May 7th: King Awesome snaps a 2-2 9th inning tie with a two out solo shot to left-center off Mariano Rivera.
(This is the last one featuring the Yankees, I promise.)
Last Sunday I was in Minneapolis at a hockey game with a friend between the Minnesota Wild and the Calgary Flames. Trailing 1-0 midway through the second period, the Wild scored a goal that was immediately waived off for reasons that still haven't been adequately explained. The building was irate, and the matter wasn't helped at all by the referees' refusal to so much as glance at a video replay. Seconds later after play resumed, the whole thing was compounded even further when the Wild got called for a hold. A game that should've been tied instead saw the Wild go on the penalty kill in danger of falling behind by two.
No matter what game or sport you're watching, there will always be some fraction of the crowd that's reluctant to boo its own team. Such restraint does not enter into play when it comes to booing the refs. The 18,000+ Minnesota fans in attendance made no bones about expressing their disapproval, and their indignation continued through to the final horn. With an eventual 2-1 decision, the Flames were able to escape with a win in a game that, called well, would've been entirely different.
There was a guy in a Calgary jersey a row in front of us to our left. As we filed out of the section, I looked over and saw a Wild fan telling the Flames fan that they got away with one. The Flames fan smiled and kept walking.
No fan really likes to hear that his team is lucky. Everybody always wants to believe that, when they see their team win, they won because they deserved to, and because they outplayed their opponent. This is why, when a baseball team is dramatically outplaying its Pythagorean record, you'll always see fans scrambling to explain why their team is somehow historically unique and able to stand as the exception to a pretty steadfast rule. "Luck" has a negative connotation, and a lot of fans will go to considerable lengths to try and downplay its role in their team's success.
With that said, every so often there's just no feeling quite like snatching a win you didn't necessarily earn. The Flames fan knows what I'm talking about.
Trailing 2-1 in the 8th, umpire Gerry Davis breathed new life into the Mariners by calling Willie Ballgame safe at second on a steal attempt when Jorge Posada clearly threw him out. Shortly thereafter, a Kenji Johjima RBI single drove in the tying run, a tying run that never should've scored. Gerry Davis essentially blew the lead for New York, and the mood in the ballpark was none too pleasant. Despite recording three legitimate outs before anyone ever crossed the plate, an umpiring mistake had cost the Yankees their advantage.
We, of course, were ecstatic, and going into the 9th it felt like we had nothing to lose. The Mariners already didn't deserve to be in this situation, so we had no right to complain about anything, but there still existed the potential for a free win. All upside, no downside. It's no wonder people take steroids - getting wrongful assistance feels awesome.
Mariano Rivera mowed right through Richie Sexson and Jose Guillen to start things off, and it looked like the M's weren't going to use their gift run as a springboard. But when Rivera gave Adrian Beltre a first-pitch fastball at the belt, he must've known that he'd made a mistake.
Rivera mouthed "oh my God" and lowered his head as Beltre circled the bases, having given his team the lead with a gargantuan bomb to left-center. I remember being told back in high school that having dreams in Spanish was a sign of mastering it as a second language, so for Rivera to grumble to himself in his non-native tongue speaks volumes about his comfort with English. Beltre stepped on home plate, and at once, in a game that just minutes earlier felt like an embarrassment, we were but one JJ Putz away from splitting a series in one of the toughest stadiums in the league.
Tainted? Perhaps. But if you're looking for guilt, look somewhere else.