“The Yankees Win! The Yankees Win!’
John Sterling, Yankee announcer at 11:30 pm –
July 1, 2004
Last Thursday night, July 1st, was quite memorable for Yankee fans of all ages. Not only did the Bombers dispose of their century old archrivals from New England, the Boston Red Sox, but also they swept the series. The Red Sox, once known as the Beaneaters, had been drifting further and further back in the Eastern Division race, making this series critical to their pennant hopes. Of course the Red Sox started fast, and earlier in the season they had taken six out of seven from the slow starting powerless Bronx Bombers while establishing a 4½ game lead. But as this month ended, the Red Sox found themselves suffering from a “June Swoon” malaise. But in baseball, like life, hope springs eternal, and after losing the first two games in the Bronx, they trotted out their flaky, but fearsome, ace Pedro Martinez to the mound. With the quixotic Martinez facing the Yankee rookie Brad (Admiral) Halsey, who was making his 3rd start of his nascent career, things looked good for the Bosox.
Of course baseball doesn’t follow a predetermined script and the Yanks opened up a 3-0 lead on the back of two massive homeruns by fill-in first baseman Tony Clarke and all-star catcher Jorge Posada. They were cruising along with the “Admiral” into the fifth inning, when like life itself, things started to change. Eventually with a hit here and a large homerun by former Manhattan resident Many Ramirez the scored became tied.3-3. The game went into extra innings, with both sides sparring back and forth with frustrating parries. They both experienced the frustration of loading the bases only to be thwarted by great defense. Finally with two on and two out in the top of twelfth and the runners on the move, the great Derek Jeter ran for a slicing hump back floating liner that was heading for the 3rd base foul line. Jeter, who has made a career of tracking down these tricky and dangerous floaters ran at full steam, caught the ball, and headed right for the stands. Facing the consequence of running into the concrete wall or flying over it, Jeter chose the latter. It seemed like something out of Superman with the “Captain” taking off with the momentum of a runaway locomotive and landing on top of a flock of people, their food and souvenirs, and the unforgiving metal seats. Of course even though two runs were saved, the hushed standing room crowd of 55,000 plus held its collective breath as we all waited for Jeter to be lifted back into sight. When, after what it seemed like an eternity, the wounded Jeter emerged bloodied but unbowed, the crowd roared its love and approval that the “Captain” had survived his short flight into immortality. He walked off the field under his own steam but with some assistance, obviously bruised but not broken.
After a few moments, the game resumed with the Yanks again loading the bases in the bottom of the twelfth. But to no avail, they could not score. When they took the field in the 13th inning they had a makeshift lineup in the field. With Jeter gone, and different pinch-hitters used, the Yanks had to improvise at a few positions in the field. Down to two pitchers, the Yanks were forced to use journeyman Tanyon Sturtze on the mound to open the inning. Facing Yankee nemesis Manny Ramirez, the fearsome slugger late of George Washington High School, (where my mother graduated in 1925), Sturtze served up a “gopher ball” that flew over the center field wall. Suddenly it was 4-3 and the Red Sox had hope once again. It seemed like Jeter’s catch and resulting injury would be all for naught. The rest of the inning went quietly and the Yanks, with their backs against the wall, faced the bottom of the inning and their last “licks.”
The bottom of the 13th did not start well for the shaken Yanks. The first two batters went up and down with nary a whisper. But, as it often happens in baseball, lightning struck in the late evening hours in Bronx County. Ruben Sierra singled, and then the platooned second sacker Miguel Cairo, who killed the Yanks in the last World.Series strode to the plate. After fouling off pitch after pitch, Cairo went with the pitch and drilled a line drive to right center that scored Sierra with tying run. With the huge crowd rocking and the game 4 hours and 19 minutes old, pinch hitter John Flaherty, the seldom-used back up catcher hit a ball over the shallow fielding Manny Ramirez’s head. The fans went crazy, the run came in, the Yanks won again, and the bench ran to the mound with an eruption of uncontrolled joy! Wow, what it means to be young, rich and a Yankee!
Of course there have many great and memorable games in the long and illustrious history of the Yankees. From the early days of Ruthian greatness in the 1920’s through the Bronx Bombers days of Gehrig and DiMaggio of the 1930s and 40s, to the Stengel-Houk eras of the 1950s and 60s, to the tempestuous days of Billy Martin and the Bronx Zoo, and to the current Torre Dynasty, the Yanks have always delivered excitement and success. I myself have seen thousands of Yankee games from the early 1950’s to today. Back in 1961 I had the pleasure of being at the Stadium, with 67,000 others on September 1st, a Friday night, when the Yanks and Tigers came into the Bronx tied for first. The game was scoreless until Moose Skowron singled in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth giving the Yanks and Whitey Ford the victory. The Yanks went on to win 109 games, Maris hit number 61 and the Yanks won the Series over the Reds. Maybe game seven of the 1960 World Series with its ups and downs, and its final score of 10-9, resulting in the improbable Pirate victory, could be seen as one of baseball’s most exciting games. Of course great performances like Don Larsen’s Perfect pitching in the 5th game of the 1956 World Series, or Reggie’s 3 homeruns do not make all-time great games. I was lucky to be at the stadium for Reggie’s home runs, and also for Bobby Murcer’s and Tom Tresh’s three homeruns performances. I watched on television the great pitching performances of Dave Righetti, Jim Abbott, David Welles and David Cone. Of course, talking about excitement in my time, Mickey Mantle hit 177 homeruns from the 7th to the 11th inning. Great performances are the exclamation points that make baseball the great game that it is and will always be.
Again the setting was great. Each Yankee-Red Sox contest is another contribution to one of sport’s great rivalries, and again there was another sell-out in the Bronx. So the scene was set, the players came out for this latest chapter in this century-old saga, and the fans were enraptured by the ebb and flow of a great game. Hurrah for baseball!