By the end, there were maybe 3,000 people in the stands, which is the kind of crowd you might expect in the winter for the Battle of the Bronx, either at Fordham’s Rose Hill Gymnasium or Manhattan’s Draddy Gym. These were the diehards. These were the die-nevers.
“FRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA-ZZZZZZIER!” one loud, slurry voice exclaimed, serving as the play-by-play man for the last act of this interminable baseball Wednesday, Todd Frazier waving at a Shane Greene pitch and ending this 2-0 slog after only 7 ½ hours and two rain delays, one of which featured some actual rain.
“Not optimal,” Chase Headley said, which was about as good a way to explain away the day as anything other than an angry, guttural “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!”
It was Major League Baseball that had ordered the game to start late, and it’s clear MLB might want to add Mr. G as a consultant after letting 43,379 folks lounge in perfectly dry conditions for an hour and 26 minutes before allowing this getaway day rock fight to start.
“We thought we could get it in,” manager Joe Girardi said.
What they got was seven innings and then the kind of deluge that felt like it was going to carry Tigers and Yankees away, two by two.
And if you gave a few of the Yankees — notably Headley — sodium pentothal they might have observed that the umpires, led by Dan Bellino behind the plate, tried to do their part in speeding things along by utilizing an, um, “flexible” strike zone.
So, yeah. Not the best day at the office.
And for the Yankees, on the doorstep of a most intriguing four-game series in Cleveland starting Thursday, it served as a useful reminder of one of the sport’s most timeless truths of all:
It never allows you to get too far ahead of yourself. Even the Dodgers, who are on pace to win about 215 games this year, have had to ponder life (and possibly a postseason) without Clayton Kershaw.
The Astros have been in business since 1962, haven’t had a season anywhere close to this one, are cruising toward 100 wins of their own … and have had to adjust to life without Carlos Correa.
The moment you start to think you’ve got the game licked … yeah. Think again.
So here were the Yankees, playing as well as they have played in a month, clear winners at the trade deadline, toasted for rebuilding one year and reloading another, finally securing the prized piece of their puzzle in Sonny Gray. They had drubbed the Mariners in Seattle, clobbered the Reds, crushed the Rays. They were in first place and ready to climb and …
Well, right. Baseball. Baseball always has an answer after all. Baseball is always serving the role of the jester, following the king, whispering “Remember thou art mortal! Remember thou art mortal!” in his ear.
And here were the Yankees on Tuesday night, dropping a 4-3 decision to the Tigers. There were the Yankees on Wednesday afternoon, losing 2-0 to the Tigers because they couldn’t get a key hit and because a fourth-inning single weaved toward Jacoby Ellsbury like an eight ball cue ball. The Tigers aren’t done, because no team in the AL outside of Chicago and Oakland is truly done right now. But they’re in the neighborhood of done.
Yet they still took two out of three from the Yankees, freshly reminded that just because it seems like the road ahead is about to rise to greet you, nothing is ever certain in this game.
Nothing is ever guaranteed.
“We have to figure our a way to pick up wins when we have a chance,” Headley said. “We missed a real opportunity the last few days.”
So it is off to Cleveland, four games with the defending AL champs, a possible preview of the AL Division Series since it seems a strong possibility the winners of the East and Central will be paired up.
In many ways, it was the Cleveland model — effective starting pitching, dominant relief pitching, opportunistic hitting — the Yankees have built this season around. Watching those mirrors battle each other ought to make for a fun weekend.
More fun if the Yankees can ride Sonny Gray’s debut Thursday into some kind of statement. Even more so if the rain stays away.