Tuesday night was a busy one for me. My older daughter’s middle school soccer team played in the city semi-finals at 5:00 (a clean 3-0 win), leaving just enough time for a quick dinner before we had to head back out the door for her basketball practice at 7:30 — all of which made a live watching of the Yankees and Angels fairly impossible. I thought about avoiding the game during the evening so I could watch the DVR’d version when I got home, but I decided against it.
When I was a young, baseball-crazed boy growing up long before the dawning of ESPN and three thousand miles away from my favorite team, there were only two ways I could get a Yankee score. I could wait for the box score in the morning paper, but more often I chose to listen to the Dodger game while lying in bed, waiting for Vin Scully to read the out-of-town scoreboard. It’s become almost passé to point this out, but baseball and radio fit together perfectly. A game’s tense moments force you to focus every ounce of your awareness on every syllable of the announcer, every cheer of the crowd, every crack of the bat, but at other times your mind can drift in and out of the game as desired.
And so it was for me as I turned to my old friends Suzyn Waldman and John Sterling. It was the third inning by the time I found a folding chair in the high school gym and sat down to listen, and the Yankees were already in trouble. Hiroki Kuroda had just been victimized by his defense, specifically Yangervis Solarte, who botched a sacrifice bunt attempt by Colin Cowgill and set the Angels up with runners on second and third and nobody out. Thankfully, Kuroda seemed to be pitching well, but he still give up both unearned runs with back-to-back sacrifice flies from Erick Aybar and Mike Trout, and the Yankees were down, 2-0.
The worst part about these slumps the Yankees fall into from time to time, is that the deficits seem enormous. Down by only two runs with six innings to play, I already felt defeated. How could they climb that mountain? When I listened as the heart of the heartless order (Mark Teixeira, Alfonso Soriano, and Brian McCann) went down meekly in the top of the fourth, I felt the clouds gathering.
In the fifth, though, Solarte singled to left to start the frame and Brett Gardner pushed him ninety more feet with a single of his own. When Brian Roberts picked up the Yankees’ third consecutive hit and scored Solarte, it seemed like a miracle. Two pitches later Jacoby Ellsbury grounded into a double play, killing the rally but scoring Gardner, and the game was tied at two.
Kuroda, meanwhile, continued to cruise, working through a bit of trouble in the fifth by striking out Trout with runners on first and third, then setting down six straight batters as he coasted through the sixth and seventh, all of which set up the top of the eighth.
Derek Jeter was clipped on the heal by Angels starter C.J. Wilson, then Carlos Beltran dribbled a ball up the middle that narrowly missed being a double-play ball but instead pushed Jeter to third, and suddenly I was flashing back to last night. Would they fail again? When Teixeira grounded weakly to third and Jeter was tagged out after a short rundown, I seemed to have my answer. Dark thoughts began to cloud my vision, and I imagined another double play to end the top half and an Angel rally in the bottom half. But Soriano came through instead, rapping a grounder just beyond Aybar’s outstretched glove at third, and Beltran rumbled around third with the go-ahead run.
Kuroda talked his way into the eighth inning and used just three pitches to get the first two outs. My daughter’s practice was over by now, and we were listening to the Angels’ broadcast in the car on the drive home. With Trout walking to the plate and Albert Pújols in the on deck circle, I desperately tried to send a message to Girardi through the radio, hoping he’d pull Kuroda in favor of Dellin Betances, but Girardi wasn’t listening. After battling his way into a full count, Trout golfed a ball high off the wall in right field and sprinted his way to third for a triple. Girardi had no choice now, so he lifted Kuroda for Shawn Kelley, who quickly went to 3-0 on Pújols, raising fears that he hadn’t yet recovered from last night’s affliction. Pújols watched the next two pitches pipe straight down the middle to work the count full, then he roped a soft liner into left center and the game was tied.
Again, cue the dark thoughts.
But I needn’t have worried. I finally sat down on the couch to watch the top of the ninth, and with two outs Brian Roberts (yes — Brian Roberts!) crushed a no-doubter into the stands in right field, snatching the lead back for the Yanks at 4-3. From there the Alabama Hammer pounded three quick nails into the Angel’s coffin and the night was over.
[Photo Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea/AP Photo]