Posted by: Mike Cornelius | October 6, 2016

Disappointment And Hope In The Bronx

The end came suddenly, the way twilight succumbs to darkness in deep winter. Even as the Yankees and Red Sox battled each other on the field one week ago, we in the stands and the pinstriped players in New York’s dugout kept one eye on the out-of-town scoreboard, high above the right field bleachers. No longer masters of their own fate, our heroes needed both a victory over the visitors and a loss by the Orioles to keep alive the slimmest of hopes for a spot in the postseason.

On the diamond the Yankees were doing their part. Starlin Castro doubled to left to plate Jacoby Ellsbury in the bottom of the 1st, and after the Red Sox answered with a Xander Bogaerts home run off of CC Sabathia in the 4th, Ellsbury put New York back on top with his own RBI double one inning later. Then in the 6th the Yankees tacked on a pair of free runs, thanks to a bases-loaded walk and a wild pitch by Red Sox reliever Robby Scott.

But while the Yankees pulled ahead and the veteran Sabathia cruised along in what would eventually be a fine eight strikeout performance, the electric numbers reporting on the contest between Baltimore and Toronto were unforgiving. The first change to the zeroes next to the two teams’ names informed us of a 1-0 lead for the Orioles in the 3rd inning of the game being played north of the border. As the innings wore on the score changed three more times, in each instance adding another run for Baltimore.

Both games had started at the same time, but there is nothing ever quick about a match between the Yankees and the Red Sox. So it was that our game was still in the 7th inning when the bright white “9” inning indicator and an adjacent downward facing arrow told us that in Toronto, the Blue Jays were three outs from a 4-0 defeat. We watched Sabathia set the Sox down in the top of the frame, and we sang along as the grounds crew entertained with their nightly rendition of “YMCA.” We cheered when Ellsbury led off the home half with a single to left, all the while glancing frequently at the silent numbers on the board. Then in a blink the “9” changed to an “F.” The score in Toronto was final, and the meaningful part of the Yankees’ season was over.

The disappointment was tangible, but muted; for we recognized that this moment was virtually certain to come. A seven game winning streak spanning the first full week of September made the Yankees a meaningful part of the Wild Card discussion. But no sooner had that happened than a disastrous road trip followed. Eight losses in eleven games, including four straight to these same Red Sox and three to the Blue Jays, pushed our team back down the standings and to the edge of elimination.

Now it was official, and the only silver lining was the fact that the moment did not arrive until the 7th inning of the longest season’s 159th game. Few would have expected the Yankees to hang around that long when GM Brian Cashman became a seller at the trade deadline, dealing the lineup’s best hitter and two elite relievers for a long list of prospects. Those deals and the release of Alex Rodriguez opened up roster spots for a new generation of Yankees called up from the minors, and the so-called Baby Bombers acquitted themselves surprisingly well.

Thirty teams leave Spring Training with the shared goal of playing on into October, but only ten earn the chance to do so. For the others, once postseason hopes have been dashed there remains the challenge of playing on for whatever is left of the schedule. Motivation was not a problem in this game, against New York’s fiercest rival, and the Yankees went on to post a 5-1 victory, wrapping up a three game sweep of Boston. But what of the final weekend?

The Orioles arrive in the Bronx, and since they are still fighting to nail down the final AL Wild Card spot they have plenty to play for. That shows on Friday night when Baltimore uses a big 6th inning to roll to an easy 8-1 victory in miserable conditions of wind and rain. Only a few thousand of us stick it out to the bitter end of that one, and we can’t help but wonder if we’ll only see more of the same Saturday afternoon. Our final visit to the Stadium for this season will be for the schedule’s penultimate game.

Luis Severino gives up a two-run single to Michael Bourn in the 2nd, and a long home run to Manny Machado in the 3rd; and Wade Miley flummoxes New York batters for four innings, striking out six. But just when it seems like the die is cast the Yankees awaken from their slumber. Mark Teixeira, one day short of retirement, leads off the 5th with a single. It will be the final base hit of Teixeira’s career. Chase Headley follows with a walk, and one out later the rookie Tyler Austin gets the Yankees on the board with a sharp RBI single to left. An inning later Billy Butler and Rob Refsnyder both single, and Headley slashes a double to left that makes the score 3-2. Then in the 7th Austin is the hero again, slicing a leadoff homer into the Yankee bullpen to knot the score, and now the Stadium is alive.

The cheers roll down onto the field in the 8th, when an Austin Romine single to center scores Ellsbury and Headley to put New York ahead for the first time. They grow louder when Brett Gardner extends the lead with a blistering line drive down the left field line that plates two more. We greet Dellin Betances with a roar as he jogs in from the bullpen in the top of the 9th. Born just across the Harlem River in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, the 28-year old three-time All-Star assumed closer responsibilities after Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller were traded away.

Bourn leads off with an infield single on a ball that deflects off Austin’s glove. But Betances is unfazed. He strikes out J.J. Hardy on four pitches, and then fans Adam Jones on three. His first pitch to Pedro Alvarez is a ball, but his second is a 99 mile per hour heater that Alvarez flails at. Betances touches 100 on the radar gun with his next offering, a called strike two. Now we are on our feet, looking for one more strike. Betances does not disappoint, fanning Alvarez with a sweeping knuckle curve. As if with one voice we thousands unite in a joyous shout, and our celebration begins.

Soon enough we will make our way down the steps from the upper deck and out onto Babe Ruth Plaza. There cold reality awaits, like a stiff October breeze. For the third time in four years our team has failed to reach the postseason. The one exception, in 2015, was for but a single game. Winter will again come early to the corner of 161st Street and River Avenue. But before we step into that chill wind, we’ll savor this comeback victory, and draw hope for the future from the late season heroics of a new generation of players in pinstripes. If we’re smart, we’ll also remember the lesson we’ve just witnessed; one that is equally true in the Great Game and in life. No matter the standings, no matter the score, always play to the final out.

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