Oakland didn't provide me with the road game experience I was looking for. The Yankee fans in my section outnumbered the A's fans and made their presence felt during the game. Instead of being a villain in an opposing team's ballpark I felt like an informed savant in Yankee Stadium West.
Michigan has been different. I came here to visit my buddy Josh who is also a die-hard Yankee fan. I arrived Sunday night. We went to a bar and watched the Red Sox embarrass the Bombers. A local came over and began speaking with us during the game. He stopped being nice to us as soon as he learned we were Yankee fans. That is the road game experience I'm looking for.
Our day began early. Many people -- most of the Tigers' faithful, for example -- don't see the appeal of spending an entire day in Detroit before watching a baseball game. Josh and I are of a different opinion. We booked a Zip Car from Noon to Midnight and made our way to the Motor City as soon as our coffee kicked in.
Not only have I never been to Detroit before, but I have also never visited the Midwest before. Nothing could prepare me for rolling into inner-city Detroit. Everything you've ever heard is true. The city is in a state of decay that does not exist in New York. Even in the Downtown area at least one in three buildings appears abandoned, including skyscrapers. In many parts of the City entire blocks are vacant and rotting, save for a single business. In those areas I was surprised to see anything occupied at all.
Our first destination was Slow's Bar BQ. Slow's taught me that I don't understand Detroit or how to interpret it. What appeared to be an abandoned street was also home to a fantastic, modern BBQ restaurant. The food, ambiance and selection of beers is excellent. Should you ever find yourself in D, Slow's is worth the trip.
Once we were fed Josh and I began driving around the city to get a feel for it. Conditions in Detroit range from awful to post-apocalyptic. Buildings that once were elegant are left in disrepair. It is common to see rooftops caved into old store fronts. People with nowhere to go often just sit on street corners, or in empty lots, doing nothing. Something Josh called the People Mover moved around the Downtown area like an elevated train, moving no people because it was empty.
The emptiness of Detroit makes functional businesses feel out of place. Before the game we got a drink at a bar named Jacoby's. I was surprised it was there. I was also surprised that on the inside it was a perfectly normal, cool bar. It was a reminder that the conditions outside in Detroit don't determine what's going on inside.
To get a full understanding of the area we also drove to Grosse Pointe. Grosse Pointe borders Detroit. The movie Grosse Pointe Blank made the City famous. In every way that Detroit is in ruin, Grosse Pointe exists in affluence. It is a pristine suburb. The conditions of the two cities change across the border they share. An ornate gateway welcomes you to Grosse Pointe. About ten yards from it is an off-center wood sign welcomes you to Detroit.
Having sampled the food, explored the surroundings, and had a drink, we were ready to go to the game. Comerica is a beautiful ballpark. It is small, intimate, and open. It has only two levels, so there is not a bad seat in the house. There are statues of famous Tigers on the concourse, and two Tiger statues prowling the scoreboard. The Tigers' eyes light up green when Detroit scores, which is as awesome-looking as it sounds.
Detroit honored its recently deceased announcer Ernie Harwell before the game. We didn't know this beforehand, and the large crowd of fans arriving early caught us by surprise.
Fortunately, we were getting the treatment we'd wanted. Detroit fans out-numbered Yankee fans 9 to 1. Vendors were selling smack-talk t-shirts outside, one of which I purchased that I cannot describe here because this is a family-oriented website. We believe this is the typical Tigers experience and not something due to the tribute.
The atmosphere inside Comerica was relaxed, especially before the game. Josh and I made our way to the lower field level and watched the Yankees take batting practice. Derek Jeter was warming up right in front of us. This was the closest I will get to the Yankees without breaking a law.
Amid the excitement of the experience, we forgot that Sergio Mitre was pitching. The Yankees didn't make any noise in the top of the first. In the bottom of the opening frame Miguel Cabrera reached base on what was ruled a single, but was really an Alex Rodriguez throwing error. The error put runners on 2nd and 3rd. Newly minted Yankee-killer Brennan Boesch brought both runners home. Just like that, we were down 2-0. Thanks, Mitre.
Mitre was death by a thousand cuts. He wasn't getting bombed, but that hid the fact that he was giving up a lot of hits. Those hits added up. The Tigers plated another run in the bottom of the 2nd on an Austin Jackson ground out. 3-0, Detroit.
Brad Thomas was pitching for Detroit in place of Dontrelle Willis. Willis had been scratched with what was reported as an illness, but none of the Tigers' fans in my section could confirm that his feelings hadn't been hurt. Thomas was wild, struggled to find the zone, and walked three in only three innings. It was clear that if Mitre could keep the Yankees in the game (a big if) the Pinstripes would have a chance to even the score.
Mark Teixeira struck first, depositing a two-run bomb in the left field seats in the top of the third. Unfortunately, I saw that homer land on a monitor resting above the concession stand where I was buying a hot dog. It served as a reminder that I should never, ever break my number one rule of going to a baseball game: don't leave when your team comes to bat. (In my defense, I was hungry.)
Mitre settled down, and kept the Tigers off the board for the next two innings. He retired Austin Jackson on a grounder in the bottom of the fifth, which brought up former Yankee Johnny Damon. A moment later Johnny Damon put a Johnny Rocket in the right field seats (of course he did). That ball was landing in Ohio, if it was landing at all. The moment it left the bat Josh moaned, "that was crushed." And Mitre was done for the night.
David "New Phil Coke" Robertson relieved Mitre. He didn't pitch particularly well, but he also didn't give up any home runs, which is better than what he's given the team since god knows when. Boone Logan relieved Robertson in the 7th and gave up a run-scoring triple to Brennan Boesch, Boesch's 3rd RBI on the day. At that point it was a 5-2 ball game.
The Yankees made their move in the top of the 8th. The team loaded the bases against Joel Zumaya, who was throwing gas, routinely registering 100mph on the Detroit radar. Marcus Thames drove in A-Rod on an infield single that Brandon Inge misplayed. His first move was to the ball, not the bag, allowing Robinson Cano to reach third safely. The delay in throwing to third meant that all the runners were safe and a run had scored. When Detroit turned to the original Phil Coke to stop the bleeding I knew the Yankees had a chance.
Coke didn't disappoint. Brett Gardner knocked in another run on a fielder's choice. Suddenly it was a 5-4 ball game. The Yankees had a runner at third with only one out.
But that runner would stay at third. Randy Winn's pop-up wasn't far enough to get the tying run home. Derek Jeter lined out to right to end the inning, and the threat.
The Yankees went down quietly in the 9th to end the game. Although the team didn't threaten again, there was a bright spot in the bottom of the 8th. The Detroit radar gun routinely registered Joba Chamberlain's fastball at 98 mph -- the old Joba fastball! Chamberlain looked dominating, striking out the side.
Throughout the entire game the Tigers' fans were polite and knowledgeable. That changed once their team won. Josh and I were heckled most of the way to the car. We reminded the Detroit fans that this was just one game of a four-game series. The Yankees will be in town all week. And so will Yankeeist, bringing you live coverage from Motown and occasionally of Motown.