BOTTOM OF THE NINTH: YANKEES 9 (3) – 7 RANGERS
“Pain is inevitable,” said Haruki Murakami, the great Japanese novelist. “Suffering is optional.”
The Yankees are no longer the Yankees Yankees. Pour one out. The Red Sox are in first place. Gone are the days of the sure-thing AL East crown for New York, with all other comers fighting for a Wild Card spot. Gone are the days of Jeter, Rivera, Posada, O’Neill, Williams. Gone is the old Yankee Stadium, the ballpark walls now recreated in a darker shade of blue, a higher set of ticket-price ranges, the rowdy throngs all but deterred into silence with the placid business of sleek ballpark experience underway.
It pains, a 37-39 record nearing the All-Star break. It pains, all over.
It pains, but suffering is optional—discarded as easily as inhabited, with the pain of Bronx mediocrity nothing more than a temporary trouble.
They can go zen, they can declare nothing yet left to lose, they can, with a tweaked mentality, excise the big-city pressure, struggle for a bit, thin the crowds out, get back to baseball as fun, baseball as loose, baseball as sandlot mess-around with comebacks and teenage antics supplanting the pinstriped, no-beards-allowed, stately status of the Yankee as we know it.
They can declare a four-run deficit no big thing at all, back it up with the hits to prove it. They can send up Rob Refsnyder to the plate to lead off the ninth inning, with pink bubble gum bubbling out from his lips like a third puffed-out cheek, half the stadium already home and the other half wincing at what’s been reinforced by years of baseball odds as a sure, hopeless, deflating loss.
Then: Step One in the quickening dance of a Yankee comeback, the surge back to .500… Rob Refsnyder hits a single up the middle, lofted over the infield and onto the grass in center.
Step Two: Jacoby Ellsbury comes up, Matt Bush on the mound for Texas, losing control, twisting the ball in his palms between pitches, and it’s ball four. Refsnyder trots on to second, two men on.
And with a spin, a twist, the groove shuffle of the ninth inning continues—Rangers’ manager Jeff Banister, slouched over on the dugout steps, makes a call to the ‘pen: Sam Dyson. A 1.88 ERA jogging in to the mound. The postgame show on-deck, the odds back in Rangers favor.
The fans behind home stay absorbed in their phones, late-night dinner plans being made, mapping subway routes home, and in the dugout Joe Girardi jotting down thoughts in a notebook.
Brett Gardner comes up the plate, lining a single to left-center. Bouncing in front of Ian Desmond—and then, the ball bounces again, Desmond charges to pick it up, it hits off the glove, rolls up off the side of his neck, and behind him. Refsnyder scores: 7-4 Yankees, with two men still on base.
“They’re not gonna go quietly,” says one of the Yankees TV guys, as A-Rod steps up to bat, Dyson’s nerves contort his face into a red-bearded knot of anxiety—the ballpark like the vacuum cleaner bearing his name, no air left to breathe.
Dyson whips in a first-pitch strike, 97 on the speed gun. Then an 0-2 count. The fans behind the backstop stand up, clapping, inching toward a state of believing, that enough late-game baseball luck might make this one a memory.
Rodriguez smacks the third pitch from Dyson on a line—right to Odor at second, line out.
And so Brian McCann comes up, with his stubbled double-chin in full flaunt, buckling and folding over itself as he takes a practice swing and steps in against Dyson.
The first pitch: strike. The second pitch: gone. Three-run homer. Tie game. The ball passing over the giant image of himself on the center-field jumbotron. And the jaws of every fan in the building drop, the pilot episode to a full season of clapping, whooping, arms-up rejoicing in the Bronx, patience giving way to an awe they’ve too often been missing.
“Ah yes McCann can,” says one of the Yankees radio guys, “Yes McCann can!”
Brian McCann = GAME. CHANGER.
— New York Yankees (@Yankees) June 30, 2016
The train tracks above the right-field bleachers rumble with a passing train, the ball crashing into the stands with fans scrambling for it under the Modell’s billboard, as the riders on the last three train cars just catch a glimpse of a Yankee game revived—then checking their phones: Did I just see what I just saw?
McCann returns to cheers in the dugout, Starlin Castro strides up to the plate—spitting a frightening amount of saliva/gatorade/dip/unknown onto the infield dirt, and he walks.
Didi Gregorius comes up, former comic-book villain, retired Hogwarts teacher, and (really) the first Dutch-born Yankee since the great Robert Eenhoorn.
Joe Girardi shows new signs of life in the dugout, the risk of a loss now wiped clean, winning baseball on the brink.
And on the first pitch, the ball off Gregorius’ bat is a long, soaring way from home, a long way from the mound, a long way from the descending emotional state of Sam Dyson. A walkoff home run into the first-row seats in right, over the dejected head of Shin-Soo Choo, with a pair of Korean fans above waving a national flag to cheer him up.
Didi trots around third, whips his helmet across the infield, “DIDI” on the armband, and the home-team roster jumps for gregarious joy all around him, his arms spread wide into a giant team hug.
“Yes indidi!!” shouted out from the broadcast crew.
— New York Yankees (@Yankees) June 30, 2016
Cue Frank Sinatra on the loudspeakers: “Start spreading the news…”
A.A. Milne. B.B. King. C.C. Sabathia. Didi Gregorius. And Jeter’s impossible replacement has made a big-city name for himself.