I have been a Yankees fan for 15 years, and I have followed them very closely through eleven postseasons, this being my twelfth. I had never seen any of these games in person, until two nights ago. I decided a couple of weeks ago, when the wild card seemed to be an inevitability, to buy a couple of wild card game tickets, up in the infield grandstand.
I was lucky enough to be working in the city that day, so with time to spare, I took the 4-train uptown to 161st, for what would be the first game of the postseason, or the last game of the season. I’ve been to quite a number of Yankees games in my life and it doesn’t get full until right before game time, but I was there before the gates opened, and the entire area around gate six was starting to become abuzz.
I went around the corner to get a couple of drinks and watch the pre-game, and slowly but surely Yankees fans began to trickle into the space, with a few Twins fans mixed in. As I’m finishing up my last drink, an older gentleman and his friends are enjoying their appetizers and drinks as I waltz my way into their conversation. I knew they were attending the game, of course, as they were all decked out in Yankees attire, him in a 2009 World Series Under Armour, one of the friends even with Yankees navy blue eye shadow. I asked him how long he was a fan, he said about 50 years.
I also asked him how many games he goes to a year, and what his favorite moment of being a Yankees fan was. He told me he was a relative die-hard and went to about 30 games a year, and he claimed that when Chris Chambliss hit his walk-off to win the pennant in 1976, he ran on to the field, barreled into the shuffle, and plucked a batting glove out of Chambliss’ pocket. For the sake of conversation, I assumed what he said was true. He pulled out a cigar, snipped it, and I also saw he had one more in his pocket. I told him to save the other one for later. I finally asked him what he thought the final score would be, and he said, “9-2. Severino will go about five, and the bullpen will lock it down.”
By that point the crowd was starting to line up and we were told to pre-check at some biometric station that would act as a “Fast Pass for security,” which it absolutely wasn’t. They took our personal information, put us on a single-file line, and did the exact same check as the normal line as the others zoomed past us. I was disappointed, but it was early, and the game was still ahead.
We made our way to the seats, and it mostly filled up by 6:30. By game time, we were packed in like sardines. Each half-inning led to rushes to the bathroom, and lines for food were inoperable, so I kept my noshing to a minimum to focus on the game. We had some characters in our section: a woman with a sign that said “Judge Eats Twinkies,” with a Photoshop of Aaron Judge chomping down on the Twins-related food. A man next to us had a five-foot-tall sign with, “Judge MVP” emblazoned on neon green, which clearly was not planned out because it was too large to hold up for more than a few seconds. Two fans directly in front of us became our game partners so to speak, and we spent the entire time discussing our optimism, and what pitching changes should be made next.
First pitch came and went, and with the Brian Dozier and Eddie Rosario home runs, a lot of people around us went quiet. I was frankly stunned, and I looked at my friend and merely said, “2015.” We had watched that wild card game together, and we had mentioned on many instances that there was a small chance they get completely blanked like last time.
Then, Chad Green emerged. I had written an article that they should sit on Green, David Robertson, and Tommy Kahnle if things went south, or even the second time through, and Joe Girardi knew. Immediately pulling Luis Severino probably saves the game more than anything any other player did, and it honestly brought the crowd back into it, because just when we thought the explosive crowd would be deflated, Green’s two strikeouts to end the inning sent our section into a frenzy.
As we reeled from the top of the first, my friend rightfully commented that if they didn’t come back almost immediately, the door could start closing. Ervin Santana walked Brett Gardner, and then Aaron Judge poked a single through to put runners on the corners. Gary Sanchez popped out to our disappointment, but then Didi Gregorius knocked one over the right field seats to tie the game. If the Twins thought they could take the crowd out of it, they were pretty wrong. I have never heard a crowd of people so loud and frantic and jubilant as that moment. My friend just turned to me and said, “It’s a game.”
The next two innings weren’t much quicker, but still just as exciting. Gardner’s home run wrapped around the foul pole in the second, and we erupted, now with the thought of putting distance between them. We were on edge when Robertson came in with the bases loaded, only to escape with a run allowed. Greg Bird broke the tie in the bottom half, to my extreme delight, and the lead was theirs for good.
The fan in front of me assured me that Robertson could go 50 pitches, and while I was very skeptical, he was spot-on: 52 pitches. Then, with just a one-run lead in the fourth, Judge came to bat. I knew one big hit could open this up and make the game a bit more comfortable, and he did just that: he hit his first career playoff home run. The crowd rejoiced, both in knowing the score and situation, but also imagining him red-hot deeper into the postseason.
By this point, the win was tentative but came to seem more and more inevitable, and the crowd actually grew pretty tired and restless. It was an extremely long game after all—three hours and 51 minutes to be exact—and that’s about how long the first inning felt. A very young fan behind us was fast asleep for a good two hours and 51 minutes of that. Twins fans got restless as well, and one fan began intentionally blocking the view as other spectators tossed peanuts at him to move; ultimately Yankees security had to escort him out.
By the eighth people began to leave as the win got closer and closer, and we wanted to inch our way to the door the second Aroldis Chapman closed it out. He did, and we bolted for the loaded 4-train, and then skipped the crowd at the 149th street station to take an empty one. I took an incredibly deep breath in that moment, and took all of this in, and the totality of it.
The Yankees won this game because they did what they’ve done well all season—a shut-down bullpen, and home runs. Not only that, though, but you could feel this talent as a spirit in the air; people truly understand the capabilities of this team, and it’s not a surprise a random fan is waxing poetic on Chris Chambliss if that wasn’t the case. It was a special night, and it’s a special team, and regardless of what happens this October, anyone who was there can recede back into that fond memory.