Every time you go to the ballpark, you hope for something you’ve never seen before, something truly special that survives in your memory long after the principles of the game have hung up their spikes. You hope for someone special to share the moment with — hell, you hope for 10 special people at your side. You don’t expect it, and you may not even dream about it. But every time you go to a baseball game, that hope goes with you.
And so I watched, incredulous, deliriously happy, believing it only because I was seeing it, as Raul Ibanez did something no Yankee has ever done in a playoff game, despite the team’s exhaustive postseason history. Pinch-hitting for Alex Rodriguez (the first time A-Rod’s been pinch-hit for since high school, he said after the game), Ibanez crushed a 1-0 breaking ball from Orioles’ closer Jim Johnson deep into the Bronx night, five rows back in the right-field seats, to tie the game at 2-2 with one out in the bottom of the ninth. The hit was the rarest of things — a gutsy Hail Mary of a late-game managerial decision going absolutely perfectly. To put it bluntly, manager Joe Girardi had the balls to pinch-hit for A-Rod, a move that made absolute baseball sense but was sure to be second-guessed ad nauseum had Ibanez not come through. The men in my row, Section 320B Row C, including a man who defines what it means to be a Yankee diehard, unanimously agreed before the ninth inning that Ibanez should pinch-hit for A-Rod, but we were unsure if Girardi would actually do it. Not only did he do it, but it paid off as well as it possibly could. It’s a rare thing in life that the storyline of a moment plays out exactly as you hoped in your wildest dreams.
Or maybe it’s not so rare. Because the man I mentioned before, an attorney named Rich Greenberg who has seen maybe 1,500 Yankee games in person in his life, said as Ibanez prepared to bat in the 12th inning, “Could you imagine if he hit one out right now?” That was the sentiment another of our merry band, sitting it in front of me, had been expressing since the 10th inning, even pooh-poohing a bad inning in the 11th by saying that it was all a setup for a game-winning home run by Ibanez. “Fastball, dead red,” I responded to Rich. “First pitch home run.”
Not five seconds later, Ibanez annihilated a first-pitch fastball from Brian Matusz. Dead red. At soon as it left the bat we knew, and we rose and came together in an ecstatic mass of hugging humanity. I didn’t see the ball land in the second deck in right field. I didn’t have to.
Singing “New York, New York” with the rest of the delirious crowd a few minutes later, I snuck a look at my Dad, who had gone berserk as soon as Ibanez’s game-winning home run left his bat. He’s something of a stoic man, but I could tell how overcome he was by the historic dream of an ending we had just witnessed (as I alluded to earlier, no Yankee had ever hit a game-tying home run in the ninth and then a game-winning home run in the same playoff game). Not since Game 4 of the 2001 World Series had my Dad and I enjoyed a Yankee moment in person like that together. Who knows how many more of those truly great live experiences we will have at Yankee Stadium. I’m barely coherent at this point, so I’ll just say this: I’m glad I got to experience that with my father at a time in my life when I know just how special it is.