Port Chester, N.Y., October 3, 2016 — The Yankees’ 2016 baseball season came to an end yesterday, Sunday, October 2. I should be getting my bag ready for the next game in the Bronx, in 190 days, but I’m feeling contemplative (and a little crushed), so I’m collecting some thoughts and memories of what was a week packed with ups and downs.
In Toronto, Monday, September 27 Yankees 5, Blue Jays 3 As we watched from the comforts of home on a pretty Monday night in New York, the Yankees were finishing a 3-8 road trip that all but destroyed the team’s playoff chances, and demoralized many of their fans. This game would be marred by an unnecessary beanball battle once a fastball from young Yankee righty Luis Severino barely glanced the cushioned left elbow of the Blue Jays third baseman, Josh “Prima” Donaldson, in the first. Jays southpaw J.A. Happ started the top of the second by deliberately throwing his first two pitches at Yankee third sacker Chase Headley, succeeding in hitting him with the second. With Severino on a low pitch count and due to leave the game soon anyway, he took care of business in the bottom half, paying homage of sorts to Happ by performing the same two-pitch trick on Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar. Benches and bullpens emptied, and some were tossed, strangely just Severino, manager Joe Girardi, and two coaches from the visiting Yankees, with no corresponding penalties to Toronto.
A packed Rogers Centre crowd hooted in delight, then more so when they took a 3-0 lead, with the Yanks unable to mount much of a response until they plated two late runs, entering the ninth down 3-2. A miserable start of the week brightened, however, when Yankee first baseman Mark Teixeira, six days removed from his upcoming retirement from the game, homered for the tie. The inspired Bombers scored three more, then held on for a 7-5 win with lefty reliever Tommy Layne putting on a show to end the Jays’ following rally. Layne made an incredible pickup of a topper in front of the plate, managed to avoid a collision with catcher Gary Sanders, and dove to touch the plate just before another run would have scored, garnering a much needed out in the process.
In the Bronx, Tuesday, September 27, Yankees 6, Boston 4 With a “tragic” number of 2 (any combination of Yankee losses and Baltimore Oriole wins adding up to 2 would close the door to a Yankee presence in the postseason), the Yanks headed home for three-game series with Boston and Baltimore that would end the regular season. The Red Sox needed but one win to clinch the AL East title, and the crowd, as was the norm, was peppered with many a Boston fan rooting for them, and their retiring DH, David Ortiz. But the Yankee diehards attended as well, and with August callups Gary Sanchez and Tyler Austin, respectively, hitting two-run homers to open, then close, the scoring, it was 6-4, the good guys. This one had one of the delights for someone scoring a game in September, or in Spring Training, as the Red Sox used four substitute players, three of them, along with starting third baseman Brock Holt, batting in the sixth position.
Wednesday, September 28 Yankees 5, Boston 3 Young righthander Luis Cessa had pitched well in that game, and another young righty, Bryan Mitchell, had a superb outing Wednesday, holding the dangerous Boston offense to two hits and no runs through seven tense innings. Unfortunately, Red Sox hurler Clay Buccholz matched him, and when an eighth-inning error began a three-run Boston rally off Adam Warren, the Sox sent closer Craig Kimbrell out for the ninth, three outs from a clinching win and the opportunity for the team to celebrate a division title on the hallowed ground of the Yankee Stadium field. But Kimbrell was wild, allowing a leadoff single and three walks, and two outs later, Teixeira (remember him?) greeted replacement righty Joe Kelly with a 1-0 grand slam home run into the Yankee bullpen. A team did celebrate on the field that night, the team wearing pinstripes.
Thursday, September 29 Yankees 5, Boston 1 The bittersweet night was Thursday. A bitter-cold wind and driving wind had assaulted the Stadium the night before, and it hovered again over this, the third Boston tilt, preceded by a ceremony honoring Ortiz. Red Sox fans screamed “Papi” in adulation, while Yankee fans, convinced that both the Boston DH and the franchise unfairly escaped any punishment or derision for the part they played in the steroids years, yelled “Cheater” and “PEDs.” But Yankee hero Mariano Rivera, quieting many of the angry hoots and hollers, emerged to present Ortiz with a book the Yanks had prepared detailing many of his feats against the Bombers in the Bronx. The ceremony ended, and the game was on.
CC Sabathia pitched great, allowing just a Xander Bogaerts home run in a 5-1 Yankee victory, and Ortiz was held hitless in his last three games in Yankee Stadium. But with their second consecutive victory over the Blue Jays, a highlight revealed on the out-of-town scoreboard at 9:45 pm, the Orioles had eliminated the Yankees from postseason contention.
Friday, September 30 Baltimore 8, Yankees 1 On the face of it, this was clearly the worst night. But we had been presented with passes to seats at a pregame Q&A with Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman. A very erudite speaker, Cash wowed us with his handle on all things Yankee, and provided informative answers to every question, including one from me. In the most delicious highlight, presented as an aside while talking about all the wonderful relationships he’s had with players over his 20-plus years in the Bronx, Cash revealed that there are five players over that time that he would put on his “naughty list,” each of them worthy of a “bag of coal.” But even though both questions and answers were brimming with the optimism the “swarm” (again) of new and coming young players have instilled in us all, for me the one disappointing realization was that he continues to consider trade pickup Aaron Hicks to be one of the current and future bright lights in the organization.
Though the session was a true delight, there was still an impossibly stormy night to negotiate; the game that followed never would have been played, but for the need for Baltimore to continue to battle for one of the two AL Wild Card positions. “Driving” would be the wrong word to describe the relentless cold rain that enveloped the Stadium. Perhaps “swarming” says it. I sat in a supposedly covered seat six rows behind my seats in the grandstand, and scored all of 26 pitches and five outs before abandoning the task as undoable. And the rain was not the only thing that swarmed, as the Orioles pounded my Yankees 8-1, clouting three home runs in one inning.
But our fortunes took a huge upturn as, like we were receiving manna from heaven, suite seats fell into our laps. Ensconced on this level for the first time — excluding tours of the Stadium, this was for a game! — I was propped in a front row seat in suite 23, fittingly located just over first base where beloved first sacker (and number 23) Don Mattingly played his whole career, we were soon — happily — interrupted by the arrival of former pinstriped outfielder Gerald “Ice” Williams in the suite. We got a few pictures with Gerald, and I told him I remembered him having a 6-for-6 night against the Orioles in 1996; he laughed that they were again the opponent this night.
Although the suite was flush with free food, beer, and wine, I felt the need for a little stiffer libation, and made my way to the paying bar on the suite level, where I was delighted to run into ex-Yankee reliever Jeff Nelson, a stalwart of the late-1990s Championship teams. He was telling another fan how he would pitch to Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista — “He wouldn’t stand a chance” — and then I introduced myself, and offered the observation that this night would have been very depressing, given the beating the Yanks were taking, had they not already been eliminated. He agreed, and we prognosticated on the coming postseason. Though an AL guy like myself, Jeff’s a Joe Maddon fan, and would not be crushed by a Cubs World Series win. He agreed that Texas had a good shot to win the ALCS, and helped pose for pictures with me (while making fun of my droid phone). We both agreed on a no-Sox, no-Mets approach to the coming October Classic. I haven’t been this happy at a Yankee loss since they clinched the AL East in 2000 when Tampa beat Boston, all as we watched the O’s crush the Yanks in Camden Yards.
Despite continuing bothersome weather, we were committed to the Saturday and Sunday late afternoon games in the Bronx; the former was Roger Maris Bobblehead Day, the latter a tribute to the retiring number 25, Teixeira. We had pregame brunch at the nearby Court Deli both days. I opted for the Pastrami double, a Pastrami omelette Saturday, and a Hot Pastrami sandwich Sunday.
Saturday, October 1 Yankees 7, Baltimore 3 Baltimore’s Dave Miley looked to dominate the Bombers Saturday, striking out nine through six and holding the Yankees scoreless through four, while his mates jumped on young Luis Severino for a 3-0 lead by the third. But Mark Teixeira would delight us with his bat for the third time this week, leading off the home fifth with a single; pinch runner Rob Refsnyder would score the first Yankee run, and Chase Headley knocked in the second pinstriped tally with his first of two doubles in the sixth. Manager Buck Showalter, an ex-skipper for the Yankees, strangely stuck with Miley in the seventh, and Tyler Austin deposited his 106th pitch into the Yankee pen for a 3-3 tie. The Bombers then bunched a single, two walks, and two doubles into a four-run eighth, and bested the O’s 7-3 on the 55th anniversary of the day Maris hit his 61st home run in 1961.
Sunday, October 2 Baltimore 5, Yankees 2 There wasn’t much to recommend in the Sunday finale, except the pregame ceremonies honoring Tex; the Yanks gave out vouchers to two tickets to a 2017 game to all attending as well. And Teixeira did not disappoint in the field, flashing his Gold Glove defense to nab Michael Bourn in the fifth and Matt Wieters in the second. A switch-hitting catcher, Wieters would follow by reaching Luis Cessa and then Tommy Layne for two-run homers his next two times up, batting lefty, then righty, in a 5-2 Baltimore win, completed in two hours and 32 minutes in quite bearable conditions. DH Brian McCann delivered a Yankee home run, and all-world catcher Gary Sanchez (the Sanchise!) gunned out two Orioles attempting to steal. Joe Girardi replaced Teixeira with Austin with one out in the top of the seventh, giving us the opportunity to give Tex one more long, rousing ovation..
It ended one of either the worst good weeks, or best bad weeks, I’ve ever had in my 58 years as a Yankee fan.