Walk(off) this way

Last night's walk-off home run by Ichiro Suzuki was the first one for the Yankees this season. And not since Darryl Strawberry's walk off home run on July 28, 1996 has the first one occurred so late in the season for the Bombers. I thought, since I've attended a few walk offs victories in my nearly 30 years of attending Yankee games, that I'd write about my Top 5.

#5 October 21, 2001: Yankees vs. Mariners

This was my first playoff walk off home run. Can you believe it took until 2001 for it to happen?

I was sitting in the upper deck in Section 14 and was lamenting about the fact that my brother had seen a few walk off home runs in person and I hadn't up until that point. As soon as I finished my rant, Alfonso Soriano hit a home run that sent us all home happy and gave the Yankees a 3-1 series lead in the American League Championship Series.

Maybe I should complain more?

The thing I love the most about playoff games that end in a walk-off is that you usually end up hugging total strangers. And in 2001, all New Yorkers needed hugs.

#4 October 21, 2000: Yankees vs. Mets

After missing out on the 1996 playoff run because I was still upstate in school, missing out on the 1998 playoffs because I couldn't get tickets and missing out on the 1999 playoffs because the Yankees closed out every series, the game before I had tickets, I was finally able to attend a World Series game in October 2000. And what better way to be introduced to the World Series than to have it be the Subway Series as well?

This was a fun one. The weather was nice and unseasonably warm that night - I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt - and I was with my best friends, enjoying our first foray into World Series-mania.

Now, the more famous play of the game was Jose Vizcaino's walk-off single in the bottom of the 12th inning but it was Paul O'Neill's 10-pitch walk in the bottom of the ninth inning that allowed the Yankees to tie the game and paved the way for Vizcaino's heroics in the 12th.

What made it even better was some Mets fans in my section were silly enough to believe the game was over when Armando Benitez came in to pitch the bottom of the 9th. Some even left their seats! We chanted, "Beat the traffic!" at them and had the last laugh when the Yankees ultimately won the game and the series.

#3 May 16, 2006: Yankees vs. Rangers

When the Yankees found themselves down 9-0 in the second inning of this game, I told my brother, "I'm never coming here on a Tuesday again." The reason for that was because I was at the Stadium exactly a week prior, on May 9, when the Red Sox beat the Yankees 14-3. He laughed at me and said, "Don't worry. Texas' pitching isn't that great. If they can hold them at 9, the Yankees have a chance."

I scoffed at him but then realized there was plenty of time left and stranger things have happened. At least I thought they did.

When the Yankees made the score 10-3 in the third, I was happy that they were at least trying to make a comeback. When they couldn't score in the fourth, I was a little disheartened. When they cut the lead to 10-5 in the fifth, I started to get some hope. I also thought, "Well if it ends like this, it doesn't look as bad on the out of town scoreboards."

Then something amazing happened: the Yankees scored six runs to take an 11-10 lead.

Of course, it didn't end that way, these types of games never do.

The Yankees found themselves down 13-12 going into the bottom of the ninth inning but the feeling in the Stadium wasn't of lost hope or dread. There was a feeling of "They can do this."

And they did, thanks to a walk-off home run by Jorge Posada with two outs in the inning. That is still my favorite regular season game of all time.

#2 October 17, 2009: Yankees vs. Angels

I love this one for many reasons.

  1. It happened against the Angels.
  2. Alex Rodriguez played a big part in the victory.
  3. I celebrated the walk off with a good friend of mine who was up from Washington, D.C. to take in the game.

It was cold that night. I was dressed in four layers and resembled the Stay Puft Marshmallow man. Some players were so cold they were wearing hoods under their hats.

So the Yankees and Angels went into extra innings tied at two in this one and in the top of the 11th, the Angels scored off Alfredo Aceves. When Chone Figgins hit the single to score Gary Matthews, he advanced to second and started clapping toward his dugout. My brother yelled out, "The game isn't over yet!"

The Yankees came up in the bottom of the 11th with Rodriguez leading off. I was sitting in the last row of Section 206 in right field and when Rodriguez was down 0-2 in the count, a guy a few people to my left yelled, "EARN YOUR PAYCHECK!" On the very next pitch, Rodriguez tied the game with a home run off Brian Fuentes and the guy immediately to my left yelled at the "paycheck" guy, saying, "Did he earn his paycheck?" I, of course, punctuated it with a naughty word and we high fived each other.

Fast forward to the bottom of the 13th, I was standing in the back of Section 206 with my friend from DC, her boyfriend at the time, her sister and her brother in law. We were all freezing so we watched the end of the game from back there. As soon as the ball went zooming back Erick Aybar's glove we all started yelling, "GO! GO! GO!" at Jerry Hairston Jr. and when he scored, I think I jumped as high as he did when he was called safe at home. And I didn't stop for at least five jumps. It was like I was a little kid again.

#1 October 31, 2001: Yankees vs. Diamondbacks

The night Derek Jeter became Mr. November.

I have written about this game so many times because it's still my favorite game of all time. After 30 years of attending baseball games, no game has beaten this one and I love when I tell people I was there because now, even nearly 12 years later, people are still amazed by what the Yankees did in both Game 4 and 5 of that World Series.

In a piece I wrote on the game's 10th anniversary called The Bamtino and Mr. November, I went through all of the emotions I was feeling that night (some of these snippets were in the noon post wishing Derek Jeter a Happy Birthday so I'm sorry if you're reading this for the second time).

When Arizona went ahead in the eighth, I felt a sense of dread. This game was big. If they were to win, they’d go up three games to one. Plus, aside from Shane Spencer’s home run off Curt Schilling in the third, the Yankees weren’t doing much of anything – which was a theme of that World Series. Schilling and Randy Johnson were a two headed monster intent on destroying Yankee hitters.

I felt a little relief when I saw that Schilling was coming out of the game and that Bob Brenly – the Diamondbacks manager at the time – was going to the bullpen in the bottom of the eighth. That relief turned to horror when Byung-Hyun Kim struck out the side with ease.

I remember the bottom of the ninth like it was yesterday, my heart was beating out of my chest, I was afraid to look at the game. My brother was calling me a wimp and I was telling him to shut up. Good times.

On Tino's at bat:

Next up, Tino Martinez who up to that point had an 0fer in the World Series and who was only 7-47 for the whole postseason. I remember actually saying, “Do something damn it!!” Then I got nervous and was afraid to look again so I put my sweater coat collar up to my eyes. My brother said, “Don’t be a wuss! The game isn’t over.” And as soon as he finished saying it Kim threw the pitch.

As the ball traveled toward the right field bleachers it was like slow motion. It took until Martinez got to second base for me to comprehend what I had seen. Tino Martinez just tied the game with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. I started screaming and jumping up and down like a maniac. I joined in with the other nearly 56,0000 people. My best friend was especially excited because Tino Martinez was her favorite player. And my brother in the midst of the chaos yelled, “I told you it wasn’t over!!!”

And on Jeter's walk-off and the "aftermath":

When the Yankees came up in the bottom of the tenth, Kim got Scott Brosius and Alfonso Soriano to fly out. As Derek Jeter stepped up to the plate I also yelled at him to do something. He hadn’t been the same since he dove into the stands during Game 5 of the Division Series and whatever he did to himself seemed to adversely affect his hitting.

I remember my brother pointing at the clock and we all remarked on how it was after midnight, that there was a full moon and that it was offcially November. Baseball in November? Full moon? Yeah, holy cow. That’s a recipe for something, dare I say, magical?

Jeter worked the count full and then the improbable happened. He hit a fly ball toward right field and it carried and carried until it left the park. Mr. November was born.

Of course, we know how that series ended but even the sour ending can't take away the pride I still feel to this day when I think about being at that game.

***

A couple of honorable mentions:

June 10, 2012: Yankees vs. Mets

This was the Russell Martin walk-off home run during the Sunday afternoon game of the Subway Series. He hit it off Jon Rauch in the bottom of the ninth after Rafael Soriano had blown the save in the top of the ninth.

It was glorious because I called it. It's also the most recent walk-off I've seen in person.

June 26, 2005: Yankees vs. Mets

Sunday Night ESPN game, Mets up by one going into the bottom of the ninth and the much-maligned at the time Jason Giambi hits a walk-off single to win the game.

Awesome.

July 31, 2005: Yankees vs. Angels:

This was a game in which the Yankees found themselves down 6-2 to the Angels going into the bottom of the eighth inning. They scored four to tie the game in the 8th, it goes into extras, each team scores a run in the 10th and then, the unthinkable happens.

Hideki Matsui led off the inning with a triple, the Angels intentionally walked Jason Giambi who already hit two home runs in the game and Andy Phillips struck out to set up the stage for Tony Womack to come in and pinch hit. Mike Scioscia does what Mike Scioscia does best and brings in one of the outfielders in order to have five guys in the infield. I don't exactly blame him because Womack was woeful in 2005. ALITERATION FTW.

Ahem, there's no way Womack could actually hit a single to left field through the five man infield is there? Of course there is! And the Yankees won because of it.

***

Feel free to share any walk-off games you've been to in the comments below. I'm sure some of you had to have been at the Aaron Boone game. I, unfortunately, was in my apartment at the time. Actually, maybe it's a good thing I was in my apartment, I'm not sure I could have handled that game in person...