2011 ALDS — Game 5
This game drew the largest crowd in the three-year history of the new Yankee Stadium — 50,960 fans to be exact — and it seemed as if all of them were waiting outside Gate 6. Look how packed it was:
It’s always packed at Yankee Stadium, and it’s always extra-packed in October, but in this case, it was ridiculously packed because of how late the gates opened. Yankee Stadium normally opens two hours before game time. Anyone want to guess how early it opened for this VERY important decisive Game 5 of the playoffs?
That’s right: two hours before game time.
If the Phillies, Rangers, Nationals, Mariners, Red Sox, Indians, Padres, Brewers, Reds, Royals, and Braves all open their stadiums two and a half hours early DURING THE REGULAR SEASON, why the hell can’t the almighty Yankees open that early during the playoffs? (Okay, fine, so the Brewers, Reds, and Royals charge extra to get inside that early, but still.) Three words: That’s the Yankees.
Anyway, when the stadium finally did open, I raced out to the right field seats, and before things got crazy, I caught my first ball of the day — a home run that I think was hit by Eric Chavez. I was in the second-to-last row and ran about 30 feet to my right. The ball was so high above me that I didn’t think I was going to be able to reach it, so I kinda jumped for the hell of it and was surprised to feel it smack the pocket of my glove. Then I headed to the left field side and caught two more homers there. I’m not sure who hit the first. I think Eduardo Nunez hit the second. I had to jump for both of those balls and reach up through a sea of hands. It was stupid-crowded out there.
When the Tigers took the field, I headed into foul territory and stayed ten rows back. This was my view:
See the double-arrow in the photo above? It’s pointing to Brad Penny (left) and Phil Coke (right). Each of those guys threw balls to me. The ball from Penny was a laser that nearly fell short; I had to lunge over the row in front of me and made a back-handed grab. The ball from Coke was thrown slower, but sailed 10 feet over my head; I had to scramble for it and chase it down in the mostly empty seats. Some random fan who saw me snag both balls called me greedy. I shrugged at the time and gave one away after BP.
An interesting phenomenon of October baseball is that it often gets dark during batting practice. Check it out:
In the photo above, the little white speck at the top is the moon, and if you’re thinking that the seats don’t look particularly crowded, that’s because the security supervisor had just swept through and kicked everyone out who didn’t have a ticket for that section. What’s up with that, you ask? Three words: That’s the Yankees.
Before the game, while standing beside the left field bullpen, I got my 6th ball from Tigers coach Mike Rojas.
When the game started, this was my view:
With one out in the top of the 1st, Don Kelly and Delmon Young hit back-to-back homers to put the Tigers on top, 2-0. That made me very happy (despite the fact that neither ball came close to me).
Joe Girardi, accused by many of over-managing, brought CC Sabathia into the game in the top of the 5th. Austin Jackson greeted the big lefty with a double down the left field line. After that, Kelly and Young both went down swinging, Miguel Cabrera was intentionally walked, and Victor Martinez delivered an RBI single to center. Tigers 3, Yankees 0. That made me even happier.
The crowd, meanwhile, was surprisingly dead for an elimination game. Sure, there were moments when everyone was standing (and screaming obscenities at the Tigers relievers), but compared to Game 1 of the NLDS in Philadelphia, this felt like the Cactus League. Yankee fans, it seems, have come to expect so much that they no longer appreciate anything. This game was simply “business as usual” — nothing more than an annoying hurdle that the team would simply kick down en route to its 28th championship. I got the sense that if the Yankees won, Yankee fans would criticize the team for not beating the Tigers in Game 4.
In the bottom of the 5th, Robinson Cano crushed a two-out solo homer into the second deck in right field, and two innings later, Mark Teixeira drew a bases-loaded walk to make it a one-run game. The story of the 7th inning, however, and of the entire series, for that matter, was Alex Rodriguez’s inability to do anything. A-Rod had batted before Teixeira and struck out. Nick Swisher, meanwhile, batted after Teixeira and also struck out.
For the Tigers and Yankees, the entire season boiled down to that moment. If Swisher had been able to get a hit with the bases loaded, two runs would’ve scored, and the Yankees would’ve taken the lead. Then it would’ve been lights out for Detroit with David Robertson pitching the 8th and Mariano Rivera pitching the 9th. (Have you seen Robertson’s stats? He finished the regular season with a 1.08 ERA and struck out 100 batters in 66 2/3 innings. That’s just sick.)
As the Tigers batted in the top of the 9th inning, Jose Valverde, 50-for-50 in save opportunities this season, was lurking in the bullpen:
The Tigers still had a 3-2 lead when the game entered the bottom of the 9th inning. Curtis Granderson led off, and when the count went full, I felt that the entire season was once again on the line. If Granderson walked, it would set up a rally for the heart of the order, but if Valverde managed to get him out, then the Tigers were set. As it turned out, Granderson hit a routine fly ball to left fielder Ryan Raburn.
Next up? The Yankees’ best player — Robinson Cano.
Cano went after the first pitch and hit a rocket up the middle. Unfortunately for him, it had a bit too much hang time and went directly to center fielder Austin Jackson.
It was hard to believe that the Yankees’ season was one out away from ending. Of course, A-Rod was stepping to the plate, and I seriously had no idea how it would turn out. With one swing of the bat, he could go from goat to hero — but I was expecting him to fail. Valverde quickly got ahead in the count 0-2, and I knew it was over. A-Rod hadn’t even swung at the first two pitches, which he really can’t be blamed for. He was probably taking the first pitch just to work the count, and then he probably got fooled on the second pitch and happened to take it for a strike, but still, as the saying goes, “Stick a fork in him — he’s done!” A-Rod took the third pitch and then swung through the next one, and just like that, the Yankees’ season was over. Although the game lasted three hours and 34 minutes, it still felt sudden. The Tigers relievers raced out of the bullpen (note the celebration in the following photo, way off in the distance) and a swat team of police officers lined the field:
The crowd was stunned and angry. As most folks hung their heads and filed out, several people flung full cups of beer onto the field. (Those beers cost $12. What were they thinking?!) It was the closest thing to a riot that you’ll see in the new museum-like stadium.
Less than a minute later, I peeked down into the bullpen and saw this:
The Tigers’ bullpen crew was in such a rush to celebrate that they left nearly a dozen balls behind! (In addition to the cluster on the mound, there were several other balls scattered about, including one near the bottom right corner of the “Scotts” advertisement. See it sitting there?) I ended up getting one of the balls tossed to me by a groundskeeper. My friend Ben Weil got two, thanks to a lucky bounce and some solid hustling on his part. Here we are before heading out:
Ben is the guy who owns a googolplex jerseys. This one said “CHAPEL 14″ on the back. Do you know why? Or who Chapel is?
As Ben and I walked toward his car, we saw something funny on a nearby street. Someone had made a little sign and left it leaning up against a gate:
The sign didn’t actually say “censored.” I photoshopped that in there to shield you from a certain expletive. While I was photographing the sign, several Yankee fans walked by, and they were all cursing A-Rod. Two guys went on and on about the portion of their anatomy they supposedly wanted A-Rod to suck, and a woman took off her A-Rod jersey and trampled it, right there on the gum-stained sidewalk. I filmed a short video of the shenanigans, which I’d *love* to put on YouTube, but it’s so “offensive” that I don’t think I should. Of course, it’s fine for TV networks to show people getting killed — hooray for guns and violence! — but god forbid anyone from hearing a curse every once in a while, or worse, seeing a naked female breast! Think about the children!
• 1,126 balls in 127 games this season = 8.87 balls per game.
• 788 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 313 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 157 consecutive Yankees home games with at least one ball
• 15 consecutive postseason games with at least one ball
• 5,788 total balls
(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn more.)
• 60 donors
• $7.46 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $52.22 raised at this game
• $8,399.96 raised this season