Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I Got To See Pie!

And believe me, guys, seeing pie firsthand is like nothing you can imagine.

The be-pied gentleman in the above photos is one Juan Miranda, a first baseman with a bunch of RBIs in something called the International League (AAA) who was rewarded with a September call-up to the big club. He took over for Mark Teixeira in the field in the top of the 9th, and his spot came up with men on first and third, game tied, in the bottom of the inning.

It was a long journey to that point, though, and I plan to commemmorate it with heaps and scads of prose. Or, I'll go to the asterisks.

*I wanted to see one last game at Yankee Stadium, and I knew all the good players would be resting Monday (hangover after clinching) and Wednesday (to take advantage of Thursday's off day and give them two breaks in a row). Plus, AJ was pitching on Tuesday, which is always an adventure. Sometimes a happy one, even. So the girlfriend and I headed up to the Bronx for a last hurrah with the new Stadium. Don't worry, I'll be making fun of her later.

*Thanks to my new 8-4 work schedule, I was able to arrive just after 5 and watch some of the Yankee batting practice. I stood in the right field section, three rows back, while the pitchers and minor league call-ups fielded balls and ran drills. Joba was a particular crowd favorite; people had zero compunction about shouting his name and treating him like a goofy kid. Sometimes he'd throw a ball into the stands, and everyone cheered. Only the front row people got baseballs, so I didn't even think about angling for one. I just watched Teixeira, Swish, Cano, A-Rod, Matsui, and Gardner take BP.

*Then, a very special moment occurred. I happened to shift my gaze to right, and staring directly at me, smiling, was Brian Bruney. I swear to God he made eye contact and gestured with the ball in his right hand as if to say "want it?" Everything around me disappeared. We experienced a personal connection. I raised a hand, ready to receive, and he tossed the ball with a high arc to carry it over the first row. It was a parabola of destiny.

Until the rest of the greedy horde, trying to infringe on our moment, arrived in a frenzied cluster. The guy directly in front was proving to be a huge obstacle as he drifted backward with his arm outstretched, drawing a bead. But I knew that ball must be mine. Utilizing an elementary school playground football tactic from the days before any of us knew about offensive pass interference, I placed my right hand in the small of his back, leaned into him, and, in a move that will make me proud and ashamed for the rest of my life, gave him a slight but perceptive shove at the exact instant when the ball descended. He lunged forward, arms flailing, and the ball sailed over his fingertips. I deflected it to with my left hand, and snatched it triumphantly.

To my credit, I took the time to grin when he turned around. "Offensive pass interference, for sure," I said, and he gave a little nod that I can't necessarily describe as 'forgiving.' But Bruney had chosen me for this particular ball, as God chooses some men for glory, and I knew I couldn't let him down.

When I looked back to the field, hoping to thank him, or just to meet his eyes once again to share that special look of men who understand each other...he was already gone. I won't forget you, Brian.

*I gave the ball to a kid. I've been absurdly lucky in my life at catching things in public gatherings, and my weird superstition is that in order to keep experiencing the thrill of receiving, I have to immediately give the prize away. At first, I wanted to make an exception with this particular ball, but the longer I held it, the more it burned. I envisioned a future where foul balls, t-shirts from the t-shirt gun, and stadium giveaways all happened in the seats next to me. Karma had me in her narrow sights, and I had to get rid of the ball.

*On to the game. AJ was awesome. If not for an A-Rod error in the 3rd (absurdly scored a base hit), he would have pitched seven shut-out innings. As it was, he went 6.1, striking out 8, and leaving with the game tied 1-all.

*Girardi broke my heart by sitting Cano. When I saw Ramiro Pena taking second in the top of the 1st, I practically cried. There would be no sweet swing, no fluid, graceful arc of tapered wood as it met the helpless white sphere. No aesthetic frisson while the torque twisted his upper body even while his eyes stayed on the departing orb...oh how wrong I was.

*The Yanks are having trouble hitting. That's the dark secret of our last couple weeks; we keep winning one or two-run games, often in dramatic fashion, but pitchers ranging from mediocre to great are holding the lineup in check. Last night, someone named Larew, making his first start from AA, pitched six innings and conceded only two runs.

*Teixeira hit a home run, which is becoming a hugely predictable event when I'm in attendance. I've been to eight games this year, and I think he's hit a home run in either six or seven of them. He also hit two in the pre-season exhibition I saw against the Cubs. Uncanny.

*It's become something of a staple for me to make fun of my girlfriend when we attend a Yankee game, and luckily she provided another perfect opportunity yesterday. In the sixth inning, they flashed a bunch of birthdays on the big screen. I'm not exactly sure how it works, but you probably have to pay 20 bucks or something to have your kids name flashed for ten seconds. Anyway, the first name that came up was "Sam Handwich." Needless to say, this was a joke in 'spoonerism' form, where the first letter of each word in a phrase is flipped. The original phrase: ham sandwich. I did not need to explain this to you.

I laughed and pointed it out to Emily. She laughed too, and said "I wonder if his friends call him 'Samwich' for short."

I made a little 'heh' noise, and glanced at her sideways. She had turned my way, expression blank, expecting a reply. And it dawned on me: she thought 'Sam Handwich' was a real person. With a birthday.

I don't think I need to add any additional commentary here. (Except, PS, she's actually very smart, which is the only reason I feel okay making fun of her, and if she had a blog about the stupid things I say, I'd probably lose my job and maybe get put in prison...)

*Phil Coke entered the game in the 7th and promptly made three defensive errors in a row to give up a 3-1 lead. Swish got us close with a no-nonsense jack in the bottom of the inning, and things stayed the same until the 9th, when a familiar face entered the game...


Now a KC Royal, ole Farnsy drew a unique reaction from the crowd: everyone laughed. Apparently Soria, KC's usual closer, needed a break. All the sudden, we all felt pretty good about our chances.

Pete Abraham, a blogger for LoHud Journal News, summed up the general feeling with this live update, which I found later:

UPDATE, 10:11 p.m.: Farnsworth in to pitch. Krazy Kyle for my last game. How appropriate. Back in a bit with reaction from the 4-3 victory.

My cousin, and presumably thousands of others, used to call him 'Farnsworthless.' He's known for throwing a 98mph fastball that has absolutely no movement. He was a recurrent disappointment to Yankee fans, to the point that I always felt really bad for him. When the entire stadium laughed at him, this feeling returned. It would be a little bit tragic, I understood, if he came back and repeated his mistakes in front of a hostile crowd. But, like the rest of Yankee Stadium, I smelled blood.

Farnsy got the first out, but then Cervelli reached on an infield single, and Hinske found a hole on the right side. First and third, one out. And then, like something out of a dream, ROBBIE FUCKING CANO came to the plate. Obviously terrified, Farnsy threw him three straight balls. Sweet Robbie curled back in his stance, and Krazy Kyle, thinking he'd be taking all the way, grooved the 3-0 right down the middle.

And Robbie uncorked. The ball went sailing to the deepest part of the ballpark, looking for all the world like a game-ending home run. The center fielder managed to track it down, though, corralling the ball at the warning track. Cervelli tagged and scored, and the game was tied.

*The rest of the inning is somewhat of a blur until the very end. Hinske stole second, which seems impossible but actually happened, and then took third when the throw went into center field. Damon was intentionally walked, bringing young Miranda to the plate.

And I swear, my exact thought at that time was this: 'the best and worst and most horrible way for this game to end would be if Miranda hit Farnsworth with the ball, and reached on a single.'

That is not a lie. I wish I'd verbalized it to Emily beforehand, but alas, the thought stayed in my head. And then Miranda lined a shot that struck Farnsy somewhere on the leg, the ball shot out toward the first base line, Miranda gleefully ran past, and Hinske crossed the plate.


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