Our next Pinch Hitter is familiar to the series. Jesse Rosenthal grew up as a Yankees fan living in Massachusetts. “Since I needed something to keep me busy in the off-season,” he wrote. “I started following football and became a Patriots fan. People just don’t get that, but what can I do?” Jesse has lived in several countries, and currently calls Hong Kong home. He’s looking forward to celebrating his 30th birthday in April watching the Yankees and Red Sox.
For now, Jesse is looking back. For his post, Jesse took a look at last season’s unique finale: The last day of the regular season that seemed to decide everything.
Despite being engaged in every minor detail throughout the season, when it’s all said and done, my brain is only large enough to retain a few key events. Maybe it’s a milestone, a breakout season, or even a world championship. Most of the memories fade quickly and with little fanfare, but a small number remain. And these firmly entrenched memories – for better or worse – tend to define a season for me many years later.
The ’96 season conjures memories of Jeffrey Maier’s catch and Jim Leyritz’s homerun. When I think of the ‘04 season, as painful as it is, I can’t help but remember that one fateful stolen base by Dave Roberts. The ‘09 season reminds me of Andy Pettitte’s three series-clinching wins in the postseason, culminating in a World Series championship.
Now that we are removed from the 2011 season, there are two events in particular that I believe will define the season for me years from now. The first is pretty obvious – Jeter’s five-hit game in which he also clubbed his 3,000th hit. This is one of those stories that will be passed down from generation to generation, when parents attempt to describe the greatness of Derek Jeter. The other event didn’t really impact the Yankees’ season, but to me it is as unforgettable as it was improbable: the Red Sox collapse, and in particular, the last day of the regular season.
A week before the end of the regular season, I was in Boston (my hometown) for a friend’s wedding. Fans spoke with confidence about how the Sox would “at least win the wild card.”
As the final week progressed, the Yankees locked up their playoff spot with a division title. The Sox, on the other hand, seemed overmatched almost every night, as if they knew something bad would happen when the stepped on the field. And yet on that final day, it was still an improbability that the Sox would not win the wild card. Only with a Sox loss and a Yankees loss would the Rays slip in for the wild card.
To me the final Red Sox game was, in many ways, a microcosm of their entire 2011 season: High hopes at the starts, bumpy points along the way, seemingly very strong mid-way through, and utter collapse at the end. Late in their 162nd game, there was no semblance of team unity. High-prized free agents were stumbling in their attempt to win over frustrated fans, and veterans who had succeeded in similar situations in the past simply looked dumbfounded.
I’m a firm believer that as fans, we should have some understanding of history, but what matters most is what we experience firsthand. As a Yankees fan growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, I never harbored the same hatred for the Red Sox that Sox fans had for the Yankees. Sure, I always rooted against the Sox, just as I rooted against the Blue Jays and Orioles. But seriously, what had they done to deserve my hatred, besides being in the same division? In my lifetime, they had never won the World Series. I was too young in ’86 for that season to leave a mark on me.
And then 2004 happened, and my world was turned upside down. Finally, Yankee fans of my generation had a valid reason to hate the Sox.
In that vein, it was with much satisfaction that I sat back on September 28th and watched the Yankees — many of whom were September call-ups — blow a seven-run lead. You can disagree all you want, but I actually cheered as Dan Johnson (of all people) connected off Scott Proctor on a line drive that barely cleared the right field wall with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
Yes, the Yankees lost the 2011 ALDS in a series that they should have won. And yes, that stung a bit. But years from now, when I think back on the 2011 season, I’ll see Jeter reaching down for a David Price curveball, Carl Crawford diving awkwardly and failing to make a critical catch, and Evan Longoria rounding the bases and charging towards home. It is moments like these that make baseball so compelling.
We have no way of knowing what 2012 will provide for our memory banks, but one thing I’m sure of is that I’ll be watching all 162 games.
Associated Press photo