A Sunday in New York with a sprinkle of Matsui magic

When my alarm went off at 8:26 a.m. yesterday morning, I was excited. The game was I going to wasn't your regular run of the mill game, I would be heading to Yankee Stadium to see Hideki Matsui's retirement ceremony and hopefully, I would be getting my second bobblehead of the season - I already have Derek Jeter's bobble head which I got at a game earlier this month. I had some coffee, showered and then woke up my brother. I wanted to get to the Stadium right as the gates opened so I could get the bobble head. I had a feeling the crowds would be larger than usual.

We had timed our trip to the Bronx perfectly and the 4 train arrived at the Yankee Stadium/161st Street station at 11:02 a.m. When my brother and I saw the crowd we said, "Holy sh*t!" simultaneously and my heart sank.

The whole world was outside of Yankee Stadium or so it seemed. And I was so mad at myself for not leaving earlier. I had mentioned the "Matsui factor" to my brother the day before. I knew they were be a lot of extra fans for him and that it wouldn't be a normal Sunday crowd but I wasn't quite expecting over 47,700 fans.

It was an amazing sight to behold. And I couldn't believe how many babies I saw yesterday. It's a good thing, I'm not one of those ladies with an internal alarm clock that goes nuts at the sight of babies - that clock ran out of batteries a long time ago.

As the line slowly made its way up to the Stadium, I was convinced we weren't going to be able to get a bobble head and I kept getting irrationally angry and saying things, "Where are you guys every other Sunday!?" to no one in particular. Oh yes, I'm one of those people.

After waiting in line for nearly 30 minutes and striking up a conversation with two ladies from Rock Hill, South Carolina, we finally made our way up the entrance - between Gates 4 and 6, in the middle of the Great Hall. I peered in while the security girl was checking my bag and I noticed a pile of boxes with bobble heads. There were still a bunch of them left!

Eureka!

matsuibobbleheadI noticed as I was making my way through the turnstile that two people ahead of me refused to take the box. I walked up to the guy handing them out and said, "Did they just refuse free stuff?" He laughed then said, "They better not try to come back."

I happily took the box from the guy, walked over to the concourse, set my bag down on a beer cart and rearranged everything so I could fit the bobble head inside. Thank goodness I was able to get one or I would have found a Rays fan holding a box, bopped them over the head and stolen it from their clutches. As I was futzing with my bag, I told the beer lady about the people who didn't take the doll and she said, "They refused free stuff?" I said, "Right?!" We exchanged a few more pleasantries and she told me to enjoy the game. I thanked her and joined my brother to do a lap around the bottom level of the Stadium.

We had time to kill before the ceremony was going to start.

Now, I had mentioned the big crowd. Well, it had been a while since I had been in the midst of a sea of people that large and while waiting in line, I was perfectly fine but as we made our way around the concourse and got to just behind home plate, I felt as if everything and everyone was closing in on me.

I had been so good this season. No panic issues at all. Well, that went out the window yesterday. My brother talked me down a bit and didn't allow me to have a full-blown attack which was good but I was still disappointed in myself.

As they say, two steps forward and two steps back. Or maybe just Paula Abdul and MC Scat Kat are the ones who say that...

Okay, now that the words "bobble" and "head" have appeared in the post 1800 times, let's move onto the ceremony, shall we?

After we completed the lap, my brother and I made our way to our Sunday seats. As we were sitting there, we started to feel raindrops which is really odd because we're under cover. They were weren't major, just some drizzle but it was still a bit disconcerting. What's the point of getting tickets under the roof if you're still going to get wet? And what was going to happen if it started pouring?

Luckily, we didn't have to worry about that.

When the ceremony started, my eyes became moist. I'm such a sucker for Yankees nostalgia and I really like Hideki Matsui. How could you not? He was a great player, a hard worker and he loved being a Yankee.

While I was standing there watching Matsui being honored, I chuckled to myself because I'm Matsui's age - I will be 39 next month - and there he was signing his retirement papers. At this rate, I'll be working until I'm about 85 before I can comfortably retire.

His parents and brother came all the way from Japan and both my brother and I were amazed at how much taller Hideki was than all three of them. It was like looking at a portrait of my dad's family. His father was 5'6" on a good day, his mother was about 4'10" and my dad was 6'2". If my dad hadn't looked like a larger facsimile of my Papou, I would have thought he was adopted.

One thing I noticed when Matsui's mom came out was that he shook her hand instead of hugging or kissing her. If it were my retirement ceremony, my mom would have planted about 18 kisses on each cheek. Different cultures, I guess.

Brian Cashman and Jean Afterman both ambled out of the dugout, they both took turns hugging Matsui and then placed the retirement papers in front of Matsui for him to sign. He happily signed them and I'll admit a couple more drops of wet stuff fell from my eyes. Or maybe it was the drizzle?

The Yankees presented Matsui with his 2009 jersey, framed and matted. Derek Jeter was the one who delivered the gift to his former teammate. I always liked the rapport between Jeter and Matsui. You can tell they really like and respect each other.

After the ceremony ended, we watched as Jeter, who was finally returning from the DL, and Robinson Cano had a long toss in the midst of a throng of Japanese media which was still gathered by home plate. They were waiting for Matsui to come back out to throw his ceremonial first pitch.

Cano was behind the plate and Jeter was in short right field by the foul line. It was pretty funny watching the ball going back in forth as the people and their cameras barely moved.

Matsui emerged once again for the ceremonial pitch in his #55 Yankees jersey. He motioned to Phil Hughes and I think Hughes told him to throw from the rubber. Matsui nodded, stood on the pitching rubber and threw a strike. He waved to the crowd one last time and Hughes made his way to the mound for warm ups.

***

My brother said he had a good feeling yesterday.

I, on the other hand, didn't. I'm a naturally pessimistic and negative person - if there was a picture of a person next to the word negative in the dictionary, it would be one of my scowling face. We were also sitting on a pretty long Sunday home losing streak at the Stadium. As we were waiting for the game to start, I was thinking of possible scenarios in which the Yankees could lose in spectacular fashion.

Some examples:

  • Hughes would give up seven runs in the first inning and the game would be over before the Yankees came to bat. (I saw that happen against Seattle earlier this season.)
  • Matt Moore would pitch a no-hitter.
  • A sinkhole would open up beneath the Stadium and we'd all fall into the earth below.
  • Or worse, a Sharknado would come from the West and sharks would rain down on all of us, snapping off our limbs or swallowing us whole...

I just felt like everything was against us even with Matsui there and Jeter back.

Hughes set the Rays down in order in the top of the first which was nice but we have been fooled many times before by strong first innings. Just the other day CC Sabathia had a strong first inning and then surrendered six runs in the second so I wasn't ready to get excited.

Then, the bottom of the first began.

Brett Gardner, who according to his walk up music, has Southern Comfort running through his veins, struck out to start the frame. A strikeout wasn't surprising, Matt Moore, the Rays' starter is good and shut out the Red Sox in his last start.

Next, Jeter, who was greeted with thunderous applause, stepped into the box. He did his customary "time out" motion with his right arm and then got ready to see the first offering from Moore.

Now, if I were writing a movie, Jeter would hit a first-pitch home run because that's how the hero should return to his team and it seems the universe felt the exact same way because Jeter took Moore deep on the first pitch. Yes, it barely made it over the wall but it was to the opposite field so the naysayers and the people who still give Jeter a hard time even after 3,307 hits can crawl back into their holes. Thank you very much.

As Jeter touched the plate to score the first run, I said to my brother, "That could be the best moment of the season with the way this season is going." See? I told you I was negative.

But the Yankees weren't done scoring.

Robinson Cano and Alfonso Soriano hit back-to-back singles, Soriano's being his first since coming back to the Yankees and it snapped an 0-8 streak. Vernon Wells hit a sacrifice fly to plate Cano and the Yankees were up 2-0 on Moore.

By the way, Soriano's walk-up music yesterday was "Hot in Herre" by Nelly. Talk about a trip back in time. My memories of that song involve a drunk night with coworkers and a bunch of strippers during the summer of 2002...

Okay, back to baseball!

The Yankees added another run after a Moore wild pitch and a Ichiro Suzuki single which scored Soriano for the third run of the inning.

Things were starting off nicely.

Hughes couldn't hold the three-run lead but he didn't have a six-run second inning, he only surrendered one run and the Yankees still had the lead heading into the third.

yesterdaysview72813That's when the wheels came loose. I won't say they fell off because as annoying as it was to see Hughes give up three runs in an inning, he didn't let the game get out of reach and Tampa ended the top of the third with a one-run lead instead of being up by five. So that was nice. It gave us all hope that maybe the Yankees could stay in the game and possibly win.

Of course, there was always the possibility of Moore settling down and shutting the Yankees down the rest of the game but that didn't happen.

In fact, in the bottom of the third inning, thanks to the old guard of Jeter and Soriano, the Yankees took back the lead.

Jeter singled and advanced to second on a balk during Cano's at bat. After Cano hit a fly ball to center for the first out, Soriano hit a 1-0 pitch to the short porch in right. I had a clear view of it and Wil Myers made an awful play on the ball. If he had timed his jump a little better, he could have robbed Soriano of a home run. Instead, Myers landed on his can and the Yankees took a 5-4 lead much to the chagrin of Moore.

Myers would get his revenge in the fifth when he hit his second home run of the game off Hughes and tied the game at five.

What a pain in the ass that kid is, huh?

The next few innings were pretty quiet and both bullpens did great work in setting down the batters and keeping the game tied. Before the start of the ninth inning, the very familiar opening riffs of "Enter Sandman" began blaring from the Yankee Stadium speakers and Mariano Rivera began his jog from the bullpen.

I watched intently as Mo made his way to the mound. I was so enthralled and engrossed by him that it was if I were alone in my seat and after a few moments, I couldn't hear the music, I just watched as he started his warm up routine.

Lately, I find myself trying to soak in Mariano Rivera's last moments in a Yankee uniform as much as I can. We're less than two months away from the last regular season game at the Stadium and the number of times we'll get to see him are dwindling. It seems hard to believe that the end is getting so close.

It took Rivera only 12 pitches to get Luke Scott, Evan Longoria and James Loney all to ground out to end their half of the ninth inning.

Rivera is amazing. Why on earth is he retiring?

As we were getting ready for the bottom of the ninth to begin, my brother once again said, "I have a good feeling. I think we're seeing a walk-off today." I just nodded and said, "I hope you're right." I wanted our damn streak to end.

Joe Maddon kept reliever Jake McGee in for the ninth inning. McGee had given up a single to Ichiro in the eighth but that's all the Yankees were able to muster. At least Brent Lillibridge sacrificed Ichiro to second with a bunt, but David Adams and Chris Stewart didn't do anything and ended the eighth without Ichiro advancing beyond second.

Gardner worked a walk to start the bottom of the inning and that excited the crowd because if the Yankees were going to score and ultimately win the game, it would have to happen in the inning with Jeter, Cano and Soriano all due up.

While Jeter was up at bat, Mc Gee threw a wild pitch and Gardner advanced to second. The Rays then, much to the annoyance of the Yankee Stadium crowd who showered them with boos, intentionally walked Jeter to put runners on first and second with no outs and Cano coming up.

Surely Cano could be the hero, right? Nope, he struck out looking for the first out.

That was a bit deflating but we had Soriano coming to the plate. He was already 3-4 and seemed to be seeing the ball well. Maybe he could be the one to send us all home happy and with our first Sunday home victory in what seemed like years?

Yep.

Soriano didn't waste any time because he hit the first pitch he saw from McGee up the middle, just to the left of second base and won the game for the Yankees.

All of my fellow Sunday regulars in section 413 were very excited as that ball made its way through the infield and into the outfield for the game-winning single. The losing streak was finally over! It was about damn time. We all high-fived and carried on as if the Yankees had won a playoff game. Look, when you're on a months long losing streak, a 6-5 walk-off win in July will make you extremely excited, okay?

Soriano got a Gatorade bath after the game and finished 4-5 with a home run and three RBI, Ichiro finished 4-4 with one RBI, Jeter finished 2-4 with his home run and one RBI, and finally, the last member of the old player brigade, Rivera, earned his second win of the season.

For a few moments, it was like we were all back in 2003 only I wasn't 28, thin and I no longer had a wrinkle free face.

Hopefully, yesterday was the first of many good days still yet to come at the Stadium in the 2013 season. And as much as people want to declare this season over, it's not over by a long shot.

It's baseball and we root for the New York Yankees. It's never over in July.