Back in July of 2008 I was lucky enough to sit in box seats for a Yankees-Red Sox tilt. It was hot and hazy, the kind of day where you can’t see the sun behind the cloud cover but you still need sunglasses. We settled into our seats on the third base side, over the Red Sox dugout, halfway between third base and home plate. It was a fantastic game, a much-needed win for the home team, and when it was over Kevin Youkilis taunted me.
The Yankees had lost the day before when Darrell Rasner got slapped around by Boston on the Boss’ birthday. They had fallen to 45-42, good for nine games back of the division leader Tampa Bay Rays and good enough for fourth place. The Yankees needed a win, and they were sending Mike Mussina to the mound to oppose youngster Justin Masterson. The two hurlers couldn’t have been more different. Mussina was 6’2″, 185 pounds soaking wet, and Masterson was 6’6″ and every bit his listed weight of 250 pounds. Mussina was in the last year of his professional career and Masterson was in his first. Mussina got by on a fastball well short of 90 mph thanks to his ability to keep batters off-balance with a myriad of offspeed offerings. Masterson was a classic sinker/slider pitcher; everything seemed hard and fast. Mussina was deliberate, slow, and almost artful in his over-the-top delivery. Masterson was more or less a sidearmer, and seemed to release the ball halfway to home plate.
The game turned out to be a pitcher’s duel, to my delight. Moose and Masterson were spectacular. Mussina went 6 innings, giving up 4 hits, walking 1 and striking out 5. Masterson was no pushover either, and his sinker was working well. He went six innings, walking 2 and striking out 2, and getting 11 ground balls. The Yankees were able to get two runs off him, from a Melky single that scored Giambi and a Brett Gardner sacrifice fly that scored Wilson Betemit. Going into the seventh inning the Yankees led 2-0. As crazy as it sounds now, Jose Veras and Kyle Farnsworth were in charge of the seventh and eighth inning. Here’s the crazier part: they held the Red Sox scoreless. We had made it to the ninth inning. The familiar tones of “Enter Sandman” rang out and #42 came running in. Game over, we thought.
JD Drew led off the top of the ninth inning and singled to center. Next up was Manny Ramirez, and Rivera promptly plunked him. This put a runner on first and second with no one out. Brandon Moss came in to run for Manny, and Mike Lowell came to the plate and promptly singled to right, scoring JD Drew and moving Moss to second. Now the score was 2-1, with no one out and runners on first and second. Kevin Youkilis came to the plate and Rivera hit him too. Now the bases were loaded and no one was out. The Yankees had a one run lead.
I can’t tell you what went through the crowd with the bases loaded and no one out, with Rivera struggling with his control, with the Red Sox threatening to ruin our afternoon and keep us in fourth place. No one can tell you what a group of people is feeling at a given point in time, let alone fifty thousand people. It doesn’t matter how intuitive they are or how skilled they are at putting words down on paper: it inevitably becomes a generalization, a shaping of the facts to fit the narrative. It falls short. I won’t do that.
All I can do is tell you what I felt like. I didn’t feel brash confidence or psychic dread. No, I felt the annoying sensation of “Oh, you HAVE to be kidding me. Of all the games I go to, of all the times I get to sit in box seats, NOW is when Mariano decides to melt down? He couldn’t have just, I don’t know, waited a week to blow the lead against some other team?” It was that fundamentally New York feeling of being personally aggrieved by the conspiratorial forces of the universe, the forces actively attempting to just ruin your day. It was the same feeling I get when I’m waiting for an A train that just will not show up. That’s how I felt. What my other 50,000 friends felt, I can’t say.
Coco Crisp stepped to the plate and I was feeling this feeling and also a good amount of nervousness. I didn’t respect Coco Crisp as a professional hitter, but Rivera was suddenly a rare combination of hittable and wild. There was still nobody out and the tying run was 90 feet away. But something happened. Maybe Rivera found his control, maybe he remembered that he was Rivera, maybe he decided to stop screwing around. I don’t know, but he somehow got it back, and struck out Coco Crisp. One out.
Next up was Jason Varitek. It was 2008, but his decline was already in full bloom. Rivera got him to pop out and there were two outs.
So now Julio Lugo stepped to the plate and the place was rocking. The bases were loaded, and with two outs Rivera just went ahead and struck Lugo out. Ball game over, Yankees win, all is well. The place went nuts, and “New York, New York” came over the loudspeakers. I was standing near the Red Sox dugout and I was feeling euphoric, and relieved. As Kevin Youkilis began his slow walk to the dugout from second base, I yelled at him. I don’t remember what I said, but I do remember wanting to properly escort him back to the dugout and out of the stadium. I wanted him to know that I took a fair amount of personal pleasure in seeing this game resolved satisfactorily, and that I didn’t particularly care for him or his team.
Kevin Youkilis has always struck me as someone who doesn’t take things well on the field. Much like the way I was feeling with the bases loaded and no one out, Youkilis takes it all personally. Some say that he’s never had a third strike called against him: the ump got it wrong, man, those pitches were all balls. I dislike seeing him complain about balls and strikes, I dislike his facial hair, his batting stance, the stilted way he runs, and his perpetual refusal to fight Joba Chamberlain. I freely admit that I’ve love him if he was a Yankee, but that’s neither here nor there. What’s important is that I dislike him now and I disliked him then.
Probably one of the biggest reasons I dislike him, apart from the whining and the facial hair and the batting stance, is what happened as he walked towards the dugout from second base. He saw me taunting him. I was, after all, in the expensive seats, even if I didn’t happen to be acting like I belonged. As Youk took off his helmet he looked me right in the eyes. And then he held up up four fingers, wiggled them, and raised his eyebrows.
Although it would soon change, the Yankees were in fourth place.
And then he disappeared into the dugout.
An earlier version of this story appeared at TYU last year.