Game 144: TB vs. NYY — This one was for Jeter & Headley & America’s City

The Yankees, by all rights, should not have won tonight’s game. In fact, they may be the only team I know of who could have won tonight’s game. Because (and this may be my bias talking here) there is no other team in baseball history with that much tenacity, strength, and passion that could come back a second night to win the game.

I should have known something was brewing in the air. Before the game, the Yankees played a recap of the 2001 World Series, where the three game at home were all come-from-behind games that were just the spectacular show the City needed that year. And honestly, tonight’s win was sorely needed, if not just for the anniversary, but also because of what transpired during the game. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Michael Pineda was tapped with the start tonight, and despite what the scoreboard said, he threw a very good game. Over his 7.1 innings, he threw 96 pitches, allowed 10 hits and 4 runs, and struck 2 Rays’ batters. Actually, Pineda was able to pitch his way out of most of his sticky situations. The only reason there were 4 runs scored was due to a 3-run home run in the 4th and a solo home run in the 7th; it should be noted that it was the exact same Rays’ batter that hit both home runs.

But that would be all the Rays could do tonight. At least offensively, because they sure did their hardest to stop the Yankees. Sometimes at all costs, some of which we’re still waiting on.

The Yankees were actually pretty much shut-out for a good portion of the game, with the Rays’ starter throwing a no-hitter until the 8th inning. He did, however, give up 2 walks in the 7th inning, but the Yankees couldn’t cobble anything together to do make a run. No need, as it wasn’t that 8th inning just yet.

In the meantime, the Yankees pulled Pineda in the 8th after giving up a ground-rule double and getting a groundout. Hill was brought on in relief and got those last 2 outs. Roe walked the lead-off batter in the 9th, but then Outman and Kelley got the 3 out to keep the Rays at just that 4 runs scored. It was exactly the kind of pitching the Yankees needed to make an impact on the other end of things.

So that 8th inning… Girardi later said that Jeter told him going into the 8th inning that they would get 2 runs in the 8th and then 3 in the 9th to win this game. And when the Captain orders a win, the Yankees must rise to the occasion.

With 1 out, Chris Young doubled, forcing the Rays’ starter from the game. Then pinch-hitter Martin Prado (looking pretty good after resting his injured hamstring) smacked long 2-run home run into the left field seats. (Those first 2 runs the Captain requested — done.) After another out, Derek Jeter walked up to the plate, and on the second pitch of the at-bat got plunked on his left elbow guard pretty hard. He stayed in the game, but that Rays pitcher certainly made a stadium-full of enemies by hitting the Captain. Jeter spent the top of the 9th at shortstop, but continued to shake off that left arm, still stinging from the impact. (X-rays would later return negative, but I imagine a nasty bruise and sore arm might be the lingering result of that at-bat.)

And into the bottom of the 9th inning, the last chance for the Yankees to win this game, the score stood at 4-2 Rays, the crowd still buzzing from the Jeter injury (who at this point was on his way to the trainer’s room for x-rays and whatever treatment they can conjure up to preserve him for the next few weeks). And then the new pitcher proceeds to plunk Chase Headley on the face. That’s right, two reliable batters taken out by sloppy pitchers. Headley was clearly in pain, flat on his back, being looked after by the trainers and eventually the team doctor right there at home plate. The trainers were able to stop the bleeding on his chin and help him up and off the field. The crowd’s level of anger against the Rays skyrocketed.

Romine came in to pinch-run for Headley and ended up at 3rd on Ichiro’s double. One out later, it was Chris Young’s at-bat. Two pitches in, he saw one he liked and shot it deep into the left field seats. Captain’s Orders fulfilled, Young with a walk-off 3-run home run to win the game. 5-4 Yankees. One Gatorade shower later, Young was the hero of what had been both a dangerous and heroic comeback of a game.

The Yankees needed this one, if nothing but for Headley and Jeter. But I always believe that New York needs a win on this day, any year they play in the City. Before the game, the Yankees placed a wreath by the memorial plaque in Monument Park dedicated to the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks 13 years ago. They also asked a former ticket supervisor who lost both his sons that day to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Then the Marine Corps Band played the most beautiful rendition of the National Anthem, while the joint Color Guard of NYPD and FDNY officers stood strongly in centerfield. (Here is a link of the broadcasters remembering 9/11 and baseball in 2001.)

You know, I’ve never been to Yankee Stadium on the anniversary, but it’s one of the most patriotic displays I’ve ever seen. You can’t help but feel proud to be part of this country, this city on such a day. I know that today there’s nowhere else I’d rather be — in New York, in Yankee Stadium to watch the Yankees win, thanking police officers, applauding service men and women, and cheering for America and America’s team.

Yep, no better place to be today. But if I’m honest with myself, when isn’t it?

Go Yankees!

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