was hoping it would be over their heads. A split second later it was scraping over the wall and the Yankees had a 2-1 lead. A-Rod was the hero, and what’s better than a hero story? Again, the story would write itself, and it would carry the title “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”
And then we got to the ninth inning. Mariano Rivera had come in to get the final out in the eighth, and now he needed only three more outs to send everyone home happy. Jed Lowrie almost ended the suspense early, but his rocket to right was cut down by a vicious wind and settled harmlessly into Nick Swisher’s glove. Ryan Kalish followed with a single, and that’s when all hell broke loose. Kalish quickly stole second, then a few pitches later stole third without a throw, and suddenly we were ninety feet away from a tie game. Bill Hall then hit an absolute missile towards third, but the drawn-in A-Rod really had no shot, and the game was tied. Proving that he had been paying attention earlier, Hall stole second and then third. (You don’t have to be a SABR member to know that Mo has never allowed four stolen bases in the same inning.) Now the winning run was on third, still with only one out, and the only thing keeping me off the ledge was everything I knew about Mariano Rivera. But this wasn’t the Rivera we’re used to seeing. He struggled with his control throughout, and eventually yielded a sac fly to Mike Lowell, giving the Sox a 3-2 lead. This time, the story was titled “Cuts Like a Knife.”
But the ninth inning wasn’t over. Even after Derek Jeter flied out to start the bottom half, I still had hope. Nothing Jonathan Papelbon has done recently makes me fear him, so I wasn’t surprised when Nick Swisher started a Yankee rally with a sharp single to right. When Teixeira kept the line moving with a single of his own, I just knew A-Rod would end it all with another dramatic home run. Didn’t you? Alas, he took a well-earned walk, loading the bases for Robinson Canó. With MVP chants raining down (the first time I’ve noticed those for Canó), Robbie showed how far he’s come over the past two years. He took two tough pitches to get into a hitter’s count at 2-0, then laced the expected fastball into right field to tie the game at three. With the bases loaded, one out, and Jorge Posada and Lance Berkman, I was sure the game was in hand. My only question was whose face would be covered in pie at the end. But Posada struck out and Berkman flied out and we moved to the tenth.
The Boston tenth was uneventful, unless you count the fact that Joba Chamberlain looked good, and the stage was set for a walk-off in the bottom half. With Hideki Okajima on the mound, things got interesting almost immediately. Curtis Granderson roped a line drive for a single to right, then Brett Gardner reached when he was able to beat out an intended sacrifice bunt as Victor Martínez’s throw hit him in the back, allowing Granderson to race all the way to third. As Jeter stepped towards the plate, I just knew Captain Clutch would wrap things up, and I started typing a story called “You Never Forget Your First Pie.” Terry Francona made me rip that one up, too, when he walked Jeter intentionally to load the bases with nobody out. Greg Golson was due up next (long story), but Joe Girardi sent Marcus Thames up in his place. Thames did what he does — he hit a bullet — but it was snared by Adrian Beltré, who threw home for the first out. Due next was Juan Miranda (long story) who worked an anticlimactic bases-loaded walk to end the game. I don’t even know if he got any pie. For a quick moment my story was called “Walk This Way,” but then I quickly realized that that was kind of lame. The Yankees started bouncing around a bit, but then they quickly realized the same thing. A walk-off walk isn’t the most exciting thing in the world, but a win is still a win.
[Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP]