Sunday, October 08, 2006

Game 4: They Did It

I don’t know what to say about the game last night, and really the last two games. Going into Saturday’s game, as we looked around the park and talked about how nice the seats were, and what grand slams we had seen live, etc., I debated internally on whether I’d rather see something like the previous night’s game or something more like a classic. I decided I didn’t really care as long as the Tigers won, and let me tell you, I have no complaints about the way things went down.

It was unbelievable the way the weekend games went, and Saturday the surprises started before the teams even took the field. They showed the Yankee lineup and A-Rod was batting eighth and Giambi wasn’t batting at all. I haven’t read the stories to find out if he was injured or not, but he definitely wasn’t in there. Instead, Matsui filled the DH spot, Melky Cabrera played left and Sheffield resumed his duties at first. I was pretty surprised, just because in the beginning of the series Leyland was quoted as saying they would have to do some unconventional things to win. Now here was Torre sitting one of his best hitters – a lefty when the starter was right-handed - and sliding one of the most talented players ever down to the eighth slot in the lineup. I’m not saying these were bad decisions; they were just surprising, and a good indicator of how things had changed since Tuesday.

When the game started, I couldn’t tell if I was going to have to run off to the bathroom or if I was just this excited. It was the same feeling I had before my high school pitching debut and my high school varsity pitching debut. Bonderman retired the first three batters before I could even decide. Damon flied out on an 0-1 pitch. Jeter grounded out to short on the first pitch he saw and Abreu flied out to Granderson. After only seven pitches, the Tigers were coming to bat. Clearly, we didn’t know what we were in for, but it felt like a small victory that the Yankees didn’t bat around and score five runs after being shut down the night before. The Tigers didn’t fare much better in their half of the inning, as they were only able to work Jaret Wright for nine pitches before going to 1-2-3 as well.

The surprises kept coming when Bonderman repeated his first inning effort. He mowed the four through six spots down in eight pitches and that was after a three pitch strikeout of Gary Sheffield. Was it possible that he would be able to improve on Rogers’ start from the night before? We just laughed at the idea of Bonderman getting six outs on fifteen pitches, and had barely settled in our seats when Maggs took a 1-0 pitch and absolutely crushed it into centerfield. God, he smoked that ball, but was it high enough to clear the wall? It was definitely going to be extra bases because Damon was just putting his head down and running, but to go out, it would have to do it in the ballpark’s deepest dimensions. It seemed to take forever, but it finally landed on the side of the fence that let Ordonez slow to a trot, nearly hitting the flagpole (that used to be in play) when it did. The stadium erupted with an orange flash of Tiger Towels and cheers. I realized my celebration perhaps went a little overboard when I was still shouting “Yes!” and high-fiving everyone around me and the guy behind me was sitting down and looking at me with one eyebrow raised. But, dude, these are the Yankees, and these are our Tigers!

After Guillen had a good at bat, Pudge came up and quickly found himself down 0-2. He worked the count back to full – yes, Pudge worked the count. My wife told me Pudge didn’t have to do anything but get a walk so that Craig could hit a two run home run. The next pitch was in the dirt, and a few pitches later, her request was answered when Monroe hit a fly ball where the only question from where we sat was which side of the foul pole it would land on. This is how things went all day. The 3-0 lead convinced that a complete undressing of the Yankees would be okay by me, and the classic could wait until a later round.

In the third inning, Bonderman put them down in order again, and again it was with only eight pitches. This inning was a little different because Craig Monroe made a very nice catch to get the first out. To that point, everything had been pretty routine if I remember correctly. The fifth and sixth members of our party showed up after Monroe’s catch, so we celebrated all that had already happened again and said, “Can you believe this! Oh my God!” for at least the tenth time already. In the bottom of the inning, the first two Tiger batters were retired uneventfully, but then Maggs came up and hit what seemed like a sharp grounder to A-Rod. He booted it, but still had time to make the play. However, hurrying to get the out, he made a bad throw that got past Sheffield and Maggs was safe at first. Since these were the playoffs and it was A-Rod, you couldn’t help but wonder how bad the Tigers could make it hurt. Guillen and Pudge singled to make it hurt for one run, and we all laughed at the idea that A-Rod could not make himself hated more if he scripted it. Maybe in his next at bat he would strike out, but not before he hit a foul ball that hit Jeter in the face.

From there, the Tigers just kept on pouring it on and it seemed like the biggest thing left to cheer for was the “special” night Bonderman was having. After he sent them down in order in the fourth, I leaned over to my wife and told her that if she noticed anything particularly special about what Jeremy was doing, don’t say anything. After the fifth inning, when the Yankees went down in order yet again - this time with two strikeouts in the mix - she had an exchange with my cousin I couldn’t hear and excitedly told me that Bonderman was throwing a perfect game. I winced. “I told you not to say anything!” I said while laughing. The people in front of us heard us and jokingly feigned disgust when asking if she said what he was doing out loud. “No, no, she didn’t say anything” I told them. My wife grimaced when Cano led off the sixth with a single up the middle, and the crowd cheered Bonderman for lasting that long before giving up a baserunner. My wife was quick to point out that my cousin mentioned it and he was the one who should know better. Besides, it was 7-0 at this point, and it wasn’t going to take a perfect game to win this one. The Tigers added their final run in the bottom of the inning on a Casey double, and with the lead at two grand slams, I felt free to stop worrying about a comeback. I say that, but when the Yankees scored in the seventh and had runners on first and second, you could feel a release of tension when Cano flied out to end the inning.

All that was left was to count down the outs, and wonder when and if they were going to take out Bonderman. I guessed aloud that Leyland would leave him in after the eighth so he could get the same ovation Rogers had the night before and as his pitch count neared 100, it was just a matter of which batter would be his last. Abreu led off the inning with a single and then Sheffield, who had pulled balls violently foul the whole game, smoked one to left field that went just foul and instead of being a two-run home run, it was a long second strike. He followed that up with another hard hit to left that looked like it would be trouble. Monroe came in on it and I cringed when he dove because there was a lot of space behind him if he missed. But he hit the ground, the ball hit his glove, the ump went up with the hand, and the place went nuts for the several hundredth time. Leyland must have figured that was as good a time as any to pull Bonderman, and when he started walking off the field I think it was the loudest the stadium was all day. It was like every fan in the park had been told they had won a million dollars. We fell all over ourselves trying to let Bonderman know how much we appreciated this fantastic and unexpected effort. With Bonderman out, counting down the outs was really all there was left to cheer for. Walker came in to get Matsui, reminded us why he probably shouldn’t ever be left in against righties when Posada pounded a two run homer, and then induced a grounder to Polanco that was clearly going to be the final out. My voice hasn’t fully recovered from the celebration.

Watching the Tigers celebrate, we all had to wonder what they were going to do should they actually win the World Series at home, and we were left to worry that they were satisfied with what they’d already accomplished. After all, the Twins were quite a formidable opponent and we don’t want to fall victim to the same fate they and the Yankees just did. But as these kind of thoughts went through my head even as I danced and cheered and looked around at what Comerica looked like when things went nuts, Leyland did an interview that eased my fears. He said that this was so special because the Tigers knew they had broken the fans’ hearts the week before and they were just so glad to be able to do this for the fans. They knew they had work to do; they were just glad to redeem themselves. So this afternoon – or maybe this evening, judging by the hazy eyes of the countless strangers we exchanged hugs, cheers and high-five with - we can start worrying about Zito and Haren and Harden and Big Hurt. Right now, I’m just happy to say the next game is Tuesday night.

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