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Memorable Sunday in the Bronx

Entry of May 18th – Never was the adage truer that you see something new in every baseball game than Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium with the Minnesota Twins trying to finally win a game on the road against the Yankees. Minnesota, a contending team with good athletes, a resourceful defense and two great hitters Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, has won only three times in their last 25+ appearances in the Bronx.

I attended the game in a good upper deck seat between third base and home and paid a reasonable price by today’s standards - $30 + the I fear inevitable $5 in extra charges. It was a chilly sunless day feeling more like October than mid-May but it turned out to be a great game.

Neither team had a hit in the first three innings as each starting pitcher was in fine form: the Yankees free agent acquisition A. J. Burnett and the Twins Kevin Slowey, who throws harder than his name would indicate. The game remained scoreless until the 7th when each teams broke through with two runs. It was a bad omen for Minnesota that Slowey couldn’t hold the Yankees once he had the lead – watch the teams that answer runs immediately and you’ll very likely be watching a contending team.

It was still 2-2 in the bottom of the 9th with one out and the Yankees’ fleet rookie Brett Gardner pinch-running on second base carrying the potential winning run. Yankees rookie catcher Francisco Cervelli, the Venezuelan of Italian descent who played for Italy in the most recent World Baseball Classic, lined a ball off the body of Twins pitcher Jose Mijares who didn’t know where it had landed. Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer ran out in front of the mound to retrieve the ball, momentarily leaving home plate uncovered. The speedy Gardner never slowed down rounding third base and headed for home with the winning run. Mauer reacted immediately, racing back to the plate and dived at Gardner tagging him out by an eyelash. It was a play I had never seen on a diamond (just like 10 days earlier when watching on TV I saw the Yankee Nick Swisher called out because his third base coach had improperly touched him.)

It took a genuinely great player and athlete like Joe Mauer to react in the moment to nab Gardner who made an aggressive play trying to win the game. I can imagine Branch Rickey beaming at the adventure shown by both players. “Look for the great play!” Rickey once advised his scouts. “If he makes it once, he can make it again.” And what made the Gardner and Mauer collision even more wonderful and revealed of the inclusiveness of baseball at its best was that it involved the Minnesota catcher, not long ago the number one amateur draft pick in the entire nation, and the undrafted Yankee outfielder who has worked his butt off in many years of minor league apprenticeship to earn a valuable place on a major league roster.

Oh, the Yankees did win the game on a home run by Johnny Damon in the bottom of the 10th. It was their third walkoff win in a row and fifth straight. (By the way I think it was the great relief pitcher Dennis Eckersley who coined the term walkoff to describe the last hit of a game.) The Yankees are hot now and probably wish they didn’t have the day off today (Monday). But in baseball like life you must learn patience and acceptance as well as demonstrate adventure and flexibility.

This blog concerns itself with both the joy of the game that renews itself day by day and also the less exciting and more sobering business side of baseball. Later this week I will share some thoughts about the 50th anniversary of the two major leagues’ announcement on May 21, 1959 that they were willing to entertain expansion of their monopoly to new teams and new cities. Branch Rickey had not yet announced his leadership of the third league the Continental League – that official news wouldn’t come until the end of July 1959 – but change was clearly in the air by 1959 with New York City craving a return to big league action and other cities desiring major league status. It is an important story to talk about. It can wait a little while though as I am still basking in the glow of yesterday’s great action observed in person.

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