“Look, I think it’s Jorge!” My buddy Alex realized it at exactly the same time the rest of the crowd did, and Yankee Stadium promptly went nuts. “Let’s, Go, Yaaankees!” fought with “Hip, Hip, JorGEEE!” as Jorge Posada came up to bat.
The score was tied, 2-2. It was the bottom of the eighth inning, with two outs and the bases loaded. Not five minutes earlier, on the big scoreboard next to the Jumbotron, the T9 next to the Orioles-Red Sox game switched to an F (an hour-long rain delay to start our game meant the Sox game ended first). The Orioles won, 6-4, which meant that a victory here meant a division title for the Yankees. That little blip on the scoreboard got the biggest cheer of the night so far.
Of course, the Yankees were already heading to the playoffs; they’d ensured that with a 4-2 victory in the first leg of the doubleheader, earlier in the day. But as Derek Jeter said right after that game, “I mean, we’re happy to be in the playoffs, but people aren’t running around here jumping up and down because we clinched a postseason berth. Our goal is to win the division.” This game was what mattered.
As fans screamed themselves silly, Posada got ready for his at-bat. Posada, the 40-year-old who hit so poorly for much of the season that he was bumped down the batting order and subsequently asked to be removed from the lineup rather than hit from the bottom of the order. The guy who was told before this season that he wasn’t a good enough catcher to play the field anymore, ceding his position to Russell Martin. The guy who watched longtime teammates achieve Hall-of-Fame milestones (3,000 hits for Derek Jeter, 602 saves for Mariano Rivera) while he sat on the bench holding onto a barely-.200 batting average. The guy whose presumed replacement, Jesus Montero, was the starter he was pinch-hitting for.
This hasn’t been Posada’s year, to be sure. But this moment was different, and everyone at Yankee Stadium knew it. Even the announcers knew it, saying as he stood up, “Jorge Posada has been discarded, forgotten. This is his moment.”
It was. Posada stepped to the plate, took his practice swings, and waited. He took a pitch, a strike from pitcher Brandon Gomes. Between pitches, he stared at Gomes with eyes and mouth open, as if he knew what was next. Gomes dug in and threw, and Posada, with a long swing from the left side of the plate, rapped a liner into right field. Greg Golson scored easily from third, and Mark Teixeira from second.
At that point, every single person in the stands was on their feet, clapping and cheering. Of course, they’d been standing and yelling the whole at bat. Because the Yankees had a chance to win, but mostly because Jorge Posada was the one with the chance. It’s not 602 saves or 3,000 hits, but it’s enough to erase some of what we’ve lost from Posada, and to remember what we’ve had for so long.
It was still only the eighth inning, but no one told Posada. After the game, he admitted that “I thought it was the ninth. I thought the game was over. And when I saw Tex scoring the second run of the inning and nobody was moving, it was kind of surreal.”
No one told the fans, either. Though there were three more outs to be gotten, by Rafael Soriano, the game was over. The Rays were deflated, the Yankees on such a high that no one had a chance. Everyone in the building knew it, too, and fans started to file out before the 9th inning even started. We were high-fiving in the stands, jumping around screaming for joy long before the game actually ended.
The Yankees are a team that expects to win, and usually does. But this game, this season, has been different; for the not-long-for-this-league core of Jeter, Rivera, and Posada, it’s been a chance to do it more one, to cement their legacies, to leave one more mark as Yankees. Posada took a while to get his, and it didn’t look like it would ever happen, but he finally got his moment.
Now all I have to do is get my voice back before the playoffs start, so I can lose it again.
(Photo via Keith Allison/Flickr)