Saturday, October 16, 2004

A Decade of Magic

An off-day followed by a rainout? How does one kill 48 hours of no baseball in October? Well, one could spend the off-day thinking about one's favorite Yankee playoff moments of the past 10 seasons. One could then spend the rainout sweating out the over in the TCU-UAB game (it was 61, and TCU got a touchdown and two-point conversion with less than two minutes to play to lose, 41-25) while ranking those favorite Yankee playoff moments of the past 10 seasons.

The list:

10) Game 1, 1998 World Series, Part I: Tony Gwynn crushed a home run in the fifth inning off David Wells. Granted, Gwynn was a Padre at the time, but he was always one of my favorite baseball players, so I was happy to experience the moment.

9) Game 1, 1998 World Series, Part II:Tino Martinez used his keen sense of the strike zone to hold off on a 2-and-2 pitch from Mark Langston that was low, and by low, I mean it was right at the knee and should have been strike three. Martinez hit a grand slam on the next pitch. I almost jumped through the roof in excitement. However, hours earlier, I nearly choked to death on a piece of chicken. If not for Canadian chiropractor friend Zamboni, I would not be blogging this lovely late Friday night/early Saturday morning.

8) Game 2, 1997 ALDS:: I sat four rows from the field, and two boxes to Rudy Giuliani's left. Ushers served us food and drink. The tickets were free. Oh yeah, Raines, Jeter and O'Neill hit back-to-back-to-back home runs to beat the Indians, 8-6.

7) Game 4, 1996 ALCS: Darryl Strawberry hit a pair of home runs to help beat the Orioles. I was blessed, thanks to Prince fan friend Scurvy, with the chance to watch the sweetest home run swing of my generation in person at Camden Yards. Prior to Straw's second home run, an inebriated Marylander screamed, "Damn coke head. He doesn't deserve to be in the game." Insulted as I was about this person's closed-mindedness and inability to give people a second chance on life, I stood up in my Yankee road jersey, Yankee hat and Yankee turtleneck, and yelled into a crowd of crazy inebriated Marylanders, "I hope he's coked up now, you dumb redneck hick!" as Strawberry rounded the bases. I was a proud New Yorker. Dumb, but proud. A step closer to an early death, but proud.

6) Game 5, 2000 World Series: Lawyer friend Steve came through with tickets to the game. Sure, I had to go to Flushing Toilet Stadium to watch the Yankees play, but a chance to see Mets fans wallow in misery is always worth a ride on the LIRR. There's a buzz in the air outside The Dump (er, Shea) as the Yankees lead the series, 3-1. Jimmy Kimmel walked by me before the game. At the time, his career was all about upset specials on Fox Sunday. I yelled out, "Hey, look, it's Jimmy Kimmel. Jimmy, who's gonna win the Raiders game this weekend?" No response. Always a shame when B-level stars think they're one notch higher and refuse to embrace their B-level celebrity. Jeter homered in the first. Mets fans began to cry. I began perpetuate the stereotype that Yankees fans generally are obnoxious. Piazza flew out to Bernie Williams and the Mets lost the World Series. On the train ride home, I listened to sober Mets fan talk about how they will sign A-Rod in the offseason. I smiled for 37 hours straight, based solely on that conversation.

5) Game 5, 2001 ALDS: Watching the Oakland A's collapse is as time-honored an October tradition as watching the Yankees win. Two games after Jeter's famous flip play, and a few hours after his dive into the stands, I partied in the upper deck with Restaurant friend Rob and Consultant friend Jason as the Yankees capped a tremendous three-game rally over the Oakland A-minuses. Sinatra played seven times over before I could even think about leaving the Stadium.

5a) Game 5, 1997 ALDS:I know the Yankees lost this game and the series, but the sight of Paul O'Neill clinging to second base after he legged out a double in the ninth inning of a one-run game should be a defining moment in any Yankee fan's life. It teaches us one important lesson: Never give up, no matter who follows you in the order. Too bad Bernie Williams didn't learn that lesson earlier. Maybe then he wouldn't have swung at the first pitch and popped it up.

4) Game 2, 1995 ALDS: Jimmy Leyritz's first taste of playoff heroism. I was DJing that night in Dino's, a high-fallutant watering hole in Collegetown at Cornell in the upstate mecca that is Ithaca, N.Y. I was a 20-year-old junior, so I could only drink soda and virgin daquiris that night. As if my body could really process alchohol that night. I couldn't even mix and scratch the records that night. My hands were twitching like Pookie in those first few nights of rehab in "New Jack City." Confession time: In the 10th inning, I put on a mix-tape that I had made a few weeks earlier and then faked the mixes during the game. For those who were in that bar that night, I'd apologize but I doubt you noticed.

3) Game 5, 1996 World Series: Paul O'Neill, who would later become my favorite Yankee after the one-year moratorium upon Don Mattingly's sabbatical/retirement, used his one good leg to flag down Luis Polonia's shot to right-centerfield in Atlanta. Still the greatest playoff catch I've seen by a guy not named Jeter.

2) Game 7, 2003 ALCS:Lawyer friend Steve was also Lynbrook housemate Steve during this game. I sat dejected on his shady lime-green couch as the Red Sox mounted what appeared to be an insurmountable lead. Jorge Posada doubled in the eighth and everything changed. By the 11th inning, I was jumping into walls, waking our downstairs neighbor, punching Steve in excitement and calling Boston friend Andy and screaming "Nomaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!" and assorted other curse words into his voicemail. Come to think of it, he never did return that phone call. Uh oh, I wonder if he still has the same phone number . . . .

1) Game No. 162, 1995 regular season: OK, so this technically isn't a playoff game, but the sight of Bernie Williams catching the fly ball in centerfield that sent Donnie Baseball to the playoffs for the first time in his amazing career. (Note: I know he'll never make the Hall, but the guy was my hero so I don't mind my bias in calling his career "amazing.") The camera then cut to Donnie, who fell to one knee and put his left fist to the turf at Toronto's SkyDome. I cried. I stood up and clapped for about 15 minutes like a proud parent at his kid's third-grade spring recital and good hygiene. My girlfriend at the time thought I was being stupid. She was right. Stupid was not walking out right there, never to return, which is precisely what I did not do. Damn, I was stupid.

Others receiving votes:
1) Game 5, 1996 ALCS: Andy Pettitte field sacrifice bunt and gets force out at third base.
2) Game 1, 1999 ALCS: Artist-in-Italy friend Jenny, who was then Artist-in-Syracuse friend Jenny, temporarily tattooing herself with a Yankee logo to help ward off evil Red Sockian spirits.
3) Game 5, 1995 ALDS: Set in motion the last nine years of playoff excitement.
4) Game 6, 1996 World Series: Poor little Mark Lemke.
5) Game 5, 2001 World Series: A second straight night of game-winning home runs off Byung-Hyun Kim.

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