Saturday, April 7, 2007

What a walk-off grand slam from Yankee Stadium sounds like

This is a Yankees post, so if you'd like, I give you permission to stop reading now.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was on assignment at Yankee Stadium yesterday and today with the Orioles in town. I had absolutely no intention of posting about this experience, except the following happened:

Friday, 4/6: Alex Rodriguez is cheered before his first plate appearance. Cheered wildly. Maybe this website had something to do with that. Anyway, he repays the people by smacking a double down the left field line.

Fast forward to the bottom of the seventh, with the Yanks down 6-3. A-Rod comes up with runners on first and second and none out, and again the crowd gives him a standing ovation. I'm sitting in the press box listening to this, and somehow I know these people will be horribly disappointed. A-Rod swings and misses, and there is momentary quiet.

Of course, nothing can get New Yorkers down, not terrorists nor a right-handed submarine pitcher named Chad Bradford. So they rise again.

The next pitch, A-Rod swings and barely foul-tips it.

The silence is a little more prolonged and pronounced this time, but again it gives way to raucous cheers. New York fans always put their eggs in one basket like this. They're never ready to accept failure, so they open themselves to disappointment at every turn -- which is why they can't but boo when their impossible expectations aren't met.

A-Rod swings at the next pitch, a change-up, and misses by several inches. It's an ugly swing and an ugly end to a regrettable at-bat. The positive energy that had infected the place gives way to very strong shouts of disapproval.

Here' s a picture of the moment before Bradford released his strikeout pitch:

About 15 minutes after the Yankees lost that game, A-Rod stood outside the clubhouse in the basement of Yankee Stadium fiddling with his cell phone. Whether he was actually reading a text message or just trying to avoid eye contact with those around him, like that awkward kid who’s always standing by himself next to a punch bowl at the junior high dance, I don’t know. If there was ever an image of a loser, this was it.

But then...

Today: Cheered again in his first at-bat, though less enthusiastically, A-Rod smacks a two-run home run. As the game goes on, the Yankees fall behind, first 5-2, then 7-2. By the minute, the A-Rod homer's becoming yet another side note, like all his others, in that constantly reinforced misconception that he's not a "clutch" player.

But then the Yankees claw back, and by the bottom of the ninth, it's 7-6. Suddenly vindication is possible. With two out and Chris Ray on the mound, in an inning that saw a Johnny Damon pinch-hit strikeout, Melky Cabrera somehow punches a single into center. At this point I'm thinking to myself, I'd give anything to see A-Rod at bat with the bases loaded. With the crowd screaming, "Der-ek Je-ter," of course Jeter gets on (cause he's a winner), drawing a 3-2 walk on a pitch that was just barely high.

Vindication is around the corner. Up comes Bobby Abrieu, and with the crowd chanting "Bobby," Ray plunks him in the leg.

And suddenly vindication is at his feet.

I turn to Baltimore Sun columnist Peter Schmuck (that's his real name) and say, "I can't believe this."

The ovation is not as loud, not as hopeful, yet it is there. Just two days before, on this field, in the bottom of the eighth with two outs and the bases loaded and the Yankees trailing the Devil Rays 6-3, A-Rod had popped out to first. The expression on his face, after he'd slammed down his bat, was of pain mixed with shock and horror. At that moment, I actually felt sorry for him.

And now, the fates... well, what could they possibly do to dole out more punishment?

If you don't already know what happened, listen for yourself:

Click here to get your own player.

They were playing Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" as A-Rod circled the bases, and no one could hear it for the tumult. That, my friends, is the sound of redemption that has come, and redemption cometh with great jubilee.

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