Friday, November 6, 2009

A Bronx Tale for the Ages: The Night the Yankees Won No. 27

Pandemonium. Euphoria. Ecstasy.

All words that could be used to try and describe the scene outside Yankee Stadium Wednesday night immediately following Robinson Cano's flip to Mark Teixeira to end the 2009 World Series. The proud people of New York, including yours truly, danced, laughed, and cried the night away in the area surrounding the stadium, celebrating their team's 27th World Championship.

There hasn't been a truly perfect night in the World Series since 1956, but if you were in the Bronx, you would've been convinced otherwise.

For spoiled-rotten Yankee fans, (let's face it, we all are) this night was the perfect ending to a season packed with special moments. It had been nine years since the Yankees last danced around the Shea Stadium infield as the kings of the baseball world, an eternity for most of us. But for a younger generation of fans, it is the first time many of us will truly savor the flavor all winter long.

Despite my best efforts, I was unable to obtain tickets to be inside "The House that Jeter Built" for what I was sure would be the final game of the year. So instead, I gathered a cavalry of friends and headed to The Dugout, a bar conveniently located directly across the street from the Hard Rock Cafe in the right field corner of the stadium. Besides, I was quite aware that ESPN Radio was giving away tickets to the game during a commercial break of the Michael Kay show, which was being broadcasted from the bar.

Before heading into the bar, and continuing the drinking that had ceased at the 161st street subway station, we headed to the McDonalds for a pit stop. There, waiting in line to order like any other schmo, was Scott Caan. Yes, Tweeder from Varsity Blues, the guy from the Ocean's movies and who's a total prick to Eric on Entourage.
While grabbing a photo with him, my friend offered up the biggest slam-dunk stupid question he could've at the time.

"Hey Scott," he said. "So you uh, going to the game?"

"No, I'm just going to McDonalds in the fucking Bronx," he replied as I laughed out loud at my friend.

Sure, pal. Pretend like you're not a B-lister on your best hair days. Hell, I bet my buddy Fox wouldn't even show him on t.v. when they did their celebrity fly-bys at some point during a lull in the game. I was right.

So into the bar we went, seeking out Michael Kay and his free tickets. I was dead set on giving myself the best chance I could to be inside the Stadium. I refused to give up hope.
We each filled out a raffle form and made our way to the front of the roped off area where their stage was set up. He was flanked by the ever-opinionated Don LaGreca, who I can't get enough of even if he's a Mets and Devils fan, and the lovely (yet slightly past her prime) Bonnie Bernstein. All I kept thinking was "Holy living Christ, Michelle Beadle used to be on this show. Why couldn't she wait to take that big promotion, knowing I'd come find her?!" I questioned my faith for a moment, then focused back to the issue at hand: Getting those tickets.

The show hosted a guest speaker, Mike Missanelli, with a bit of a Philadelphia bias. Safe to say the Yankee faithful in attendance didn't take too kindly to his prediction that the Phillies would force a game 7. The ensuing chants of "ASS-HOLE!" and "DOUCHE-BAG!" were enough to make ESPN Radio go to a commercial break not once, but twice. Michael Kay, who was loving every second of it, couldn't keep a straight face when he asked us to tone the chants down a bit, at least while they were on the air. That's the sort of thing you could only find in the Bronx. From then on, you could feel it. There was no way it wasn't going to happen tonight. The stars had been aligned.

The show went to a commercial again around 7:30, the time when they would announce the winner of the tickets. At this point, I was having too much fun to care that I had a better chance of being struck by lightning indoors than I did of being at the game. The raffle came and went, the winner, a pair of gentlemen who had been conversing with a few ESPN personalities just a few minutes prior, but I didn't care. I was up for the next round of drinks, so I began to head back to the bar when I heard one of the ESPN interns call out to the crowd.

"Okay, Yankees fans, now it's time for ESPN Radio 1050 Trivia. The first person to yell out the answer to the following question will win..."

I stopped dead in my tracks. Another chance at winning those ever-coveted tickets? I started shoving (tossing, really) people out of my way and back to our prime spot 10 feet in front of their set. On the way back up, I heard the question:

"Derek Jeter is second all-time in Yankees' regular season stolen bases. Who is first?"

I knew the answer instantly. It was only a matter of getting to the front before someone beat me to the punch. En route to our spot along the velvet rope, I heard other people's audacious attempts to answer the question.

"Willie Randolph!" "Mickey Mantle!" "Mickey Rivers!" Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

"Alfonso Soriano!"

That was my favorite response. I stopped dead and gave him a look as if to say, "Really, man? So Soriano, in his whopping three full seasons as a Yankee, had the most stolen bases in franchise history? Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to that. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul."

I shoved him out of my way, and yelled the only answer that made sense, the right one.

"Rickey Henderson!"

The intern looked and pointed at me. "Correct!"

Did I do it? Did I win tickets to game 6 of the World Series? Was I going to see the team that means as much to me as my family reach the pinnacle of the sports universe in person? My wildest hopes and dreams had finally come true!

...Or so I thought. The intern walked over to me and offered me a signed copy of Mike Lupica's newest novel "Million-Dollar Throw."

As he and my friends congratulated me, I let out a profanity-laden cry, the likes of which haven't been seen since Rocco's outburst in The Boondock Saints.

No disrespect to the most accomplished columnist in the New York media, but what the hell man? Not only did I not win tickets, but I had to carry a damn book around all night too? Bogus start to the night if you ask me. But hey, at least my friends got a good laugh at my expense. Make that a few good laughs if you count my number of conversations with Michael Kay, and the glares from Bonnie.

The game finally started and we moved to the front portion of the bar, and posted up right under a flat-screen tv. Pettitte looked sharp early on, but so did Pedro.

But in The Dugout that night, doubt did not exist. As far as we were concerned, it was only a matter of time before the Yankees' bats would come alive.

Matsui's two-run home run in the bottom of the third set off the first of many celebrations in the Bronx that night. The Bombers had come to the ballpark ready to dethrone the previous World Champs.

When the Phillies cut the lead in half in the top of the fourth, I wondered if this game would go down as one of the greatest games in postseason history. I wondered if we'd see something to the effect of a tight game ended by a dramatic walk-off home run, followed by a wild dance.

Okay sorry Philadelphia. Kinda. But I promise that'll be the last cheap shot I'll take at you until the flag is raised at Opening Day next year. That would be your National League champions flag, not the World Series champions one. We open up 2010 on the road. But seriously, I sincerely apologize.

But anyway, I began to get excited about the idea of a game for the ages. My dad talks often about the famous "Reg-gie!" game of 1977, and it seemed like Hideki Matsui was determined to make this the Godzilla game of 2009. In the words of the oft-spoken Nick Swisher, "And Matsui, six RBI? ....Whaaaaat!"

The Yanks opened up a 7-1 lead in the bottom of the 5th, and the countdown was on. When Pettitte came out of the game after surrendering a two-run dinger to Ryan "The friendly World Series ghost" Howard I swore I could feel the bar shaking. I felt the ovation he was given from the Stadium crowd in the building next door like I was standing on first base.

Damaso Marte, who has gotten the Bleacher Creatures and the rest of the Yankee faithful back on his side, followed Joba Chamberlain in relief and promptly mowed down Utley and Casper Howard. Then with one out in the eighth inning, Joe Girardi made his last walk to the hill in 2009. The stadium, the bar, and Yankees fans everywhere rejoiced, just as the Phillies' supporters cringed. Every baseball fan knew what was coming next.

Enter Sandman. The right-center bullpen door opened, and out walked a man who had already closed out four World Series-clinching games. Five more outs. With a lack of champagne in the bar, (what were they thinking?) my friends and I switched from beer to Red Bull. For reasons still unknown, we found ourselves grasping these 12-oz cans counting down the final seconds of the 2009 baseball season.

In stepped Shane Victorino. One out to go before these Yankees were finally immortalized. To his credit, the Flyin' Hawaiian did everything in his power to prolong the game. He fouled off what seemed like 100 two-strike pitches from Mo. Each time the roar in the bar got a little higher. And then finally...

Pandemonium, euphoria and ecstasy simultaneously rolled into one as the streets of the Bronx instantly filled with Yanks fans going wild. In the time it took our camp to open our Red Bulls and spray them amongst the hundreds hosing each other down with assorted alcohol and exit the bar, there was already a pit forming in the street that rivaled the eye of a hurricane.

Five minutes later, you couldn't move from the back wall of the stadium to under the awnings of the bar and stores across the way. The crowd seemed to go on for miles, and we all wished this moment would go on forever. Television cameras did their best to capture the rapture of reaching a twenty-seventh heaven.

Amidst the madness, I was separated from my party for a little while. But it didn't matter. On this night, everyone wearing pinstripes was the best of friends.

As fans began to exit the Stadium after the trophy ceremony, the crowd grew. Police fought their way through the crowd to keep the peace, but they weren't needed.

Perhaps the most exceptional part of the night wasn't Matsui's six RBI, or Pettitte's 18th playoff victory, or the fact that a team led by Derek Jeter won a World Series 13 years after they did it for the first time. It was the way New York handled themselves.

Boston damn-near tore down Fenway in 2004. Los Angeles fans were arrested by the handful in June after the Lakers beat the Magic to win the NBA Championship.

But New Yorkers? We sang and danced until we couldn't stand anymore. We did it right, both on the field and off.

Hm, maybe that night was pretty perfect after all.

No comments:

Post a Comment