Never Leave The Game Early

Sam Blum uncapped his metaphorical Sharpie, ready to write in the New York Yankees as winners.

Sitting in the fourth deck behind home plate in Yankee Stadium on a pleasant June night, I couldn’t argue with him when he said the game was over.

The Yankees held a dominating 8-1 lead entering the top of the ninth inning. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim looked as confused in the field as most fans feel when trying to decipher where the team actually hails from. The Angels had squandered seven runners (five in scoring position) so far. The stars weren’t playing well; neither Mike Trout nor Albert Pujols had a hit. Boring game.

Blum wanted to leave. He didn’t enjoy seeing a big Yankees win and the New York Mets (his team) were about to begin a game out west against the Arizona Diamondbacks. I balked at his suggestion. I never leave a game early.

But honestly, other than principle, I didn’t know why I wanted to stay either.

Stephen Drew, the former Red Sox shortstop and current New York Yankee, the same one who might’ve had the worst playoffs of all-time in 2013, had two home runs which, off the bat, looked like little pokes over the first baseman’s head. That’s what you get for playing in Yankee Stadium with a 314-foot right field porch.

To increase frustrations: Whenever the Angels seemed primed to score, Kirk Nieuwenhuis came to bat.

Blum knew Nieuwenhuis – and his disappointments – from his Mets days, which had ended recently. New York had traded the outfielder to the Angels for cash a week earlier, on May 27. The Mets didn’t receive any players. It’s not being traded for 10 maple bats, but that’s still pretty bad – as was Niewenhuis’ .079 batting average in 40 games.

After a lead-off double in the second inning, Nieuwenhuis reached (on an error) and was promptly picked off. That was the beginning of his 0-for-5 day. He also ruined my night, but more on that later.

Even though I wouldn’t leave early, Blum wanted to beat the crowd to the subway, so he asked if we could go down a few levels to stand watch the last half-inning. I acquiesced. As we climbed down the stairs, it opened on to the street and out towards the subway. I stared out at the street for a second, and quickly climbed back up the steps to the second deck while Blum’s calls of, “You’re crazy!” followed me.

Blum became more exasperated when he saw what we’d stayed to watch. Angels manager Mike Sciosia had waved the white flag, subbing scrubs for stars. Mike Trout was replaced by Grant Green. (Who?) Albert Pujols sat down for Efren Navarro. (Who?) Erick Aybar’s night finished as Sciosia went with Taylor Featherson. (Owl.)

But suddenly, after a Johnny Giavotella single and Featherston double, the Angels were threatening. I looked at Sam and jokingly said, “Watch this comeback.”

And then, something remarkable happened.

Green singled, Navarro walked, Kole Calhoun singled. The Angels scored twice, still had the bases loaded and hadn’t recorded an out!

Esmil Rogers, the Yankees pitcher, was sent to the showers and the Yankees brought in Dellin Betances.

Here’s the situation: One of the American League’s nastiest pitchers – who hadn’t allowed a run in 29.1 innings – facing the bottom of an Angels batting order, which is one of the worst offenses in baseball?

The rally was cute. It was fun. But it was also over.

The numbers indicated that a dominant pitcher versus a bad offense wouldn’t produce many runs.

Baseball is a game of numbers – except when it’s not.

The two home run game by Drew should’ve told me that earlier.

Betances was getting squeezed, the booing Yankees crowd thought. He walked in a run. Another dribbler snuck through the infield. All in all, the Angels first eight batters reached and the tying run stood on second base with still no one out. This type of thing doesn’t happen in real life, I thought.

And then who comes up to bat – the only hitter not to come up this inning?

Captain Kirk Nieuwenhuis.

What’s he do?

What he does best. Strike out swinging on a 3-2 pitch.

But it’s OK. There’s still a chance.

Giavotella smacks a ball toward the hole between third and short, but the Yankees short stop made a nice play. Didi Gregorious flipped it to second for the force out, but the Angels got within a run.

8-7 Yankees. Top of the ninth inning. The tying run, 90 feet away.

Then Sciosia pinch hits for Featherston, the guy who smacked a double off the wall to start the inning, for Carlos Perez, a rookie with 20 games of MLB experience.

Perez strikes out. The game’s over. The Angels still lost, just by six fewer runs.

And later, I think, Blum said he was glad we stayed.

Sam Fortier is a displaced New Englander living in New York City. He likes baseball, crunchy peanut butter and the sound Kanye makes in his songs, which he thinks is spelled “HAAH.” He’s not a fan of grammatical error’s. You can read him here every Monday, follow him on Twitter @Sam4TR, or email him at sam.fortier@yahoo.com.

LAST NOTE: June 10, the Angels designated Nieuwenhuis for assignment. June 13, the Mets claimed him. Comedic genius.

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