Could it have ended any other way? Absolutely CLASSIC finish last night at The Stadium, as Derek Jeter went out in style and drove in the game-winning run with a walk-off base hit in the bottom of the 9th to beat the O's. Goosebumps, cheers, tears, you had it all going if you saw this one. What a moment, what a win. Awesome.
And to think it all started pretty horribly. With the game barely underway in the top of the 1st, Baltimore took a 2-0 lead on a pair of solo home runs by Nick Markakis and Alejandro De Aza. 5 minutes, 8 pitches, 2 runs. Just like that Hiroki Kuroda was in an early hole.
Except he wasn't. Kuroda was lockdown nasty from those first 2 batters of the game on, allowing only 1 more hit and no walks through 8 innings. That hit came in the top of the 3rd. After that, Kuroda retired the final 16 batters he faced, 13 of them on the infield. He threw 95 pitches, got 14 swings and misses, and struck out a season-high 9. In what was probably his final start as a Yankee, Kuroda turned in his best start of the season. What a severely underratedly great 3 years it's been for him in pinstripes. I'd want him back in a heartbeat next year if he was interested.
The Yankees quickly erased the early deficit in the bottom of the 1st and the 2-run inning had The Captain's fingerprints all over it. Brett Gardner singled to lead off and Jeter worked a 3-1 count against Kevin Gausman on 4 straight heaters. He was locked in on the 5th one and drove it to deep left field. It looked gone off the bat, but the ball bounced off the wall for a run-scoring double. A wild pitch and throwing error in the next at-bat brought Jeter home to tie the game.
It took until the 7th for the Yankees to gain the lead, and once again Jeter was involved. The Yankees loaded the bases on a wild pitch third strike, walk, and bunt single, and with 1 out Jeter hit a grounder to shortstop that was too slow for the O's to turn into a double play. J.J. Hardy forced the throw to first anyway and threw the ball away, scoring 2 to put the Yanks ahead. Brian McCann tacked on a sac fly to make it a 5-2 lead.
That lead seemed plenty save with David Robertson heading to the mound for the 9th, and the focus shifted to how the Yankees would send Jeter off. They set the bar pretty high with Mo last year. While everybody was focused on that, D-Rob gave up 2 home runs in a 6-pitch span to blow the save, the moment, and tie the game. Adam Jones got him for a 2-run shot on a cutter that didn't cut with 1 out and (former Yankee) Steve Pearce did the same with 2 outs. Stunning.
The ruination of that moment turned into the perfect script for the eventual one. D-Rob's choke job gave Jeter one last chance to hit, and Jeter made the most of that chance as only he could. Jose Pirela singled to lead off the inning, got replaced by pinch runner Antoan Richardson, and sac bunted to second by Gardner. Jeter strode to the plate with the game in his hands, and facing Evan Meeks he didn't waste any time ending it. Jeter took a first-pitch changeup the other way to right field for a base hit, scoring Richardson and setting off a celebration bigger than any in The Stadium in the last 2 seasons. It was the classic Jeterian swing. He let the ball get deep, pulled his hands in, and drove it out to right field for a base hit. We've seen it a trillion times and he pulled it out one last time to win his final home game. You can't write stuff this cliche and you'd be told your writing sucked if you did. Amazing moment.
And you could tell Jeter was feeling the moment. As soon as the run scored he lept into the air and let out a big cheer. He had a giant smile on his face as his teammates mobbed him, and as he stood out on the field and took in one last standing O from the fans and players you could tell he was trying hard to fight back tears. He almost lost it talking to Meredith Marakovits after the game, and if that didn't bring a tear to your eye and a lump to your throat then you aren't really a Yankee fan. Everything about the finish was awesome. The play, the celebration, the former teammates and Torre coming out, Jeter saluting the fans, the Gatorade bath. All of it.
The Yankees still have 3 games to play this weekend, but as far as I'm concerned that was the last game of the season. There's been a lot of disappointment and frustration this year. Missing the playoffs again sucks. But that was a great game, a great finish, and a picture perfect way for my favorite player to go out. That's the memory I'll take with me from the 2014 season.
- Final line on Jeter: 2-5, 1 2B, 3 RBI. The walk-off hit was his first since 2007(!!!) and it capped off an outstanding final homestand for him. 12-34, 5 XBH, 9 RBI, 5 R scored.
- Final line on Kuroda again, just to make sure everybody appreciates it: 8 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 9 K.
- Pirela was the only other Yankee with multiple hits. He went 2-4 and is 5-12 overall with 3 R in 4 games played.
- Wild blown save for D-Rob. He had only given up 2 HR total since the start of June before last night and hadn't given up 2 in the same game since September 6th, 2012. Whatever. Still wan't him back.
- Jeter said he will play in the weekend series in Boston but won't play shortstop. I think that's a fair compromise for him and the fans in Boston. His last game as a shortstop should have some meaning to it and that finish last night gave it that meaning. Classy move on his part to play these last few games. I don't think anybody would have blamed him if he didn't.