I was at this one, and since I've never been to a playoff game it ended up being the most exciting game I've ever seen live. Josh, my partner in crime from Detroit, was in the seat next to me. After watching the Bombers lose three of 4 in the Motor City this was exactly what we needed. On our way out of the Stadium, an old time Yankee fan summed the game up perfectly. "They scored 5 in the 1st and 4 in the 9th." Usually the home team wins that game. I'll try to do the experience justice, but that sentence captures it well.
Everything about this game was a rollercoaster ride. We came into the Stadium feeling great about the pitching matchup. We had Phil Hughes on the mound. The Sox were countering with Daisuke Matsuzaka. Coming into the game Phil Franchise had the lowest ERA in the AL and Matsuzaka's ERA was 6.35. It was tough not to like our chances.
That feeling sunk immediately. Jorge Posada was out of the lineup (day-to-day with a foot injury after a foul tip) and our bottom four were Francisco Cervelli, Marcus Thames, Randy Winn and Ramiro Pena. At first I thought that lineup had Joe Girardi written all over it, but if Jorge and Nick Swisher can't play, on top of our other injuries, then that's the best lineup we have. Now seems like a good time to mention that Curtis Granderson's rehab is going well.
It was clear Phil Hughes didn't have his best stuff from the top of the 1st. It was the only inning the Red Sox didn't reach base, but it took him 18 pitches to retire them in order. J.D. Drew, in particular, made Hughes work to get him out. It seemed as though Hughes had no trouble getting the Red Sox hitters to two strikes, but couldn't put them away. This would become a theme for Yankee pitchers.
The Yankees struck first in the bottom of the inning -- and how! Derek Jeter led off with a single. Brett Gardner followed with a single. Mark Teixeira drew a walk. Alex Rodriguez knocked in two runs with a single. Robinson Cano followed with an RBI single. Cervelli followed with an RBI double. Cano was thrown out at home on the play and Cervelli took third. Marcus Thames knocked Cervelli in with a sacrifice.
Just like that it was 5-0 Yankees. Matsuzaka didn't even get the first out himself. Had Cano not been thrown out at home it would have been a 6-run inning.
Hughes didn't look any sharper in the 2nd than he had in the 1st. He labored to get through the inning, and gave up a run on an Adrian Beltre single. The Yankees got the run back on a Tex double. Through 2 it was 6-1 Yankees. Both pitchers were struggling, but only the Red Sox had paid for it.
That would change. David Ortiz hit a solo shot into our short right field with two outs in the 4th. In the top of the 5th Hughes would retire the first two batters, but then Marco Scutaro singled and Dustin Pedroia doubled. J.D. Drew came up with runners on 2nd and 3rd and deposited a 3-run homer into right field. The Yankees gave up their big lead almost as quickly as they'd gotten it. It was a 6-5 ball game and Phil's night was done after 5 innings.
The run scoring continued. Marcus Thames knocked Dice-K out of the game in the bottom of the inning with an RBI double. The Red Sox turned to Tim Wakefield to stop the bleeding. It was a 7-5 ball game.
And then, a 7-6 ball game. Joe Girardi turned to Boone Logan to pitch the 6th. The lefty responded by giving up a no-doubter to Victor Martinez, who'd been struggling on the season pretty much until this game. Logan got through the rest of the inning, but the big lead was all but gone. The Yankee bats were looking weak. And the Red Sox fans in the building were gaining steam. They were nowhere to be seen earlier in the game but now were dancing in the aisles and taunting Yankee fans.
Chan Ho Park relieved Logan, and kept the Red Sox at bay in the 7th. Mysteriously, Girardi kept him on to pitch the 8th. Everyone in my section agreed that we could see Joba Chamberlain stretching, and as far as we could find out he was available.
Girardi would regret keeping Park in immediately. Drew singled. Kevin Youkilis followed that up with a 2-run homer. 8-7 Red Sox. Goodbye lead. The Stadium was dead. It was about this time that two Red Sox fans in my section began dancing around and pointing. Josh contemplated throwing his beer at them, but then thought better of it. Martinez went back-to-back with Youk, his second of the game, and the Red Sox fans became that much more insufferable. 9-7 bad guys.
The Yankees-Red Sox sideshow turned out in force for this game. New Yankee Stadium will never be as loud as old Yankee Stadium, but this was as loud as I've ever heard the new ballpark. The place was packed. The Yankee fans were running the show, but there was a steady supply of Boston fans to keep us on our toes. Lots of fans were escorted from the building, which is obligatory in a game like this. All in all the experience gave the Stadium enough energy to keep peoples' spirits up, but it was tough to watch the team give up a 6-1 lead.
Joe Girardi managed himself into trouble in the 8th. With two outs he pinch hit Juan Miranda for Ramiro Pena. Offensively, the move worked out. Miranda walked to bring up Derek Jeter. The Captain struck out for the third out, but the Yankees would have their 2-3-4 hitters in the bottom of the 9th.
The problem was that Pena was playing 3rd and Miranda plays 1st. Girardi moved A-Rod to third (he'd been the DH previously) in response. For those unfamiliar with the rules, if a team moves its DH to the field it sacrifices the position. If the Yankees could force extra-innings then the team's pitcher would have to bat.
The Red Sox didn't make it easy on the Yankees in the top of the 9th. Damaso Marte got the first two outs, but he left the game with runners on 1st and 3rd and Youkilis at the plate. Joe Girardi turned to the only man a Yankee Manager thinks of when he needs to get a tough out against the Red Sox: Javier Vazquez.
Kidding aside, the move paid off, and was smart. Home Run Javy struck Youk out on four pitches. He's also good with the bat. His career line as a pitcher is about what the team has gotten this season from Ramiro Pena.
As Jonathan Papelbon came on to pitch the 9th everyone was on the edge of his or her seat, except for the Red Sox fans, who were standing, dancing and taunting. Brett Gardner came up and hit a double just inside fair territory to left field. Tex came up, representing the tying run. He gave one a ride, but it stayed in the Stadium.
That brought up Alex Rodriguez. I don't remember the pitch. I don't remember the count. Everyone was standing, hoping A-Rod would tie the game. My seats are in the Main Section along the third base line. I knew Alex hit the ball hard (419 feet), but I lost it in flight due to the deck above me. One second I was following a ball that I thought could go the distance, the next second Josh is jumping up and down and the Red Sox outfielders are staring at their own bullpen. High fives, fist pumps and awkward man-hugs ensued. Tie game on an A-Bomb from A-Rod!
Robinson Cano hit the ball hard when he came up, but it was caught in centerfield. Papelbon then plunked Cervelli. At this point everyone in my section wanted blood. Many of the fans around me were calling Papelbon low class. Now, I can't stand anything about Papelbon, but there is no way he meant to put the go-ahead run on base. Marcus Thames came up and blasted a walk-off home run to left.
I've never screamed so loud at the Stadium. The two Red Sox fans who'd been dancing in my section ran out of the Stadium with their tails between their legs. It was satisfying to watch them squirm.
Josh and I stayed until A.J. gave Thames pie. Then we left. We'd taken a lot of abuse in Detroit and needed to get out our Yankee fandemonium. Now, it was our turn. We made sure we took our revenge out on as many Red Sox fans as we could when we left the building. Sometimes that's how you roll.
News and notes: The team announced today that Nick Johnson will have surgery on his wrist. He'll be out at least 6 weeks. For the moment the Yankees will look to Miranda and platoons to fill the DH spot but if Miranda doesn't pan out expect to hear more on this as the season progresses.