Saturday, June 7, 2008

An afternoon to remember

Usually when a guy sitting on the bench of your fantasy team goes 6-for-6, a suicide watch would be in order in my place of residence.

But not today. Because when Johnny Damon's sixth (SIXTH!) hit of the day dropped into the right-field corner of Yankee Stadium, it clinched an 12-11 Yankees win in one of the wildest games you'll ever see. If you were there, or if you watched on TV, you know that this isn't an understatement.

Baseball is the best game in the world on so many levels, but the last two New York wins exemplify this more than anything. In Thursday's walk-off victory, you had no reason to believe the Yankees would come out on top, and yet Jason Giambi's big swing changed that in a heartbeat. Then came today. This was a game, despite the increasing odds, you never thought they'd lose. Watch enough games at Yankee Stadium and you start to get a feeling when that wave is coming, when 55,000 fans are staying until the final out and the opposing pitcher starts to feel the weight of a borough on his shoulders. I've always found the idea of "Yankee Stadium Mystique" a little, well, cheesy, but there's something about that old ballpark that still lends itself to special things happening. Saturday was just another example.

Andy Pettitte's alarming struggles continued, but the offense -- following a stinker on Friday -- picked up their veteran left-hander in a huge way. The Yanks erased a 5-2 deficit in the fifth, a 10-6 deficit in the seventh and eighth, and finally, an 11-10 deficit off one of the American League's best closers in the ninth.

How amazing was this game? Damon set a career high with his six hits, raising his average to a pretty .326. Jason Giambi and Alex Rodriguez both delivered tape-measure blasts -- Giambi going 15 rows up in the upper tank while A-Rod just missed dropping his bomb into the bleachers beyond the bullpen. On the Royals side, Jose Guillen had about as good a game as you can have, homering twice -- including a shocking grand slam off Pettitte in the seventh -- while adding two outfield assists. David DeJesus -- a very good player when he's on the field -- provided an even more shocking moment with a solo homer off Mariano Rivera leading off the ninth. Not to be undone, the rock, Jorge Posada answered with a solo shot of his own with one out in the bottom half of the inning, as Soria blew his first save of the season.

That all set the stage for Damon, who shaved his mustache this morning but pulled up his socks, a style that's not soon to disappear after today's masterpiece. A game like this shows just how dangerous the Yankees still are. Yes, it was against the lowly Royals, and yes, Pettitte's struggles are a real concern with an already thin rotation. But this team can be a hitting machine when all its pistons are pumping, and Yankee Stadium remains the ultimate home-field advantage.

Everyone keeps waiting for that moment where the Yankees will "get it", and take off toward another postseason appearance. Everyone thought that would happen Thursday, and then they stunk up the joint in the Royals opener. This win gives the Bombers another potential springboard in what has been a maddening season. Sitting at an even 31-31 with 100 games to play, can the Yankees go 60-40 (or better) to claim that playoff spot? Not an easy task, but certainly not impossible either.

These are the games, these amazing games, that make being a Yankees fan so fun, because I feel like I root for the only team that consistently does this stuff. This never-say-die comeback stuff, where ESPN anchors have to bite their tongue to keep from revealing their displeasure and Yankee Haters across the country curse to the heavens in frustration.

Yeah, this is my team. To paraphrase Joltin' Joe, I'd like to thank the good Lord for making me a Yankee ... fan.

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