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June 22, 2005

OMG! U GOT PWNED!!!!! LOL, NOOB!!!1!!!!!111!
by Larry Mahnken

Turning off a game when it seems hopeless, only to miss the dramatic comeback later on, is not that rare. It happened to my friend Jeff on October 31st, 2001. And then again on November 1st, 2001 (that time he turned it off after the second out was recorded in the ninth).

In my case, it was the opposite. I missed the shellacking that made the game so hopeless for the Yankees, and got to enjoy the comeback.

Okay, it wasn't that simple. I did know what was going on for the first four innings, but because I was busy I was only able to follow the score through my cellphone. Whether that was more or less exasperating I know not, but it was more than exasperating enough. By the time I was able to pick up the game live, it was 10-2, Devil Rays.

Obviously something had gone terribly wrong, Randy Johnson had been shellacked for a second time by the Rays, and put the Yankees in position to lose their second straight game, fifth straight to the D-Rays, and probably negate all the good vibes of the past week. Johnson said the problem was with location. What he didn't say was that the location was the left field seats.

By the time Johnson left it was 7-1, and reliver Scott Proctor quickly gave up 3 more runs in the top of the fourth to make it 10-2.

The comeback started in the bottom of the fifth, when Gary Sheffield slammed a 3-run homer into the leftfield seats to make it 10-5. A Bernie Williams double made it 10-6, and when Jorge Posada walked Robinson Cano came to the plate as the tying run.

It wasn't to be, as Cano lined out to second, but the Yankees were able to get another run back in the bottom of the sixth when Derek Jeter led off with a long homer into left-center, making it 10-7 with 4 innings left to go.

But the comeback stopped dead there. The Yankees went down in order after the Jeter homer, and were retired almost as quietly in the seventh, with only Giambi getting on base with a walk. In the interim, the Devil Rays had tacked on another run, though they loaded the bases with one out in the both the seventh and the eighth.

Then came the bottom of the eighth. It wasn't a record inning, it wasn't even the single best inning the Yankees have had this season. In April they unleashed a 13-run second against the Devil Rays, but that only served to put the game out of reach early, and make Lefty Wright Public Enemy #1 when he came very near to blowing that lead right away.

But this inning was special. It was special because, entering the inning down four runs with only six outs left, the chances of coming back seemed slim (though less slim than they would against any team other than the Rockies in Colorado). It was special because of how quickly it escalated, how it went from, "Oh, if only they hadn't given up that 11th run," to, "Wow, they might have a shot to tie this thing," to, "If Bernie can just stay out of the double play they can tie it!" to, "Wow, they're gonna win this thing!" to, "WOW! They're gonna win this thing by a lot!" to, "HOLY CRAP! ANOTHER ONE!"

The top of the ninth inning came as quite a shock to everyone, because it seemed like the bottom of the eighth would never end.

At first it seemed like an ordinary rally. Cano and Jeter singled, and Ruben Sierra grounded out to score a run. Gary Sheffield singled to bring the tying run to the plate, and A-Rod singled to put the tying run on. When Hideki Matsui doubled to put the tying run on third and Jason Giambi was intentionally walked, the ordinary portion of the rally ended.

With Bernie Williams at the plate, the Devil Rays played the outfield in. In the eighth inning. Leading.

A sacrifice fly could only have tied the game, and brought the Devil Rays within one out of ending the inning, and Bernie Williams is a batter quite capable of hitting a deep fly ball. In their desperation to keep the Yankees from tying the game, the Devil Rays gave the Yankees a golden opportunity to take the lead, and they took it.

Bernie hit a deep fly ball to center, way over the head of Damon Hollins, all the way to the wall. By the time the ball came back to the infield, Bernie was on third, three runs were in, and the game, it seemed, was over.

Well, over for the Devil Rays, because Jorge Posada kept it going for the Yankees with a homer to right, making the score 15-11. Two hits and one out later Gary Sheffield came up, and crushed his second 3-run homer of the game to left, making it 18-11. Then A-Rod homered to right, 19-11. Then Hideki Matsui hit his fifth homer in eight games, into the centerfield black seats, and it was 20-11. Mercifully, it ended there, and Tom Gordon ended it quickly in the ninth.

The Yankees didn't gain any games on the Orioles or Red Sox last night, though the comeback prevented them from losing any ground. It didn't turn their season around, though it possibly saved them from falling back into their losing ways. It turned Hideki Matsui, once batting .231, into a viable All-Star, now batting .300 (up 10 points in one day, and 31 OPS points). What made it great was that it was a lot of fun.

Well, for Yankees fans it was. I don't think Lou Piniella enjoyed it much.