In the immortal words of old-tyme Tigers manager Hughie Jennings: EEYAH!
Despite the fact that my heart has been given perhaps too much of a workout, this was one hell, one freaking hell, of a great baseball game. 3-2 Tigers win, and the only dominant sombitch on our side was Papa Grande, the master potato himself, Jose Valverde.
Really, the Yankees should have won this one. Eleven–eleven!--men left on base. Twice they had the bases loaded, both times with but one out. Second time, you’re looking at Rodriguez, Teixera, and Swisher to drive ‘em home.
Instead, in the seventh, the second time the bases were full of Yankees, the soon-to-be-vilified-in-the-New-York-Post Alex Rodriguez struck out. Teixeira was walked by Joaquin Benoit, pushing the score to 3-2. And then Swisher… well, he swished.
Everything was just enough. In the first inning, both Don Kelly and Delmon “The Fiend” Young blasted home runs–that should have been the start of a ton of runs for the Tigers. But Yanks manager Joe Girardi kept a bullpen Automat of sorts, going down the line and putting pitcher after pitcher on his game tray. He pulled rookie starter Alex Nova after two, and then we saw the likes of Phil Hughes, someone named Boone Logan, C. C. Sabathia (who sucked, giving up the last, and game-winning, run), and three more including Mariano Rivera who, though I don’t really believe this (though kind of I do), is a man who I’m determined has sold his soul to the Devil. The guy has one pitch.
The Tigers’ Doug Fister, who is one cool dude, kept the Yankees bats from having much thunder, but he was far from dominant. Supposedly, the guy jogs every damn day, and has no interest in scouting reports. The catcher makes a sign and Fister, a controlmeister, throws the pitch, hits his spots.
Listening to the radio, he hit a lot of close spots most of the time. “I like that call,” said Jim Price, whom I’ve come to learn is a big-time gamer, which I’ve also come to learn I don’t mind one iota. But Price said words to that effect a half dozen times at least, once even prompting Dan Dickerson to start laughing uproariously. “What a good call!” Price said, earnestly. “You like every call that goes our way.” “Well, of course…” Duh.
Anyway, that was it. The Tigers got guys on base for six innings, but only scored three times, failing themselves to push men across to my temporary fury and frustration. The Gotham relievers, whom Jim Price kept referring to as “the best in baseball”, shut us down one-two-three from the seventh onward.
What I don’t understand is the Yankees. Bases loaded, one out. Twice. God damn it all, a freaking pop fly ties this game, sends it into extra innings where, in the alternative evil world that exists somewhere and has Rick Perry in a prominent role, the Tigers score three times in the top of the twelfth, only to have an exhausted Justin Verlander come in in relief and give up a Grand Slam home run to pinch hitter Brian Cashman. That’s usually how it works.
The Yankees couldn’t get their guys across and, you know what? They were weird. In the fourth inning, the other bases loaded moment, Rodriguez is on second, Swisher on first, when Jorge Posada smashes a base hit to Detroit centerfielder Austin Jackson. Right at him. And yet the ball was in his hands as Rodriguez rounded third… and was held.
That’s a tie right there. Didn’t happen, except in the aforementioned world of horrors.
Then there was the band-aid. Benoit came to the mound in the middle of the seventh, sporting a giant bandage on his jaw, readied to pitch, and then Girardi, perhaps influenced by the angry ghost of Billy Martin (the one I summoned to haunt Yankee Stadium), asked to have the offending bandage removed as it was a “distraction” to his hitters.
Benoit was furious, and proceeded to give up a base hit, and then, instead of fielding a weak grounder from Cano that would have resulted in an inning-ending double play, he muffed it. Then he struck out Rodriguez, and then walked Teixeira with the bases loaded. Giambi’s mind-fuck worked.
Only it didn’t. Because, as I said, Swisher swished and that was it. Benoit came back, stuffed the eighth down the Yankees throats, and handed the ball to Valverde in the ninth. No Mr. Tension last night: Valverde held the door open for the Yanks and then smashed it back closed just as they were stepping through. One-two-three, done.
Everything should have gone wrong and nothing went wrong. Which leaves me, quite frankly, feeling as if perhaps all this Goddam mojo I’ve been working to the hilt has been effective. Candle on the Shrine lit, Fidrych postcard out, collected poems by Phil Levine by my scorebook, wearing my 1935 Detroit Tigers replica jersey from distant garage sale, and waving my mini-rubber chicken at the opponents. I mean, you don’t really think the Tigers did all by themselves, did you?
A brief note about the Yankees: I’ve said this before and I’ll repeat it: Yankees fans are as knowledgeable and polite as anyone else’s fans–yes, as rude and obnoxious as anyone else’s, too. Did they pout after the loss last night? Of course they did–wouldn’t you? You want pouting, listen to anyone who gets beaten by the Yankees, because that’s when it’s not just we lost, it’s we lost and there’s something systemically wrong with baseball. The other difference is that the fans of other teams will continue to moan and gripe well into next year, and even after the following season has begun. At least the Yankees move on.
But then, of course, there’s pals of mine like Jeffery Hess, who instantly congratulated me on Facebook about the Tigers’ victory. Every Yankees fan I know–and I know quite a few–are well versed on the game, respectful of its history, and love good ball as much as anyone. Are they spoiled? Probably. Extended success spoils all of us–I know this because I live in a state with a baseball team that has won the majority of Central Division titles this last decade and seems to think that’s their birthright. (Though I’ll take the Tigers two–two–first round victories over New York than six division titles. Just sayin’.)
The Yankees, as I have said before, are good for baseball. We bitch and gripe because we love to bitch and gripe. Seriously, this victory yesterday, just like the four game ALDS win over the Yanks in ’06, is better, sweeter, more edifying because the Tigers beat the Yankees. Who don’t, you may know, win every single year. And everyone is fine with that. Now, you may argue that no one is fine with that, and, of course, you might say you hate it, that it’s wrong and ruining baseball. Well, then do something about it. It would be easier to get Major League Baseball to impose a salary cap, or whatever it is you want, than it is for us to stop a war or get Wall Street to care. Stop seeing games. Stop giving them your money. Act.
But that won’t happen. And we’ll keep complaining. Because, you know, we love to complain. That’s a good part of the fun of baseball.
After all, over the last decade, the club that’s won the most World Series’? The Yankees… and the Red Sox.
(*Thanks to Jeff Polman for the title suggestion. Groaning? There’s a lot worse “Fister” references, if you know what I mean…)