Sunday, September 14, 2014

O, Say, the Yankees Do Yet Wave

After dropping both halves of a rain-forced doubleheader to the Baltimore Orioles on Friday -- a shocking extra-inning collapse in the opener, and then a miserable, feeble-hitting nightcap -- they Yankees needed a win yesterday afternoon. Not just to keep alive their hopes for the Playoffs, as thin as those were, but just to put the previous day's disaster behind them.

Shane Greene started for the Yankees. At this point, any pitcher who starts for the Yankees has to go in thinking, "We're not hitting, we're not scoring enough runs, and Joe Girardi is going to take me out too soon and use umpteen pitchers in relief, so does it really matter how well I pitch?"

Greene pitched as though it does matter: 5 1/3 innings, 2 runs, 7 hits, only 1 walk, and 9 strikeouts.

How many pitchers does it take to hold the Orioles to 2 runs at Camden Yards? If you're Girardi, the answer is apparently 5: Greene, Esmil Rogers, Josh Outman, Shawn Kelley and David Robertson. In 3 2/3 innings, the bullpen shut the O's out, allowing just 2 hits and 1 walk.

But the Yankees needed 3 runs to overcome the Orioles' 2. They all came in the top of the 2nd, which must have been a big (pardon the choice of words) relief to Greene. With 1 out, Brian McCann smacked a home run to right field, his 19th round-tripper of the season. Mark Teixeira, a native of nearby Severna Park, Maryland who still gets booed by Oriole fans for choosing the Yankees when he was a free agent (nearly 6 full seasons later), drew a walk. Chris Young struck again, doubling Teix over to 3rd. Rookie September callup Antoan Richardson singled Teix home. Zelous Wheeler struck out.

Jacoby Ellsbury was up. Girardi, in one of those moves that makes you wonder how a guy so smart on offense can be so dense with handling pitchers, called for a double steal. It worked: Richardson broke for 2nd base, and it drew a throw from Oriole catcher Caleb Joseph, enabling Young to steal home.

Yankees 3, Orioles 2. WP: Greene (5-3). SV: Robertson (36). LP: Gonzalez (9-8).

The series concludes tonight, as the ESPN Sunday night game. Hiroki Kuroda starts for the Yankees, Chris Tillman.

*

Today is the 200th Anniversary of the most important moment in Baltimore's history: On September 14, 1814, in the key moment of the War of 1812, the British fleet retreated, recognizing their inability to pierce the defenses of Fort McHenry, and sailed off.

With the capital of Washington, D.C. already abandoned by the government and burned by the British, had Baltimore also fallen, it would have meant defeat for America, and likely a curtailed, possibly even a totally revoked, independence. (It was certainly possible for a nation to lose its sovereignty: Poland had lost its own about 20 years before.)

Seeing the garrison flag over the fort from a prison ship, where, as a local lawyer, he was negotiating a prisoner exchange, Francis Scott Key wrote a poem. He titled it "Defence of Fort McHenry." The British spelling "defence," still used to describe hockey "defencemen" in Canada, was still in place in America. This was before the publication of Webster's Dictionary, and before "defense" with an S, not a C, became the more common American spelling of the word.

The publisher he sent it to decided it would make a great song, and, to the tune of (ironically) an old English drinking song, "To Anacreon in Heaven," retitled it after a line Key used at the end of each of the 4 verses (only 1 of which is remembered by most Americans): "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Baseball, as much as anything else, is responsible for making "The Banner" America's National Anthem. As late as World War I, it was simply one of many well-known patriotic songs that were occasionally sung. During the 7th inning stretch of one of the games of the 1918 World Series, a band, seeing everyone standing, began to play it. In the patriotic fervor of the time, everyone sang along.

The war soon ended, but the song began to be played before special-occasion games. The U.S. Marine Band, directed by John Philip Sousa, played it at the opening of the original Yankee Stadium on April 18, 1923. In 1931, Congress passed a resolution declaring the more-familiar-than-ever song to be the National Anthem. But it wasn't until World War II that it began to be played before every major sporting event. (There have been exceptions: Occasionally, the Yankees have played "America the Beautiful" instead, and the Philadelphia Flyers have used Kate Smith's recording of "God Bless America" as a good-luck charm, while the Yankees save that recording for the 7th inning stretch, before "Take Me Out to the Ballgame.")

On occasion, at least since their run to the 1979 American League Pennant, the Orioles have raised a copy of the Fort McHenry garrison flag, complete with 15 stars and 15 stripes, at their ballpark, first Memorial Stadium and, since 1992, Camden Yards. I suspect they will do so again today. (The original flag now resides at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, while the "Flag House" where it was sewn is a museum in Baltimore.)

The Orioles have already clinched at least a Playoff berth, and will probably win the AL Eastern Division for the 1st time since 1997, putting them in a great position to win their 1st Pennant and World Series since 1983.

But with 15 games to go, and 5 behind the 2nd AL Wild Card berth, the Yankees are still alive in the hope of reaching the Playoffs, where anything can happen. Their probability of making it is only 1.2 percent.

But you never know. Strange things happen in baseball, especially late in the season. O, say, the Yankees do yet wave, in this land of the free, in this home of the brave.

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