This is a slightly more detailed approach to our favorite moments from the past season.
ALCS, Game 6, Yankees 5, Angels 2:
I was fortunate enough to attend the pennant clinching game. As I didn't attend a 2009 World Series game, it was easily the best game I've been to in almost a decade (the Clemens-Piazza bat-throwing incident notwithstanding).
It was an electric atmosphere at the (new) Stadium. The Yanks had their first chance to clinch a pennant since 2003. We had 'My Man' Andy on the hill against fellow southpaw Joe Saunders. It was a tense game for what felt like forever - the Angels took a 1-0 lead in the third, the Yanks scored three in the fourth, the Angels scored again in the eighth, and the Yanks answered with two more. Until that two-spot in the eighth, it was a nerve-wracking affair.
Honestly, we as Yankee fans had grown somewhat accustomed to losing in the playoffs (not as much as the Cubs admittedly, but still). It happened seven straight years, from 2001-08. Watching ALCS Game 6 was almost like a re-awakening. The Yankees awoke from their half-decade long slumber of absence from the Fall Classic, and perhaps more importantly, beat their top rival in the process. (I give the Angels 'top rival' billing because they have a winning record vs. the Yanks since 1996, unlike the Red Sox.) How many times did we lament Anaheim's thrashing of the Yanks, from the 2002 and 2005 LDS's to the three-game sweep in mid-July?
We finally overcame that hurdle. And how sweet it was! To see Saunders get knocked around early (3.1 ip, 7 h, 3 er, 5 bb), and watch longtime bane Scott Kazmir throw away the game (literally) in the eighth, to Andy pitching another fine postseason game, to Mo closing it out with a perfect ninth...
My wife and I stayed an extra half-hour to watch post-game interviews on the mega (because 'jumbo' doesn't do it justice)-tron. I literally felt happy for guys like Melky, Arod, CC, and Robbie. I will never forget that game. That, perhaps more than the World Series, was the re-emerging of the Yankees.
Crazy Yankee Chick:
"That (Mariano) Rivera guy, we don't need to face him anymore. He needs to pitch at a higher level, ban him from baseball. He should be illegal."
- Twins Manager Tom Kelly, April 28, 1996
Would Zack Morris look as cool if not for Screech Powers' perennial buffoonery? Maybe that's the real reason behind scheduled Subway Series every year. A poll done on WFAN once revealed that Mets fans consider the series with the Yankees to be the most important one every season, which just brings to amusing light the skewed set of priorities and bag of issues surgically attached to every Amazin' loyalist.
On the weekend of June 26-28 this past season, the Yanks headed to Shea II, two weeks after the Mets had paid their "rivals" a visit in their new digs-a series that can be reduced to two words: "Castillo. Drop."
On Sunday, June 28, the Mets and Yankees faced each other for the final time that season, the NYY looking for a sweep in Queens, the NYM looking to stop embarrassing themselves and some way liberate themselves from the stigma of the only known walk-off infield pop-up in recent memory.
It was a good game to end the weekend, albeit a bizarre one. The Yanks had tacked up 3 runs in the first inning...and then were hitless for the rest of the game. Wang (Yeah, CHIEN MING WANG. Seriously.) had managed to limit the Mets to 2 runs and 4 hits. (Which is like saying, Claire Danes managed to out-fence Estelle Getty, but semantics...)
The ninth inning rolls around, and we're at 3-2, and in comes K-Rod, the latest pitcher to having their powers muted upon slipping on the Mets uniform. (Pretty soon, no one but the bravest are going to want to pitch for them. It's useless. You cannot retain your dominance as a hurler if you are pitching for the Mets. It's like chicks trying to date the notorious player-they all think it'll be different for them, but it never is.)
Annnnd pretty soon we're looking at runners on first and second with 2 outs, and Jeter coming to bat. And the next 15 minutes would eventually be known as my Favorite Moment of the 2009 Season.
First, a hilarious segment when the Yankees try to "trick" the Mets into thinking Cervelli (and not Mo) is batting after Jeter, who, after getting a first pitch strike, gives this look like, "Umm, ok. You, uh, know who you're facing next, right? Just checking."
Mo comes to bat, and my heart leaps. My favorite all-time Yankee. Batting. See, when your hero is A-Rod or Jeter or Posada, you get your fill of them every game. You get to see them make clutch hits and uncanny plays. The media is all over them, they get the postgame interviews, they get their character elevated to cartoonish proportions. But when the guy you put on a pedestal is quietly brilliant, his presence dictated by an "as needed" basis...you don't get the luxury of having the essence of the game cloaked in his greatness.
But that night, I got it.
I wanted his at-bat to last forever, I couldn't stop smiling, and when he took a Gary Sheffield-inspired cut at a pitch, I almost died of happiness right then and there. SWING AWAY, MO! (On Wednesday of the week prior in a game against the Braves, Mo came to bat with bases loaded, swung away and lined out to left center. He flashed a blinding grin as he trotted to first, and it was the happiest I had ever been to see a Yankee strand 3 runners on base in the 9th inning.)
But not this time. He walked.
And brought in the 4th run.
#42 brought in his 1st ribbie to make the score 4-2.
And then in the bottom of the ninth, he closed it out for his 500th save.
500 and 1.
June 28, 2009. The moment I knew this was The Year.
I have chosen two moments. These moments are especially important to me because I was there to witness both of them. The first one was the start of walk-off weekend. Alex Rodriguez was playing in his first game at the new Yankee Stadium. Phil Hughes was the starter and struggled, but did well enough. The Yankees were down 4-2 in the 9th and the crowd seemed deflated. Joe Nathan, one heck of a closer, was on the mound. The Yankees then began the period known as walk-off weekend. Melky Cabrera would win the game with a walk-off single and the crowd went crazy. What a game.
The second moment is ALDS Game 2. The crowd was loud the entire game even when the Yankees were losing. It was a pitching duel until the very end. The Twins led 3-1 going into the bottom of the 9th inning. After Teixeira got on base up came Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez was aiming to make a post-season name for himself. He came up in a huge way. A two-run home run gave the Yankees a chance for the win. In the bottom of the 11th they would get that win, as Teixeira hit a laser beam home run and won the game for the Yankees. Another great game and arguably the most important game in the playoffs that wasn't a clincher.
Hit #2722, September 11, 2009
We weren't there. The single to right, the wave of the helmet. The cheering and cheering and cheering. The tv broadcast couldn't really do it justice, we knew that. It was the first Jeter milestone we've missed in a while.
My brother and I saw his grand slam from left field, and the 5 hit playoff game against Detroit from the last seats in the upper deck. We drove from Upstate NY for a game against the Royals to see his 2000th hit on a nubber that should have been an error, then we waited out a rain delay with the tying run on in the bottom of the 9th. Jeter waved his helmet that day, too, then promptly stole third base. He just always seems to step it up when we're in attendance.
We didn't miss the hit for lack of trying. We bought tickets to both ends of the Labor Day doubleheader, and I went back on Wednesday and saw the tying hit.
Really, we just wanted the chance to cheer for Derek Jeter. Is it odd to feel so personally connected to the player who seems to make the most "it's all about the team" comments? Isn't it a little strange that the success of one player could mean so much more than another's?
We grew up watching him, watching the world compare him to players with more power, more speed, more range. He's never been the flashiest player on the field, though the jump throws are an athletic marvel. Paulie, Bernie, Giambi, Arod- someone else has always been the heart of the lineup. It's the consistency that sets Jeter apart, but you know that.
Growing up watching a player make himself a Hall of Famer must create a special connection- make him "our guy" in a way no free agent, not even a traded player, can ever be. It's the only way to explain how much we enjoy cheering for Jeter. For my generation of Yankee fans- who don't remember Donnie at his peak, for whom Munson and Mantle only characters in stories- for us, Derek Jeter is our Yankee.
I've been to more Yankee games with my brother than I can count- nothing makes the game seem better than having a chance to clap and shout Der-ek Jet-er. Nothing else gets the crowd around us cheering as quickly. Nothing else makes the trip to the Stadium more worthwhile.
Off and Running, November 1, 2009
You knew there was going to be magic in November baseball. And this postseason, you knew Arod would deliver the go-ahead RBI. But if you predicted how that run would happen, don't bother flying to Vegas because you've already used up a lifetime of luck.
Johnny Damon's double steal- which Philly fans will fondly remember as the play when Pedro Feliz was too surprised to tag the runner- must rank among the most unexpected highlights of the season.
Epic at-bats were one of the Yankees' success: Paul O'Neill did it to the Mets, Matsui did it to Pedro and the Red Sox in 2003. Some good ABs were just what the team needed in a tie game, in the bottom of the 9th, with the top of the Phillies' order due up and ready to even the series at two games a piece.
Matsui went down on 4 pitches, but Jeter saw 7 pitches and worked the count full before striking out. With two outs, Damon quickly put himself in a 1-2 hold, but he took a pair and fouled off a pair, and Brad Lidge's 20th pitch of the innings was hittable. On first, Damon saw an opportunity in the exaggerated shift the Phillies used to neutralize Tex. So he took off on the first pitch, and when the opportunity presented itself, he bravely-foolishly-incredibly popped up and sprinted for third. Lidge was rattled: he hit Tex with his 23rd pitch, and he refused to go to his slider with his 24th and 25th pitches. Arod crushed that 25th pitch to drive in the go-ahead run. Then Jorge Posada turned around the 30th pitch and plated a pair of insurance runs.
It was the perfect Yankee moment because what seems to the casual fan like incredible luck and things just breaking right for the Yankees was really the result of focused efforts of the best players in the game, wearing down pitchers, grinding out at bats, and looking for opportunities.
What was your favorite moment or game?