May 7th: JJ Putz strikes out Bobby Abreu looking to end a 3-2 game in New York.
I'll admit it, I am the sucker of all suckers when it comes to big strikeouts (get ready to see quite a few of them through the rest of the countdown). I don't know why it is - maybe because I used to pitch - but I think a well-timed strikeout is the most exciting play in the sport, ahead of triples, homers, diving catches, and contested stolen bases. There's nothing that gets my arms up quicker than an opposing batter looking helpless in the most critical of at bats.
So you can imagine how I felt. Thanks to a blown call, a pop-up single, and a huge go-ahead homer, the Mariners took a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth against the Yankees. A win here would split the series and save what just a half-hour earlier was among the most humiliating nights I've ever spent watching a game. Due up to face JJ: Doug Mientkiewicz, Johnny Damon, and Derek Jeter. Not too bad. This one was in the bag.
Only, no matter how good your pitcher and how bad the batters, no game ever feels in the bag, not in the Bronx. There's something about the stadium that always makes me uneasy, and while I can't put my finger on why, I wasn't about to count my chickens. JJ was going to have to earn this.
He got the first out, but a single by Damon put the tying run on base, and after a Jeter force play, a wild pitch put Damon in scoring position for Bobby Abreu. This was most uncomfortable. To make matters worse, this was back when JJ felt vulnerable, before he caught fire. There were still lingering concerns over his elbow and splitter that he wasn't doing much to shake. At this point, your heart was either going a mile a minute or stopped entirely. There was no middle ground.
JJ fell behind Abreu 2-1. Standing on deck was Alex Rodriguez's 1.210 OPS. Watching this play out was the exact opposite of fun. We didn't need this. Why can't we ever win easy?
JJ threw a changeup. ...wait, JJ threw a changeup?! It's pretty ballsy to throw arguably your worst pitch in that big of a situation (some might call it stupid), but whatever, Abreu wasn't expecting it, and swung right through. 2-2. This was it. Don't screw up. Don't throw a ball. Get him. Just get him. Get him.
Fastball. Strike! Looking! HOT DIGGITY DAMN
...dropped by Kenji.
-throws to first in time! HOT DIGGITY DAMN
A dropped called third strike might be the most anticlimactic of all possible strikeouts, but I don't think we were having any of that at the time, because a strikeout's a strikeout, and we just beat the New York Yankees. God only knows what Abreu was looking for, since that fastball was right down the pipe. A wild win, and a brain-tickling save. Comfortable? Not at all. But we watch for excitement, not comfort, and if there's one thing that Yankee Stadium has in spades other than bad words and hair grease, it's drama. Having Frank Sinatra accompany the Mariners as they converge around the mound all smiles and high-fives...there are few better feelings.