The Yankees had another special day in the Bronx Monday night, in a way that only they can. Fan favorites Joe Torre and Don Mattingly joined the Steinbrenner family, the players on the current team, and some other beloved retired players in honoring late owner George Steinbrenner, and the team came through with another victory over Tampa Bay. They won 8-6, just as they had beaten the Rays 62 days earlier 5-4 in the first game in the Bronx following "The Boss's" lamented passing in July.
New 2010 Yankee Curtis Granderson scored the game winner that night in walkoff fashion on Nick Swisher's third hit and rbi of the game. Curtis didn't wait as long Monday, pounding majestic home runs for five runs in the third and sixth innings. Granderson reached just that one time in the ninth inning back in July, but in this game he chipped in two walks with the long balls, Swisher walked twice with two hits and an rbi, and backup catcher Francisco Cervelli was a catalyst in all three Yankee scoring rallies, reaching on three singles and an error.
Ceremonies honoring the late owner began at 7:15, and Yankee rookie Ivan Nova threw the game's first pitch at 7:37, so the ceremony, with not a dry eye on the faces of the Steinbrenner family or any of the 47,000 in the house, did not take a long time. Tne Yankee players led the Steinbrenners, baseball commissioner and longtime Steinbrenner friend and colleague Bud Selig and his wife, Yogi Berra and a dozen or so ex-Yankees in a procession down the right field line and across the outfield to Monument Park. There George's widow Jean Steinbrenner uncovered the hallowed area's now biggest monument, to the iconic owner who changed the game of baseball and who brought seven Championships to the Bronx since he purchased the team in 1973. Torre and Mattingly joined Reggie Jackson, Roy White, Daivid Wells and other ex-players in street clothes bringing up the rear of the procession and Mattingly in particular was greeted with all the adulation you would expect.
The game that followed began as something of a pitcher's duel, with Nova retiring six of seven Rays through two innings, and Matt Garza doing the same to the home-standing Yanks, with the Tampa righty doing so on just 20 pitches. In an amusing moment early, Mattingly highlights were played on the big screen following the top of the second, and with the crowd scanning the video to see if Donnie would be shown in the house, the scoreboard staff answered the group question by playing the Eagles' "He's Already Gone." One inning later, Cervelli reached on a one-out single and Granderson homered for the early 2-0 lead.
Nova held the visitors to one single through five innings but, as he had in his last start in Tampa, he struggled in the middle innings. The big screen showed a clip from Mr. Steinbrenner's hilarious two-decades-old appearance on Saturday Night Live where George, admitting he wasn't an entertainer, uttered the line, "I'm just a beloved American from another walk of life." As if taking his cue, the Yanks walked twice in a 31-pitch bottom of the fifth in which they stretched their lead to 4-0. One run scored on the rare Yankee sacrifice fly from Alex Rodriguez and Garza walked Swisher to force across the second. But the Tampa starter escaped further damage by popping Lance Berkman out to second with the bases loaded with one out on a 3-1 count, as the Yankee DH had a second straight game with a failed at bat with one down and the sacks filled.
Three walks and four singles equaled matter for the Rays in the top of the sixth. Nova almost wiggled free by getting Evan Longoria to bounce into a 5-4-3, but Boone Logan had a rare bad night, surrendering two singles around a walk, and Chad Gaudin came on to walk in the tying run before finally escaping the long inning by getting Matt Joyce to fly out to Swisher in deep right field.
The game didn't stay tied long, as Brett Gardner and Cervelli singles and a Derek Jeter double drove Garza from the mound and scored one leading off the home sixth, and Granderson greeted reliever Grant Balfour with a long three-run bomb 30 or so feet inside the right field foul pole. To their credit, the Rays did not roll over, as they responded with one run in the seventh and another off Mariano Rivera in the ninth when Joyce rolled out to first as the tying run. Mariano got the win in a dominant inning in July following the deaths of Steinbrenner and longtime Yankee emcee Bob Sheppard in a frame where he actually picked B.J. Upton off first. Mo struggled Monday night, but he held on to record the save in the 8-6 Yankee win.
So the Yankees stretched their tiny AL East lead over Tampa to one and a half games with 12 games to go and, couple with Boston's loss to Baltimore, the team reduced their magic number for clinching a playoff spot to five. Minnesota kept pace in the race for the league's best record at one game behind the Yanks with a win over Cleveland. Granderson drove in five runs on the big night in honor of "The Boss," a recovering Swisher reached base four times, and young Cervelli did the same and scored three times.
I'm sure the timing of this tribute was largely driven by the baseball schedule, and the Steinbrenner family decided to host this tribute to George on the first night of the season's last homestand, but they could hardly have picked a more poignant day in Yankee history. On this day in the glorious 1961 season Roger Maris hit his 59th home run and barely missed in a try for his 60th that even Commissioner Ford Frick would have had to acknowledge would have equalled Babe Ruth's season mark. Seven years later Mickey Mantle hit the 536th and last home run of his Hall of Fame career off Boston's Jim Lonborg on September 20, 1968.
And 30 years ago this day, September 20, 1980, the Yankees commemorated a plaque in Monument Park to another recently lost hero and beloved team member. That plague to late Yankee captain Thurman Munson insists that the great team "leader has not left us, Today, tomorrow, this year, next..." it was a thrill to be in Yankee Stadium with 50,000 people including both Joe Torre and the great Don Mattingly and to think some of the same things about the late Yankee owner. And George, I'm sure, would have loved this signoff:
By the Way, the Yankees Won