For as much as I consider myself a stathead, I still have a few irrational beliefs from which I just haven't been able to escape, no matter the numerical evidence. Whenever he comes to the plate, I think Vlad's going to hit a home run. Back in the day, I used to think Jay Buhner was an automatic strikeout (and somehow I still loved him). I always think JJ Putz is one bad outing away from completely falling apart. I think Trevor Hoffman is automatic. Even though they're decidedly untrue, these are a few of the things that I once believed or continue to believe with all my heart.
Until today, Yankee Stadium was the scene of another one. Until today, I always believed in the "ghosts," especially come playoff time. I felt like no lead was ever safe in the Bronx, and that somehow, some way, the Yankees would feed off of all the energy in the building and give the fans a night they'd never forget. In short, I was terrified of the place. I was convinced that there was no more intimidating environment in the league, and that to escape with a win was nothing short of a mentally-exhausting minor miracle.
But now, you know what? To hell with the ghosts. Since 2002, the Yankees are 20-25 in the playoffs, and only 11-12 at home. You can point to Aaron Boone and Pedro Martinez all you want, but what about Paul Byrd? Josh Beckett? Derek Lowe? Where were the ghosts when the Yankees had their backs against the wall and managed all of five hits against the Marlins in 2003? Where were the ghosts when the Red Sox silenced the entire stadium by the second inning in 2004? Where were the ghosts tonight, when Byrd got the win and Joe freaking Borowski recorded the final out? Did Byung-Hyun Kim use them all up?
I think the moment that did it for me was this: in the bottom of the sixth, the Yankees were down 6-2, but they'd already put one ball over the fence and put another two runners on the corners with one out for beloved local hero Derek Jeter. The fans were up, the stadium was rocking, and Rafael Perez was facing a situation he'd never seen before in his life. If ever there was a time for the "ghosts" to show up and rip this series right out of Cleveland's hands, it was this one. The table was set; all Jeter had to do was knock a base hit and you felt like everything the Indians had worked for would come crashing down in a hurry.
Jeter bounced into a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning.
The Yankees would draw a little closer with a pair of solo home runs, but there weren't any sustained rallies, and certainly nothing approximating the level of tension and excitement as Jeter walked to the plate. The setting was perfect, ready to become the stuff of legends, yet the last guy anyone expected to fail failed in the worst possible way.
I guess it's kind of ironic that, at least as far as I'm concerned, Derek Jeter killed the Yankee Stadium mystique. There just isn't that powerful sense of dread and foreboding that there used to be anymore. Why should there be? The Yankees haven't celebrated a series win on their own field in four years. That doesn't seem like a long time for those of us who haven't celebrated anything anywhere in longer, but all my life I've been conditioned to expect more from The Stadium, and lately it's been the hosts walking off the field wondering where things went south.
When I was a kid, every so often I'd have nightmares about Predator. File the Yankee Stadium ghosts away as another fear that I don't think I'll ever have again as long as I live.