ALDS Game 3: Magic
For most of last night I had an uneasy feeling. It felt familiar. It felt like ’05, like ’06, ’07, and ’11 when we limped into the offseason after underwhelming performances in the ALDS. We were anemic at the plate and the Stadium was reduced to a murmuring hoard. As I watched Miguel Gonzalez defy his inexperience and tame Yankee bats for the 3rd time this season, I got angry. I got angry at A-Rod for how he chomped his gum after every strikeout, as though his mouth was trying to instill confidence in the rest of his body. I got mad at the people in the field level seats who didn’t stand with 2 outs and 2 strikes. The orange sea in Camden yards stood up for an 0-1 count with no outs. Get UP! I got angry at the New Yankee Stadium. Something there felt plastic. It felt too corporate. The empty, padded seats that didn’t go for $2,700 on StubHub. The guy in the v neck sweater who almost snatched an out away from Eric Chavez. I got angry at Bruce Springsteen for singing, “this traaaaaaain!” for the 367th straight commercial break this postseason. Thoughts of the post-game press conference were already creeping into my mind. Joe, why didn’t you pinch hit for A-Rod in the 9th? Do you start CC on 3 days rest? What did you think of Gonzalez’ performance?
But, I was still hopeful.
We’ve done it before, we can do it again. C’mon, it’s October. But, as Ichiro lined out to left, that old Yankee Magic felt far away. We were at the Stadium and Mystique and Aura were stuck in traffic on the Major Deegan. And Mystique had to pee. And Aura was car sick. Then Raúl Ibañez walked out of the dugout and the Magic felt a little closer. Could he do it again? This is the Yankees. This is October. And it’s at moments like that, when you’re teetering between misery and hope, when you’re left with nothing but blind belief, that magic can happen. And magic happened last night.
It’s the type of magic that is transformative. It can turn the quieted right field bleachers into a teeming, boiling sea of euphoria. It can turn utter despair into bright hope. It can baptize a box score, cleansing A-Rod of his 2 strikeouts and redeeming our 2-6 hitters who were a collective 1-for-24 (with the exception of Ibañez bombs). Magic is improbable. Magic is pure. Magic feels like a snow day, a first kiss, and an announcement that The Dark Knight Rises Again is coming to theaters in July 2014 mixed up in a waffle cone and covered with hot fudge. That’s the kind of magic that Ibañez provided last night.
In the bottom of the 9th, 2 outs from facing an elimination game, he hit his 3rd pinch hit, game-tying home run in the 9th inning or later in the last 3 weeks–only the 4th such home run in postseason history. Most players don’t experience that kind of magic once in their careers, but Ibañez had to wait just 3 innings for a second helping. In the 12th, after 2 line outs, 3 fly outs, 2 strikeouts, a pop out, and a groundout from his teammates, he strode to the plate and on the first pitch he saw from Brian Matusz, struck one of the greatest home runs in Yankee history, singlehandedly giving the Bombers a 3-2 win. The superlatives are seemingly endless. At 40-years-old he is the oldest player to ever hit a walkoff homer in the playoffs. He is the only player in postseason history to hit 2 pinch hit home runs in the same game. He quite simply became a legend, as much a part of Yankee lore as any of the 1,520 men who have donned pinstripes.
Magic defies an Orioles record of 77-0 when leading after 7 innings. It scoffs at a 16 game winning streak in extra innings. It rejuvenates. It delivers. It’s why I love this game, and why I love the New York Yankees.