In 2015 I went to the AL Wild Card game with my brother. We were excited, maybe the Yankees could pull this off! Sure they had stumbled into the postseason like somebody doing a treadmill program who decides he’s ready to actually run outside (no of course that’s not autobiographical why would you think that?) but hey, they were still here! The last Yankee postseason game I went to, I got to witness Derek Jeter snap his ankle in half, so it had to go better than that, right?
That Was Then
It went almost as badly. I sat there, the crowd electric as Masahiro Tanaka throws a 1-2-3 first. But then Colby Rasmus punches one into the RF seats. The noise level drops precipitously, but it’s one run. Tanaka’s clearly shaken but he gets out of the inning. Then Carlos Gomez homers in the 5th, the crowd becomes restive, confused. I don’t remember if Tanaka got booed off the field, but by the time Dellin Betances gave up an RBI single to Altuve, it didn’t matter. The boos were raining down on everybody, player and fan alike. It wasn’t supposed to go this way, a 3-0 loss with a mere three Yankee hits. The Yankees got booed off the field.
But This Is Now
Fast forward to 2017, game 161. The Red Sox win, locking down the division. The Yankees are the first Wild Card, and suddenly I’m making plans to go do this all again. My brother lives in LA now, but I go with a friend of his who scored some good tickets for not too much.
The stadium feels different this time, the team didn’t stumble to the finish line this year. They sprinted, they took the division down to 2 games in the final weekend of the regular season. In 2015 the crowd was loud, but this time they were deafening.
Luis Severino is pitching. Sub-3.00 ERA, should be a Cy Young frontrunner in any normal year Luis Severino. He’s got this. Severino to Green to Robertson to Chapman, easy. His first pitch is a fastball strike that reads 100mph on the board. I’m already hoarse.
Then the count is 3-1. Then the score is 1-0 Twins. Then 3-0. People are booing again. I go through all five stages of grief.
Denial: This isn’t happening. Somehow they’re going to declare these runs null and restart the inning.
Anger: How could Sevy do this to us. To me!
Depression: Baseball is insanely bad, the Wild Card format is even worse.
Bargaining: Maybe Sevy can get out of this with just 3 runs, the Yanks have power…
Acceptance: It is happening. Again. I can never go to another Wild Card game.
Severino leaves the game with 0.1 IP and 3 ER. There’s a man on second and third. I’m screaming at the people still booing.
Then a swinging strike, and applause. A swinging strikeout and suddenly we’re back in it. There are no more boos, the noise level is steadily increasing. Another swinging strikeout and we’re on our feet again. It’s 3 runs! We came back from 9-1 and 11-4 against the O’s this year! The Twins aren’t better than them!
In 2015 3 runs was all the Astros needed. But I saw Cy Young Dallas Keuchel pitch that game and you sir, are no Cy Young Dallas Keuchel. You are Ervin Santana. You’ve never won at Yankee Stadium. You have an ERA against the Yankees north of 5.00. Brett Gardner walks. We’re already on our feet, so we clap harder and yell louder. Aaron Judge singles, we get even louder. Gary Sanchez pops out but we don’t care, it’s just one out.
Sir Didi Gregorius steps up to the plate. He’s hit 25 home runs this year. He’s batting cleanup because he’s a cleanup hitter now.
And he does the thing. It gets so loud you can hear it clip on the TV feed.
I’m not even cheering. I’m just screaming at the top of my lungs, a mix of incoherent noise mixed in with “SIR DIDI” and “THIS FUCKING TEAM.” I’m hardly alone in this. It’s taken less than one inning to clear the slate.
The inning ends tied and Green works a 1-2-3. Todd Frazier gets robbed of an XBH but everybody has to give Buxton props for that one. Then Gardner demolishes a ball into the second deck and that was it. It wasn’t a game anymore, it was just a party.
It didn’t even matter that the Twins tied it back up on a double play that Buxton beat out the next inning, we knew we had this. Chad Green is Muad’Dib, his name is a killing word. David Robertson came back at the trade deadline, he knows what it’s like to win here, in pinstripes. He set a new career record going 2.2 innings at Citi Field but when Joe calls, he throws, he doesn’t care when or for how long. He’ll go 3.1 tonight.
Gary Sanchez doubles, Greg Bird drives him in because this Greg Bird isn’t the one who hit .100 the first month. And Aaron Judge homers because honestly that’s why we’re all really here. (I didn’t realize until I got home and watched the video, but Judge actually broke into a smile as he rounded first base. That’s how big this all was.)
I’m sitting in the stands in left field so I can’t see his face, but I’m pretty sure at around this point Eddie Rosario is ready to cry. There’s a mound visit and he’s just squatting motionless in the outfield. The Twins look completely shell-shocked, and how could they not? It’s a cacophony, all of the Twins fans in the stands have disappeared.
Joe Girardi (along with every other MLB manager) has gotten his fair share of criticism for his bullpen management this year but he knows exactly what’s at stake here. Everybody is a long reliever tonight, and he’s walking them all to the edge of the cliff before he goes to the next guy, because it’s an endless stream of outs with each fresh arm.
Tommy Kahnle came over with D-Rob. He left a rebuilding team 2 months ago, he doesn’t want to go home and sit on the couch already like those guys are. Kahnle doesn’t skip leg day, and when he throws strikes, good luck.
Sir Didi gets walked intentionally to load the bases because he’s the cleanup hitter for a reason, and an unintentional walk after that brings it up to 8-4. We’re ready now, no need for more runs, just end it.
Aroldis Chapman has been a disappointment this year. His command has been lacking, leading to a drop in velocity while he tries to aim the ball, leading to a lot of hard contact. If he’s vintage Chapman, the Yankees aren’t even playing this game because they’ve won the division. But recently he changed his four-seam grip. He’s gone back to the classic grip, and he’s unhittable again. He throws 20 pitches in the 9th inning and the average speed is 100.35mph. He strikes out Jorge Polanco on three swings, the last pitch clocks in at 103.7mph.
I’m delirious. I go home and get three hours of sleep.
Today at work my manager walked by my desk and made fun of me for watching the highlights from the game. He said it’s over and done, but he was wrong. Until tomorrow, it’s not over. Because despite what Bart Giamatti said, and the title of this blog, and my Twitter bio, sometimes it doesn’t break your heart.
The Yankees get to face the Indians next and that’s definitely not an easy draw, but whatever happens will happen in the American League Division Series. The real postseason.
This was supposed to be a rebuilding year.