Saturday, July 17, 2010

Swisher Caps the Boss' Night

It was set up so perfectly. The tributes before the game to George Steinbrenner and Bob Sheppard. Mariano Rivera laying two roses at home plate. Derek Jeter giving a short tribute speech. The military honors.

And then, the game. The opponent just had to be one of George's home towns, either Cleveland or Tampa. It was Tampa Bay, and the Rays led 3-1 and 4-3, but back-to-back homers by Robinson Cano and Jorge Posada forged one tie, then another was produced by a Nick Swisher blast.

George, an Ohio native, who married Joan Zieg, an Ohio State University graduate (the couple donated so much money to the school over the years that the facility for the great Ohio State band is named for them), would have loved to see Swisher hit that homer, which bailed out CC Sabathia, who pitched fairly well again, having won his last 8 starts and avoided the loss this time.

Then Mariano pitched the 9th -- I can't imagine that George, whose taste ran more toward classical and marches, liked "Enter Sandman" by Metallica or any other metal song -- and the Yankees got men on 1st and 2nd with one out. And who's up? The Captain. Derek Jeter. Of course. He was going to get the winning hit.

He was not, however, introduced by the recording of Sheppard, as he requested to always be done. On this night, the Yankees went without PA announcements during the game. So there was no chance for the audience to get chills by hearing Sheppard's voice announcing Jeter in this clutch situation. And it was really hot and humid, so they could have used a chill or two.

It was so perfect. All Jeter needed to do was get a hit. True, all 3 Tampa Bay starting outfielders have good arms, but the runner on 2nd was Curtis Granderson, who has good speed. All Jeter needed was a hit. It would have been perfect. Except for the weather, of course.

And Jeter... struck out. Struck out in a clutch situation? Who does he think he is, A-Rod? The A-Rod of 2004 to '08, anyway?

So that brought Swisher back up. It also brought up a flashback.

August 6, 1979. The Yankees have just come back from Thurman Munson's funeral in Canton, Ohio. And, unlike most other Yankee-legend deaths, this one was completely unexpected, and a terrible shock. Bobby Murcer had been Thurman's best friend on the team, and along with Lou Piniella gave one of the eulogies.

Then, in the nationally-televised game that night, the Yanks trailed the Baltimore Orioles 4-0 in the 7th, when Murcer hit a 3-run homer, and then won it in the bottom of the 9th with a shot down the left-field line that scored Bucky Dent with the tying run and Willie Randolph with the winning run.

Maybe Swisher wasn't the most appropriate guy to do it -- Jeter would have been -- but he was an Ohio guy, like Steinbrenner, and like Munson. Maybe he didn't get here soon enough to really get to know George, but he sure did something George would have loved. Like Murcer, he hit a big home run, and now, with the game on the line in the bottom of the 9th, he slashed one down the line (right field, in this case), and here came the winning run. Unlike the Munson/Murcer game, the play at the plate was close, but Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach (a former Yankee prospect) couldn't hang onto the ball, and Granderson scored.

The Stadium erupted. Swisher was immediately interviewed by Duke Castiglione for WWOR-Channel 9, which was broadcasting the game, and, since it was a walkoff hit, got a pie in the face from A.J. Burnett. Then he turned to the fans and posed. What a ham, but he earned it.

Steinbrenner was a big fan of General George S. Patton. Well, as both Georges might have said on this night, "Swisher, you magnificent bastard!"

I wonder if Ohio State man Swisher pointed out -- good-naturedly, I would hope -- to University of Michigan man Jeter that the Buckeye got it done after the Wolverine failed to do so.

It is a bad thing, though, that no Yankees went to Sheppard's funeral on Long Island. Brian Cashman went to represent the Yankee organization. And it's understandable that, with their own loss to deal with, no member of the Steinbrenner family went. But the players -- especially Jeter, who seemed to have revered Sheppard -- should have gone.

I'm glad I saw that game on TV, instead of actually going. The weather was awful (you could see players sweating right through their caps), the mood was somber (at least at first), and the game was tight. Not my kind of experience. Besides, at home, the food was already paid for.

Today is Old-Timers' Day, the holiest day on the Yankee calendar. It should be another highly emotional one. We never know until they're introduced which ones will show up. Hopefully, all the biggies will be there: Yogi, Whitey, Reggie, Gator, Goose, Bernie, Paulie, Tino, Coney.


Days until the New York Football Challenge at Red Bull Arena: 5. Next Thursday night, the Red Bulls play Tottenham... and Thierry Henry debuts against his former arch-rivals. What does he think of Tottenham? "Shit!" What does he think of shit? "Tottenham!" Thank you!

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 600th career home run: 6 (an estimate I've moved back up).

Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series: 20, starting Friday night, August 6, at Yankee Stadium II. 3 weeks.

Days until the new English Premier League season starts: 28. 4 weeks.

Days until the first football game at the new Meadowlands Stadium (still unnamed): 32.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 49. 7 weeks.

Days until the first regular-season Giants game at the new Meadowlands Stadium: 57. 8 weeks.

Days until the first regular-season Jets game at the new Meadowlands Stadium: 58.

Days until East Brunswick High School plays football again: 68. Under 10 weeks.

Days until the Devils play hockey again: 84, on Friday, October 8, at home at the Prudential Center in Newark, against the Dallas Stars. 12 weeks.

Days until Rutgers and Army play the first college football game at the new Meadowlands Stadium: 91. 3 months.

Days until the Devils play another local rival: 100, on Sunday, October 24, at Madison Square Garden against The Scum. Then the Rags come to the Prudential on Friday, November 5. The first game of the season against the Islanders is on Friday, November 26, the day after Thanksgiving, at the Nassau Coliseum, followed the next day by the first game of the season against the defending Eastern Conference Champion Philadelphia Flyers, at The Rock.

Days until the next North London Derby: 127, on Saturday, November 20, at New Highbury. A little over 4 months.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 132. 19 weeks.

Days until Derek Jeter collects his 3,000th career hit: 307 (estimated).

Days until the Rutgers-Army football game at Yankee Stadium: 483.

Days until the last Nets game in New Jersey: 638 (estimated).

Days until the 2012 Olympics begin in London: 726.

Days until Alex Rodriguez collects his 3,000th career hit: 824 (estimated).

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 700th career home run: 1,087 (estimated).

Days until Super Bowl XLVIII at the Meadowlands: 1,295.

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 756th career home run to surpass all-time leader Hank Aaron: 1,750 (estimated).

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 763rd career home run to become as close to a "real" all-time leader as we are likely to have: 1,774 (estimated).

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