I just saw that the MLB app will be replaying Derek Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium, tonight at 7pm. I normally try to avoid personal stories on My Baseball Page, but given current circumstances, I’ll make an exception. Hey, it’s that or more baseball void.
On Thursday, September 25th, 2014, I was in Louisville, Kentucky for a business seminar. That night a few friends and I went to the local sports bar to kick back after a travel day and some workshops with a few carbonated amber beverages. Because I had been traveling and had been discussing business all day, I completely forgot that Derek Jeter would be playing his last game in Yankee Stadium that night. Fortunately, because it was a Thursday night in September, there weren’t too many other sporting events going on so most of the TVs in the bar were showing the Yankee game.
Did I mention this was Kentucky?
I know this sounds like heresy coming from a Yankee fan, but I wasn’t that amped about Jeter’s last game. The season-long goodbye tour was actually getting a little awkward for my taste. Jeter was no longer just a shell of himself in the field – a guy who didn’t have much range in his prime had even less now – but he was also useless as an offensive player in 2014. (77 players qualified for the batting title in the American League in 2014 – Jeter finished 76th in adjusted OPS.)
And in spite of Jeter’s season-long futility, Yankee manager Joe “I’m not here to manage goodbye tours, I’m here to win games” Girardi had Jeter bat 1st or 2nd in every one of the 145 games Jeter played that season, including 15 as a designated hitter.
So I kept an eye on the game out of the corner of my eye as I was making small talk and enjoying my suds, but I wasn’t emotionally involved. That would change.
The Yankees were losing to a much better Orioles team (that sounds funny to say now, doesn’t it?) when Jeter doubled to left field in the bottom of the first to cut the lead in half, then scored on a wild pitch and error to tie the game. He then reached on an error in the 7th to give the Yankees the lead a couple of hours later. A couple of tack on runs were added and the Yankees took a 5-2 lead into the top of the 9th, with David Robertson on the hill to face batters 1, 2, and 3 in the Oriole lineup.
At this point, I’m enjoying the game, my new Louisville friends and my beer(s) – meaningless, but an entertaining game and Jeter had a good one.
And that’s when my phone pinged.
I’m fortunate enough to have some good friends who are also big baseball fans with whom I can commiserate (translation; bitch and moan) with during the baseball season. This text notification was from my friend Mike.
Mike: What is Girardi doing? He has to remove Jeter so he can get an ovation.
Me: Didn’t think of that, but you’re right – what’s he doing? Maybe he will during the inning?
That’s when Robertson walked the leadoff batter. I got a little uncomfortable. Take Jeter out, Joe. Let him get his ovation. If this game goes sideways and Jeter has to be celebrated with his teammates surrounding him or out of the dugout after a loss, it isn’t going to go over well.
I calmed down a little after a strikeout, but that didn’t last long when Adam Jones homered to cut the lead to 5-4. My phone again:
Mike: He has to take him out now.
Me: Agreed. I think he will.
Still, no Girardi appearance to take Jeter out and let him get his ovation with a full stadium and none of his teammates surrounding him.
Me: WTF is Girardi doing?!?
Robertson struck out Nelson Cruz and here we are. Now with two out, Girardi is going to come out of the dugout, pause the game, take Jeter out and let him get his ovation, right? Right?!?! Still no Joe…
Mike: What the hell is Girardi doing?
Me: He’s such an ass-wipe.
I don’t think I hit send on that last text yet when Steve Pearce tied the game with another home run off Robertson. There were a lot of groans in that Louisville bar that night. That’s when I realized I wasn’t the only one in what had become a pretty crowded bar watching the game and being tortured by Girardi and Robertson.
Mike: Pointless now. The game ends with Jeter in the dugout or with the whole team on the field.
Me: Fu<!ng unbelievable. Girardi is such an ass clown. It may not end for hours and it’ll be a half-empty stadium at that point.
After a fly out to end the stress temporarily, and a few more texts with colorful language about how useless Girardi was, Yankee DH Jose Pirela (yes, you read that correctly) led off the bottom of the ninth with a single and was promptly replaced by Antoan Richardson as a pinch-runner. As I see Brett Gardner come to the plate, I realize one of my biggest pet peeves is about to happen. Girardi is going to have Gardner bunt, and in doing so, he’ll reduce the chances of the Yankees scoring.
Me: Watch this. He’s going to have Gardner bunt.
Mike: As if there were any doubt.
Me: JFC, top of the order, no one out, no double play threat, and he’s going to bunt.
Gardner indeed did “successfully” bunt Richardson to second base. I started to text Mike “JFC…nice job Joe…” when I realize…
Oh. My. God. Jeter is up. Between my angry texts about the manager, the beers and the crowd in the bar getting louder and more reactionary with each at-bat, I completely forgot Jeter was coming up – now with the winning run on second base. The thought “There is no way – NO WAY – he’s going to win this game right here and now – NO WAY he’s going to do something crazy and thrill us all again…” went through my mind.
We all know what happened next. Bang. First pitch. Line drive base hit to right, a few seconds of all of us yelling “RUN!!!” at Richardson, and he did it. He won his last game at the Stadium with a base hit to right in walk-off fashion in a game his teammates and manager were trying to lose for him. Un-effing-believable.
The crowd in the bar erupted – ERUPTED. It was probably the loudest crowd roar I’ve ever experienced in a sports bar while watching a game. High fives were everywhere followed by hearty glass bangings and chugs. Did I mention this was Kentucky? That’s how baseball fans everywhere – not just Yankee fans – thought of Derek Jeter. Even though we watched him do amazing things for close to 20 years, it still blew all of our minds when he did it again. Again. It was probably the most exciting, goosebump generating, holy sh!t, I can’t believe I just saw that moment in my baseball fandom life.
I had a text waiting for me:
Mike: Girardi is a genius!