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.

One out.

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.

Two outs.

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!

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 7 balls at this game (six pictured here because I gave one away)

• 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

CHARITY STATS:

(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

32 Comments

The place was dead when the Yankees were about to clinch a title in 09 so no surprise that it was dead last night.

No umpire balls?

PUCK COLLECTOR-
How sad.

DAVID-
Hahahaha, oooooh-hoooo-hoooo!! LOL!!! LOL!!! LOL!!! At Yankee Stadium?!?! AHHHH-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA!!!!!!! Let me spend $1,000 on a “Legends” ticket and then I’ll see about going for the umpires.

Oh, come on Zach, you’ve never seen for the love of the game? Kevin Costner? He plays Billy Chapel, who’s pitching in the last game of his storied career, and he’s going for a perfect game. It’s actually quite good.

And- I got your comment, so if you’re ever in Toronto, and need ANY tips about anything in the city, or you want to get in early, shout at me. Plus, there’s construction outside rogers centre, which makes it quite confusing to get to now.

I’ve seen the movie. I was just testing everyone. But I should admit that when I first saw Ben’s jersey, I drew a complete blank and had no idea who “Chapel” was. My favorite baseball movie is “Field of Dreams.”

Zack,

The Yankees did beat the Tigers in game 4 and the jersey is Billy Chapel from the movie “For Love of the Game” What’s next for u?

-HOWIE

Zack,
Despite you hatred for New York City baseball stadiums, it doesn’t seem like you should be happy the Yankees are out of it now because you said you want to attend 3 more games this season. Are you counting on Philadelphia? I’m only rooting against them right now, but for you’re sake they might have to win.
Steve
http://fishfry55.mlblogs.com

I’m a huge Mariners Fan so all I have to say is…Bank-rod, A-roid I very much dislike you! Glad you struck out! Oh btw you are awesome Zack!

How many more playoff games are you going to? Great ball snagging playoff game at Yankee Stadium.

I was at the game, and I wouldn’t exactly call it “dead” but “deflated” instead. The Yankees had plenty of opportunities, but every time, the crowd was silenced when they failed.
Seven balls is pretty good for a do-or-die playoff game at Yankee Stadium. Nice job.

#14 Billy Chapel throwing in the cathedral. “For Love of the Game”. A great baseball movie if you fast forward through the parts with Elisabeth Shue and Jenna Malone.

this makes everyone of my kind very happy seeing as the red sox failed this season.

I’m confused by the gate opening times in the 2nd paragraph. “Two hours” is listed twice lol. Hope you can make it some LCS games.

Z-Man, it is looking like I will be at game 2 of the NLCS in Milwaukee. It is crazy that both the Yanks and Phils are out already. Do they use commemoratives in the LCS’s? I am guessing not. I checked Priceline and they have flights from NYC to Milwaukee for a little over $200. Not bad actually if you are looking to catch a game or two in beer town. I see that article that Reid wrote is up. I have read better, but overall it wasn’t too terrible.
\Big Glove Bob

Love the A-Rod thing. The Yankees are boring to watch. Im glad the Royals beat them when they were in Kc.

Hey Zack, can you tell me the best place to get a baseball at Kauffman Stadium?

Is this your last game this year?

Zack,
Kudos on the baseballs. Moreover, that was some very good writing.

Nice one kslo69. “The cathedral that is Yankee Stadium, belongs to a Chapel.” GOD I love Vin Scully. I wish he could give the play by play on my life. Anyway, nice entry Zack. The first catch was indeed a phenomenal catch. I mean, I was trying to play it for the bounce, as I too was certain it was over your head, but you somehow managed to pluck it. As for MY lucky bounce, I have just one word for you: Atlanta!

HOWIE-
You know what I meant — wrapping up the series in four games.

STEVE-
Yeah, well, life sure would be easier if the Yankees and/or Phillies were in it right now. But I’m still glad that they lost. I might not be able to attend (m)any more games, but I’ll definitely enjoy the ones on TV a whole lot more.

BRENDAN ADAMS-
Thanks! It’s nice to see someone like A-Rod suffer every once in a while.

TEENREDSFAN-
I’m really not sure. I’m trying to work out some plans for a few more games, but I just don’t know if it’s possible at this point.

MLBNYY35-
Okay, yes, “deflated” is a good way to describe it. Overall, the energy at the new stadium isn’t even close to the way it was at the old place. Same deal with Shea/Citi.

KSLO69-
Eh. Never really got into it.

MATTHEW HIETT-
Huh? I’m confused about your confusion. I was just trying to say that the Yankees opened at the same time for the post-season as they normally do in the regular season — and that it sucked.

BIG GLOVE BOB-
Thanks for letting me know about flights. I’d love to make it back to Milwaukee, but I’ll probably wait until the World Series. Even then, there’s no guarantee. As for commemorative balls…nope. Not until the World Series.

DOUBLE T-
The quick answer about Kauffman Stadium is that you should hang out on the walkways in front of the fountains in straight-away left and right field. The long answer is that you should read my blog entries about my games there.

CHRIS HERNANDEZ-
Not sure yet, but hopefully not.

MIKE-
Thanks!

BEN-
Atlanta…yeah, yeah. You were due for some good luck at my expense. :-)

That’s odd. I went to 7/9ths of game 1 and the gates did open at 6:00 for an 8:30 start time. Maybe it was because of the fact it was a postponed fragment but it seemed like they had done it the night before by what the people in line were saying. If so, I wonder when they changed it back?

for love of the game, of course! and field of dreams is ok, but sandlot is by far the all-time greatest baseball movie ever. and what did you think of moneyball?

God I hate New York. It’s just such a disgusting place. The people are all such miserable human beings. The LEAST they could’ve done is not blow a series to the lowly Tigers. I almost can’t believe you managed to get 7 with as packed as that place looks. Right back at you Ben.

JOE-
Nice come back. ;-)
BEN-
I think you’ve fallen for some Mets propoganda. Folks at Citizens Bank Park aren’t half bad at all. Nice people including, for example, on occassion, us! Maybe you’d enjoy it more if you got yourself a nice greasy Schmitter? Yeah, I think that would help.

Just a correction on Fenway’s gates:

2.5 hrs: RSN members only (which you DO have to pay for–though each member gets a guest, so technically you could get in free at this time, but you’re still limited to Monster and CF).

2 hrs: Only 2 gates open, and fans only allowed from dugout to dugout.

1.5 hrs: all gates and full park finally open.

This was new for 2011 and we’ve all got our fingers crossed they’ll go back to the old ways next year. Even the employees to a man would tell me how they hate it and hope it will go back to normal in ’12.

ZACK- The confusion has been quelled.

BEN- Nice comeback about the lucky bounce lol.

I didn’t even realize that comment was directed at me. I’ve been to Philly. Many times. I don’t even hate the Phillies. BTW Todd, I own 4 Mike Schmidt jersey’s. Anyway, it’s the people in the city of Philadelphia. When you curse and spit and insult me just for walking down the street in a Giants jersey, you can go f yourself. Yeah, New Yorkers can suck as well, but the people in the city of Philly all just get angry and hateful with their comments when their teams lose. I know about a dozen people from Philly. Actually, slightly more I think, and when I have a facebook status cheering against I Philadelphia team, I get response wishing harm on me, and on the team I’m rooting for. THIS IS FROM FRIENDS!!!!!!!!!!!!! I don’t get those reactions from fans of any other team. It’s a Philadelphia thing. Even when I cheer against the Yankees, people don’t react like that. Humans are bred differently in Philadelphia- very negatively.

It seems to me that hostilities increase as one travels east. Once you get out of LA at least. The West is the Best. Get here, and we’ll do the rest. Freak’n poetical.

Btw, Ben, I agree. Scully is the greatest. In the maelstrom that was LA in the seventies, his was the only calm voice to be heard. I plan on watching a lot of Dodgers home games next year. And thanks for getting that quote straightened out for me. Haven’t seen that movie in a while.

The hostilities are toned down out west except at Dodger Stadium. I’ve seen the Braves play in LA, SD, ANA, & PHX and only the Dodger fans were “hostile” without provocation.

Zack, have you ever thought about snagging in Japan? Their tourism agency is giving away 10,000 free flights to influential bloggers and I’m sure you’d qualify!

http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/abc-blogs/10-000-free-round-trip-tickets-japan-134142507.html

MATEO-
Clearly, the Yankees are out to get me.

JAKE-
I still haven’t seen “Moneyball,” but I read the book when it first came out and *loved* it.

JOE-
You should spend more time in New York, but NOT at Yankee Stadium. There are actually some quality people in the this town.

COOK & SON BATS-
I got a Schmitter when I was at Game 1 of the NLDS. First time I’d had one. It was good, but not great.

JERE80-
Let me know if you hear anything about the gates at Fenway. It really sucked how they did things this season.

MATTHEW HIETT-
Excellent.

BEN-
Awesome explanation.

KSLO69-
New York City might not be the friendliest place, but I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I like the buzz and the action and the proximity to so many like-minded people. (And not having to own a car.)

DAVE-
Yeah, and in fact I’m planning to be there in March when the Mariners and A’s open the 2012 season. Thanks for the link, but unfortunately it looks like bloggers can’t even start applying for a free trip until April.

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