Damn Yankees

Bronx, N.Y., June 25, 2017; Texas 7, Yankees 6 — A group of 43 ex-players, an ex-trainer, and four beloved Yankee widows treated a growing crowd of fans to a delightful ceremony and a four-inning Old Timers’ Game on a pleasant afternoon in the Bronx Sunday. The Clippers edged the Bombers in a one-run contest that disappointed absolutely no one. The one-run loss to Texas in the game that followed was another matter.

I foolishly wondered what player memory would first trigger a tear in the opener, when of course it was the voice of late emcee Bob Sheppard, introducing the festivities at 11:45. The widows Helen Hunter, Jill Martin, Diana Munson, and Kay Murcer were not only introduced first; they were seated in the center on the edge of the infield grass, between two rows of chairs, awaiting the players, who all greeted the ladies as it became their turn to take the field.

There were as many highlights as your love for the players would allow, but Mickey Rivers wowed one and all with a nifty basket catch in center; the crowd loudly cheered Jorge Posada on this, his first of these affairs; and ex-righthanded reliever Jeff Nelson at various points pitched for both teams, and played both right and left fields. My scorecard reflects that Tino Martinez drove in the Bombers run in the second; by the the time the Clippers plated two in the fourth, I had given up making sense of who did what. Getting the game started, Sparky Lyle wheeled his left arm under and behind his back, making a toss within the reasonable direction of home plate; both he and Willie Randolph took spills on the field, though no one was DL’d (another aspect that distinguished this game from the latter). Whitey Ford seemed literally ecstatic basking in the fans’ adulation a few feet in front of the Yankee dugout, and one-time Yankee Tim “Rock” Raines, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame shortly, received an enscripted gift, a set of seats from the old Stadium.

The game that followed couldn’t have been more different. Righthander Michael Pineda didn’t have much and three-run home runs in the first two frames had the home team buried early. More frustrating, recent Yankee troubles scoring seemed to be on the menu, as they left one man on base in each of the first four innings, a trend that seemed sure to continue in the fifth. Mason Williams, who had just moved to center from right — replacing Aaron Hicks, who tweaked an oblique — led off with a single, but was on second base with two down when Austin Romine — who had taken over at first with Tyler Austin moving to right — swung and missed at an 0-2 pitch. But the ball got past catcher Jonathan Lucroy, and Romine reached. Given a second chance, the Yanks pounced. Aaron Judge singled in Williams, and Gary Sanchez blasted a 3-2 offering into Monument Park in dead center. A 7-0 impossible cause had become a 7-4 game.

Despite having walked his first two batters relieving Pineda to start the fifth, rookie Tyler Webb escaped with a double play pill and a swinging strike out. And Chad Green kept the Rangers off the board through two frames, a Drew Robinson leadoff double in the seventh notwithstanding. Ronald Torreyes, who had displayed stellar defense at third for two games, and delivered a game-winning single Friday night, was at it again with the glove work today, only at second. In for Starlin Castro, who has a sore wrist, the “D” was not unexpected; the leadoff home run in the home seventh was. Two outs later, Didi Gregorius followed back-to-back walks with an rbi single, closing it to 7-6, though Gary Sanchez was pegged out at third trying to take the extra base on the hit.

Displaying the back of their pen as a strength they’ve been unable to deploy effectively in recent weeks, New York had Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman shut down Texas from there, and most of a crowd of 46,625 who could not bring themselves to leave rose in unison when third baseman Chase Headley, back in the lineup after a few days nursing a sore back, doubled to right to start the home eighth. Legendary Broadway producer George Abbott, who had a hit with Damn Yankees — a play about a guy who sells his soul to the devil for the chance to beat New York’s team that seems destined to win the World Series every year — some 60 years ago, would have turned 130 this day. The Yankees do not win it all every year anymore. But this squad is playing better than expected in a year transitioning from older players to younger ones, and their offense has mounted spirited comebacks from huge deficits several times.

Alas, it was not to be this day. They failed to deliver Headley with the tying run, and also to score all-world — and Rookie of the Year and AL MVP favorite — Aaron Judge after he singled with two down in the ninth. This team is suffering through a bad stretch, with a losing road trip preceding this 2-4 homestand, but they have attracted a core — and growing — group of true believers, as witnessed by the very rare difficulty of exiting the Stadium with so many having stuck it out to the end today. They’re attracting big crowds on the road too, as they will on Chicago’s South Side tomorrow night. Some will be there to see and delight in Judge, Sanders, et al. Some will be cursing the New Yorkers under their breath. Or screaming it from the rooftops. It doesn’t matter. They all know the same thing. Is this the “Damn Yankees”?

Damn Straight!