emptiness.

The day before we went into labor, the Yankees were in second place, but had a dismal 54-59 record, 16 games behind the Boston Red Sox.  From that day on, they went on a tear – because I’m a typical, irrational sports fan, I began thinking that the Yankees’ tear was directly related to the birth of my son.  My son was good luck for the Yankees!

They went from being four games under .500 to finishing 14 games over, with a 79-65 record in the strike-shortened season.  As a result of the strike, they took advantage of the new “Wild Card” playoff formula, narrowly edging the California Angels (who went on a dismal mid-September run, losing 10 of 11 and allowing the Yankees to overtake them in the season’s final weeks.

For the first time in a long time, the Yankees made the playoffs.  It wasn’t lost on any Yankee fan that their captain, Don Mattingly, had played his entire career – 13 seasons or so – without having ever played in the postseason, and players and fans alike rallied behind him as the Yanks squared off against the Seattle Mariners in the first ever Wild Card playoff.

The Mariners were a young team with a tremendous bullpen and a lot of offense; although their regular-season record wasn’t as good as that of the Yankees, they were an intimidating team.  WIth a five-game series anything could happen, so the Yankees’ jumping out to a quick 9-6 victory in Game 1 was encouraging.

Game 2 was a barnburner, a game for the ages.  Seattle jumped out to an early 1-0 lead on a home run by Vince Coleman off Andy Pettite, but the Yankees tied it up in the bottom of the 5th on a Bernie Williams double.  Seattle came right back and re-took the lead in the top of the 6th, but then the Yankees fought back with two runs in the bottom of the 6th, tying it on a home run by Ruben Sierra and moving ahead on a solo blast by a rejuvenated Don Mattingly.  Seattle wouldn’t go down easy, though, scoring two more in the top of the 7th off Pettite to take the lead.  And in the bottom of the 7th, the Yankees tied it right back up on another solo home run, this time by Paul O’Neill.

That’s the way the game would stay, all the way to the 12th inning, when Seattle superstar Ken Griffey, Jr. hit a solo home run off John Wetteland to pull the Mariners ahead.  But in the bottom of that inning, the Yankees tied it up again on a two-out double by Ruben Sierra.  In the top of the 13th, the Yankees brought in rookie Mariano Rivera, who mowed down the Mariners until the 15th inning – and in the bottom of the 15th, the Yankees won it on a two-run blast by Jim Leyritz.

With the Yankees up two games to none, the series moved back to Seattle for Game 3, where the Yanks would send Jack McDowell up against Randy Johnson.  The Yankees got off to an early lead on a solo home run by Bernie Williams, but then Seattle came back with six unanswered runs in front of the fired-up home crowd.  The Yankees made  an attempt at a comeback, with one in the 7th and two more in the 8th, but ultimately lost the game, 7-4.

Game 4 was another great one, with the Yankees jumping out of the gate with three runs in the first, and two more in the third on another Paul O’Neill home run.  Down five runs, Seattle came back with 4 in the bottom of the 3rd, partially on a three-run shot by Yankee killer Edgar Martinez.  Two tense innings later, Seattle tied the game on a fielder’s choice, and then moved ahead, 6-5, on a solo shot by Ken Griffey in the 6th.

The Yankees scratched and clawed for the tying run in the top of the 8th, finally scoring it on a wild pitch by Norm Charlton to Paul O’Neill.  And then, tied 6-6 in the bottom of the 8th, their season on the line, Seattle exploded, scoring four on a grand slam by Edgar Martinez off John Wetteland, and one more on a solo shot by Jay Buhner off Steve Howe.

Down 11-6 in the 9th, Don Mattingly led off the inning with a single, and Darryl Strawberry moved him to second on a groundout.  Mike Stanley singled Mattingly home, making it 11-7, and Tony Fernandez singled him to second.  With one out, Randy Velarde walked to load the bases, and Wade Boggs scored Stanley on a fielder’s choice to make it 11-8.  Bernie Williams, the potential tying run, then worked the count to 3 and 2 before flying out to Griffey in center to end the game.

That set up a final Game 5 in Seattle – a city that, at the start of the season, was in jeopardy of losing their team due to lack of fan support, and by October had legions of vocal supporters filling their stadium, carrying “Refuse to Lose” signs.

Yankee star David Cone squared off against Andy Benes in that final game.  The first two innings were scoreless, and then Cone gave up a third inning home run to second baseman Joey Cora to put the Mariners ahead, 1-0.  In the top of the 4th, the Yankees once again got clutch performances from their future nucleus, as Bernie Williams drew a walk against Benes and then Paul O’Neill smashed a two-run home run to put the Yanks ahead, 2-1.  Once again, though, Seattle came right back with a run in the bottom of the 4th to tie it at 2.

The Yankees appeared to break it open in the top of the 6th off Benes.  With one out, Benes issued three consecutive walks, loading the bases for the team captain, Don Mattingly.  Mattingly proceeded to smash a ground-rule double, scoring two runs and putting the Yankees ahead, 4-2, with only one out.  Benes then intentionally walked Dion James to load the bases for Mike Stanley.  With the bases loaded and only one out, Benes got Stanley to foul out to the catcher, and got out of the jam without further damage on a Tony Fernandez flyout.

The score stayed that way til the bottom of the 8th.  Cone, who had thrown 123 pitches through the first 7 innings, got Joey Cora on a flyout to right, but then gave up a home run to Ken Griffey to make the score 4-3.  Edgar Martinez then grounded out for the second out.  Tino Martinez worked a walk, and Jay Buhner singled him to second.  Rookie shortstop Alex Rodriguez pinch ran for Martinez, and Seattle pinch hit Alex Diaz, who drew a walk.

With the bases loaded and two outs, David Cone had thrown a ridiculous 146 pitches in the game.  With his bullpen warm, Yankee Manager Buck Showalter elected to leave the exhausted Cone in the game to pitch to Doug Strange.  Strange worked the count full, got Cone to throw 6 more pitches, and ultimately drew a game-tying walk.

With Yankee closer John Wetteland ready in the bullpen, Showalter demonstrated his lack of trust by bringing in Mariano Rivera, who struck out Mike Blowers on three pitches to end the inning with the game tied, 4-4.

In the top of the 9th, the Yankees put two men on base with no outs against Norm Charlton, but couldn’t advance the runners.  In the bottom of the 9th, Seattle wasted a leadoff single and sacrifice bunt, and with one out, the Yankees brought in starting pitcher Jack McDowell instead of closer Wetteland.  Wetteland, who had thrown only four pitches the night before but who was having an awful series, was rested and ready.  McDowell had thrown 85 pitches just two games prior.

Still, McDowell managed to shut down the Mariners in the bottom of the 9th, and after the Yankees went 1-2-3 in the top of the 10th, he allowed two baserunners in the bottom of the 10th but managed to escape without giving up a run.

In the 11th inning, catcher Mike Stanley led off with a walk, and pinch runner Pat Kelly moved over to second on a sacrifice bunt by Tony Fernandez against Seattle starter Randy Johnson, also pitching in relief on two days’s rest.  Johnson gave up a run-scoring single to Randy Velarde to put the Yankees ahead, 5-4, but then shut them down, striking out Paul O’Neill to retire the side.

The Yankees were heading into the bottom of the 11th, needing only to shut down Seattle for a half inning to move one series closer to realizing Don Mattingly’s dream of reaching a World Series in what would be his final season.

McDowell trudged out to the mound for the bottom of the 11th, and gave up a bunt single to Joey Cora on a 2-1 pitch.  On the second pitch of his at bat, Ken Griffey, Jr singled Cora to third.  Cora represented the tying run, Griffey the winning run, with no outs.

Yankee killer Edgar Martinez was up.

McDowell threw a quick strike to Martinez, but then Edgar roped the next pitch to left field.  Cora scored easily to tie the game, but Griffey motored around the bases at full steam, sliding into home ahead of the throw and winning the game for the Mariners.

Listening to the series on the radio at home, I was transfixed for five games, each one with ups and downs, each one teetering on the brink of either winning or losing.  Heading into the bottom of the 11th with a lead, I was hoping to hold them for just three outs – and preparing for the celebration after the victory.  Just eight pitches later, the Yankee broadcasters were talking about what a fun season it had been, and how they’d see each other in Spring Training.

After hanging on the Yankees during the entire summer, during the whole process of house hunting and lamaze classes, through the death of Mickey Mantle and a month of bedrest for Sandy, through the arrival of a baby boy and subsequent late nights of feeding and rocking a baby to sleep, our companion was suddenly gone.

And just like that, it hit me: baseball season was over, and I had nothing fun to do.

You know, besides being a father and working at a shitty job that I detested.

Over dinner one night shortly after the series, I looked at Sandy and said “It’s time for us to kick Dromedary into high gear again.”

She looked utterly disinterested.

“We’ve been putting everything on hold since Lippy came out, and now I think it’s time for us to think about what comes next.”

Still, silence.

“What do you think we should do next?  Maybe a compilation?  Maybe chase after Gapeseed?  Should I go to Africa and try to find Doug?”

She looked up.  “Look,” she said.  “I know how important this is to you.  But the fact of the matter is that we just bought a house.  We don’t have any money.  We can’t afford to put out any records.

“Well, maybe we should just do a seven-inch, then,” I countered.

“No,” she said.  “You don’t understand.  We don’t have any money.  We can’t even afford to live in this house.”

“So that’s it, then?” I asked.  “No more Dromedary?  We’re just shutting down?”

“I didn’t say that,” she said. “But I can make a suggestion.”

“By all means, please do.”

“Do some shows.  Get some cash.  There are thousands of records in inventory.  If you could just sell a few hundred, you’d have enough to put out whatever record you wanted.  When was the last time you did a mailorder catalog?”

It had been a long time.

“Didn’t we talk about doing something baseball-oriented?” she asked.  “What happened to that idea?”

“We bought a house and had a kid,” I said. “That’s what happened to that idea.”

“So, do it now,” she said.  “Sell some stuff, make some money.”

~ by Al on September 17, 2009.

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