Anyone with a modicum of a sense of history appreciated the circumstances of the game tonight. Whether you're an Orioles fan, a Yankees fan, or a fan of neither, there's no way you could watch it without knowing what every pitch, every at-bat, every run, every throw meant to the vast vast majority of people who care about baseball. So it was only fitting that in the end, despite the Orioles' best effort to send The Captain away with an L, it was he who got the last laugh.
On offense at least, it was a classic 2014 Orioles game: Nick Markakis and Alejandro de Aza opened the game with back-to-back jacks off of Hiroki Kuroda, putting the Orioles in the driver's seat early. Then the bats went ice cold: after de Aza singled in the third, no one reached base until Nick Markakis walked in the top of the 9th. Then Adam Jones smacked a two-run shot over the wall in left, Nelson Cruz struck out, and Steve Pearce followed with a dinger of his own. These are your 2014 Orioles.
That would've been enough to win the game, on paper at least. But the Orioles' defense, and to some extent the pitching, just wasn't up to the task. Kevin Gausman needed 35 pitches to get out of the first inning. The only solid hit he gave up was a double to, you guessed it, Derek Jeter. But since Brett Gardner had just singled, that double was enough to make the score 2-1. Then Jeter moved to third on a wild pitch in the dirt. He scored when Brian McCann reached first on an error by Kelly Johnson, who bobbled an easy grounder.
That tied it at 2, and there the score remained until the wild seventh inning. T.J. McFarland struck out Stephen Drew but the ball bounced away from Caleb Joseph and Drew reached first easily. Ichiro Suzuki tried hard several times to bunt the runner over, but failed ... and ended up walking. Jose Pirela, called up just a few days ago, did bunt -- and got a perfect one down, making Joseph dive for it so his throw nearly escaped the reach of Steve Pearce.
Bases loaded, nobody out, tie game. Brett Gardner chopped a grounder to Pearce at first base. Pearce was running in and was able to scoop the ball up and fire home for the force-out. One down. Up next was ... yeah you guessed it, Jeter. The Yankee Stadium crowd was on its feet, chanting, hoping for a hit, a walk, something, anything. Buck Showalter brought in Ryan Webb to relieve.
What the fans got was an odd duck of a play. On an 0-1 pitch, Jeter swung hard at a sinker well inside, breaking the bat. I like to think that he was aiming at Jimmy Paredes, who'd shown a slight case of the yips in his throws to first bast earlier in the game. But the ball squibbed out towards J.J. Hardy at shortstop. He gathered it and tossed it to Johnson at second base to start the double play. Only it was a bad throw and Gardner had been off on contact and was sliding in hard. Johnson missed the ball and it rolled into right field, where Markakis was alertly backing up the play.
Two runs scored, and Gardner ended up on third. He'd score one batter later on a sacrifice fly. Suddenly it was 5-2. The Captain had done it again with a ... broken-bat RBI and error by the Orioles normally sure-handed shortstop? Sure, why not. Let's give Jeter this one -- he out-clutched Hardy and, with his calm eyes and steady gaze, willed that ball into right field. Yes.
If that had been the game, fine. But it got even zanier than that. The score stayed at 5-2 until the top of the 9th. Joe Girardi brought in ace closer David Robertson, who may also have been in his final Yankee stadium game, given a) he's a free agent next year and b) what transpired while he was on the mound. Oh wait, I already told you. Walk, dinger, strikeout, dinger. Tie game at 5. It was such an Orioles comeback, to blast two home runs after being dominated by Kuroda all game.
But you know why the Orioles tied the game, right? It was so that The Captain could have his final moment underneath the bright Bronx lights. And have it he did. In the bottom of the ninth, Buck brought in Evan Meek to keep the game where it was -- or to give his old protege a chance at superstardom, I can't be sure which. He also brought in Ryan Flaherty to play third base. Both moves would haunt him, or make him happy he could provide Jeter a scripted walk-off moment: whichever it is, I don't know.
Anyway, Jose Pirela singled to start off the inning. The ball scooted underneath the glove of a diving (or rather, falling) Flaherty. Somebody named Antoan Richardson came in to pinch run. Gardner was up next, and he sacrificed RIchardson to second base. So now here we are (again): tie game, runner in scoring position, and Captain Clutch at the plate.
As I recollect, it was a hanging curveball. Floated right over the plate. You or I probably could have made solid contact with it. Jeter put all of his signature inside-out, opposite-field stroke into it. The ball shot into right-center field, Richardson raced around the bases to score, and that was it. Career (at Yankee Stadium, anyway) complete, legacy secure: Jeter had gone the opposite way for a walkoff RBI.
And the scriptwriter got up from his chair, stretched his tense back muscles, yawned and rubbed his eyes sleepily, and let an easy grin tug at the corners of his mouth. He'd done a good night's work on this, his final masterpiece.
I would like to do one last thing, and that is give Steve Pearce credit for some solid D tonight. At times he seemed like the only one paying attention out there. The 5'11, stocky first baseman had to jump and snare more than a few poor throws from other infielders. Those catches made sure the score wasn't absurd, as there were runners on base when he was doing his glovework.
Tomorrow, the Orioles end the regular season with a three-game set at Toronto. Chris Tillman faces Drew Hutchison.