ALCS Game 1 Thoughts: The Emotional Swings of the Postseason

“There’s no other game in which fortunes can change so much from hand to hand. A brilliant player can get a strong hand cracked, go on tilt and lose his mind with every single chip in front of him. This is why the World Series of Poker is decided over a No-Limit Hold ‘Em table. Some people, pros even, won’t play No-Limit. They can’t handle the swings.” – Mike McDermott, Rounders

Welcome to Game 1 of the 2012 ALCS.

Sometimes the highs and lows of a postseason game are too much to handle. Every Yankees baserunner feels like an accomplishment and every opposing baserunner feels like an inevitable pitch. When you factor in the Yankees’ offensive struggles, these two feelings are taken to another level.

I sat in the right field bleachers with Keefe To The City contributor Dave Heck and watched the Yankees load the bases and fail to score. Then load the bases again and fail to score again. And then fail to score again and again and again. For eight innings the Yankees couldn’t score against Doug Fister or Phil Coke or Joaquin Benoit. I’m not sure they would have been able to score against Daisuke Matsuzaka or the former Zales Fan Marquee guy.

In the ninth inning I was wishing I spent my Saturday night going out in the city and getting drunk at a bar and ordering Domino’s at 3:15 a.m. I would have even settled for wasting a Saturday night and just being in my bed sleeping. I had been at the Stadium for three hours and 31 minutes and 12 innings on Wednesday and four hours and 31 minutes and 13 innings on Thursday night. I was exhausted and went to Game 1 with a sleep-deprived, alcohol-driven headache hoping that the Yankees would take a 1-0 series lead and instead I had watched them endure another offensive postseason slump.

Russell Martin singled to center to lead off the ninth off Jose Valverde and moved to second on defensive indifference. Derek Jeter struck out for the first out and then Ichiro hit his first career postseason home run an 0-1 count to make it 4-2.

“Get it to Ibanez,” I told Dave.

Robinson Cano continued his hot October by striking out for the second out on seven pitches. Mark Teixeira fought for seven pitches, bringing the count full and before the eighth pitch of the at-bat, I turned to Dave again.

“A walk and then Ibanez,” I said.

“He can’t do it again,” Dave replied.

The eighth pitch was ball four and I did the Derek Jeter fist pump mixed with a little Joba Chamberlain 360-fist pump for good measure as Raul Ibanez walked to the plate.

With an 0-1 count, Jose Valverde threw his 28th pitch of the inning to Ibanez and he rocked it. Everyone in Section 203 was already standing, but now people were jockeying for position by standing on the actual bleachers to watch it arrive. Everyone in the Stadium knew by the swing and the sound of the bat that the ball was headed for the seats, but those in right field knew because when you’re in the path of a home run, the ball just gets bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger like you’re waiting for the ball to drop on New Year’s before the mayhem ensues.

For the third time following a Raul Ibanez at-bat in four nights I looked like Theo Fleury following his goal againt the Oilers in the 1990-91 playoffs. I was yelling and screaming in a shower of beer and high-fiving and hugging strangers. The Yankees had a postseason hero for the first time since A-Rod in 2009 and it was the unlikely source of the 40-year-old Ibanez on a one-year, $1.1 million deal making less than Boone Logan, Andruw Jones, Freddy Garcia and Pedro Feliciano. And for the second time in four nights, Raul Ibanez had kept the Yankees alive with a ninth-inning home run turning to depression into jubilation.

Up until that 0-1 pitch, the Stadium was quiet (though it would get a lot quieter). The moat seats were empty and the upper deck looked like a scene from the Stadium in the 80s. The Bronx reeked of devastation, but in one swing the ultimate high replaced the ultimate low. But then Derek Jeter broke his ankle and the ultimate low found a new low.

I have never heard Yankee Stadium that quiet. I have never heard any stadium or arena that quiet. I have never heard a library that quiet. When Jeter was carried off the field I quickly entered Phase 1 of the Yankees elimination process that I endure any October that doesn’t end with them winning their last game. The Tigers took a two-run lead and didn’t give it back. Another four hours and 54 minutes at the Stadium.

This train carries Hiroki Kuroda in Game 2.