Coming off a down year when he was only worth 4.5 WAR, Alex Rodriguez was looking to start the 2007 season strong. In the first game of the year, Rodriguez homered in a 9-5 Yankees win. The next two games he added a double in each, both losses.
The next game, April 7, 2007, would go down as one of Rodriguez’s most memorable as a Yankee. It was a home game in old Yankee stadium in early April, which means it was freezing. There was a 10mph* wind and it didn’t crack 40 degrees Fahrenheit that day. The announced crowd was 50,510.
I remember this game distinctly because I was home from college for a weekend, watching the game in my hometown of Syracuse, NY, where it is was even colder—and snowier—than the Bronx.
Being from a family of Yankees fans, I watched the game with my mother that day. Even though we knew he would never take the place of Derek Jeter for us, we loved A-Rod and rooted for him each time he was up. Still though, we had always hoped for him to do something extraordinary, a moment that would solidify in our heads his place on the Yankees.
In one way, April 7, 2007, was a memorable game because it was the debut of Kei Igawa for the Yankees. After missing out on signing SP Daisuke Matsuzaka in the fall, the Yankees signed Kei Igawa, hoping he’d be a viable starter. By the end of the day, Igawa would give up seven earned runs in five innings. Igawa only pitched 71.2 innings total with a 6.66 ERA in his short Yankees career.
However, the disappointment in Igawa on April 7th would not last. Down 1-0 in the bottom of the first, Bobby Abreu drew a walk against Orioles’ starting pitcher Steve Trachsel. Rodriguez hit a home run to deep left, putting the Yankees up 2-1. The lead was short lived though, as the Orioles scored three runs in the top of second and two more times in the top of fourth.
In the bottom of the fourth, Rodriguez doubled to left and scored when Jorge Posada hit a two out single. After completing the fifth inning, Igawa was pulled, and the Yankees bullpen took over. Brian Bruney, Mike Meyers, and Luis Vizcaino all gave the Yankees a scoreless inning each, keeping the game within reach.
The Yankees’ rally began in the bottom of the eighth. Derek Jeter started the inning off with a fly ball out, but Abreu and Rodriguez both walked. Then Jason Giambi crushed a home run to deep right field that put the Yankees down one run, trailing only 6-7.
Mariano Rivera pitched a scoreless top of the ninth, and the magic happened in the bottom of the inning. The inning started with two quick outs, a lineout by Doug Mientkiewicz and a swinging strikeout by Melky Cabrera. Next, Robinson Cano singled, Derek Jeter walked, and Bobby Abreu was hit by a pitch. With the bases loaded, Rodriguez came to the plate. After the game, “Rodriguez said that he somehow knew the game was going to come down to him.” With a 1-2 count, Orioles’ reliever Chris Ray threw a fast ball that floated up and towards the middle of the plate. Rodriguez drove the pitch to deep center field into the blacked out seats of old Yankee stadium for a walk-off grand slam. Rodriguez knew the pitch was gone immediately and so did the crowd. Finally, A-Rod had his moment as a Yankee.
One of my favorite moments of the game was the split second after Rodriguez connected on that pitch. On the mound, Ray pointed to the sky, as if the ball was a harmless popup that would end the game as just a close call for the Orioles. It’s hard to tell whether he actually thought it was a popup or if it was just a moment of desperation for him.
My other favorite moment of the game was back in my home in Syracuse. I remember my mom jumping up and down, dancing over the win. She said “He really needed that, he really did.” That’s when I knew that A-Rod had really won over the Yankees fans that just wanted to see the team win. A-Rod went on to win his third MVP, his second as a Yankee that season. As I watch him finish his career this Friday, I’ll be rooting for him the same way that I was back in 2007.
*Game stats, attendance, and weather from Baseball-Reference.com