The first time I went to work at Yankee Stadium, not the first time I went to Yankee Stadium, but the first time I went to work there, with a pen and a pad and a press pass, was Opening Day 2003. It was cold, and had snowed the day before, and so there were men, late that morning, a few hours before the first midday pitch, melting snow in the dugout with hot water from hoses. Steam slinked from the dugout and into the tunnel and down toward the concrete corridor outside the Yankees’ clubhouse. It hovered there like a thick white cloud. I walked out of the press room, down just a bit from the clubhouse, and saw this, and stopped, and half-expected the ghost of Babe Ruth to emerge from the fog.
The structure itself was not so special. But the place was.
THINGS had happened there.
PEOPLE had been there.
Somehow that was tangible.
And when it was full, 55,000 full, it became a living thing.
Tonight that ends. Reading Tyler Kepner’s piece in this morning’s NYT made me nostalgic in a way I wasn’t expecting. It reminded me that the last World Series game ever played at the Stadium was on Oct. 25, 2003, and that I was there. I like that.
In retrospect, though, the Stadium’s real goodbye began not quite a year later, on the night the Red Sox beat the Yankees in Game 7 of that ’04 ALCS to finish their unprecedented comeback from 3-0 down.
Allow me this indulgence.
October 21, 2004
By Michael Kruse
New York — The Yankees, the winningest franchise in the history of professional sports, lost last night in a way no baseball team had ever lost before.
They lost to the Red Sox, lost to their rivals for a fourth straight night, lost the right to go back to the World Series.
Kevin Brown made what has to be considered one of the worst starts in the history of any pressure-packed postseason situation, Javier Vazquez might’ve been even worse in relief and the Yankee hitters flailed for six innings at Sox starter Derek Lowe.
And Joe Torre’s $194 million team — up three games to none, three outs away from sweeping this series on Sunday, with Mariano Rivera on the mound — fell last night 10-3 in a Game 7 dud of historic, potentially cosmic proportions.
This had never happened.
No team in this sport had won the first three games of a best-of-seven series — then lost four straight to lose the series.
“We had four games to win one,” Yanks captain Derek Jeter said back in the clubhouse. “We didn’t do it.”
What this means this morning is this:
The Red Sox are going to the World Series, and the Yankees are not — and for the fourth straight year will not win the only trophy that matters to this title-fat franchise.
Read. Repeat. Understand. The Red Sox — the Red Sox! — are going to the World Series, and they’re going at the expense of their eons-old, Babe-buoyed bully in the Bronx.
More long-term postmortem?
With George Steinbrenner around?
Heads will without question roll.
The less tangible, much, much more far-reaching ramifications of this result could be a seismic shift in the tenor, the very nature of what for the last 86 years — ever since the Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yanks in 1920 — has been a woefully one-sided rivalry.
These 2004 Red Sox beat the Yankees head-to-head in the regular-season series. They beat the Yankees last night — the last four nights — and finally, for the very first time in their little-but-tortured history, they beat the Yankees when it really, truly, totally mattered.
David Ortiz homered off Brown in the first, a vicious, line-drive shot over the blue wall in right from the guy, of course, who whacked back-to-back, walk-off winners in Games 4 and 5 up at Fenway.
In the second, then, on Vazquez’s very first pitch, Johnny Damon, the Boston leadoff hitter who’s had almost no success even getting on base this series, lofted a grand slam into the first row in right.
Suddenly it was 6-zip.
Suddenly this ultra-important game had become the worst-case Yankee scenario.
Maybe worse than that.
But Damon wasn’t done. The bearded, long-haired center fielder homered again in the third, again to right, this time to the upper deck, and now the Sox had eight runs to the Yankees’ one.
In the big, grand stadium here in the Bronx, the 56,129 folks who came here to see the inevitable sat, silent, open-mouthed, forced to stare at the inconceivable, the incredible, the unbelievable.
The Yanks, though, did it to themselves.
Especially on this night.
Brown, whose last two starts against the Sox — one in September, the other earlier in this series — were short, ugly disasters, this time around was awful like this: 1 1/3 innings, four hits, five runs, all earned.
“I wasn’t able to do well enough to give my team a chance,” Brown said.
Neither did Vazquez.
The prized off-season pickup — the Yanks’ supposed ace of the future — came in from the bullpen, threw a pitch to Damon, one pitch, and the home team, the team with 26 world championships since 1918 was down six to the team with zero in that time.
He lasted only two innings, Vazquez, giving up three runs on two hits — the first Damon homer, the second Damon homer — while walking five.
Miguel Cairo made an error at second in the fourth. Third Yanks pitcher Esteban Loaiza made a throwing error in the fifth. Neither one of them led to runs, but they left the fans here shaking their heads, wondering what happened.
And what DID happen?
HOW did this happen?
They weren’t just up 3-0 in games. They’d won Game 3 19-8. Then there were the two extra-inning games, the Game 6 loss, then … THIS.
Last night wasn’t even close.
“Being up 3-0 and not being able to close the doors?” Alex Rodriguez said.
“Frustrating as hell.”
The Yanks scored two runs in the seventh — off Pedro Martinez, no less, who came in for an inning of Boston’s cobbled-together, post-Lowe relief — but the Sox scored two more, too, off beleaguered reliever Tom Gordon, two big “insurance” runs, no doubt, for a franchise with a proven penchant for catastrophic collapse.
Including in this spot: Game 7. Right here. Last year.
Just before the bottom of the ninth, then, on the scoreboard out in deep center here at the Stadium, Aaron Boone’s 11th-ining homer from 2003 played to a smattering of cheers from the few fans who had stayed to watch the winningest franchise in the history of professional sports lose in a way no baseball had ever lost before.