Tonight’s 6-4 ALDS Game 1 win for the Yankees over the Twins was one of those games that outsiders watch and wonder, “Why are Yankees fans ever worried, about anything?” while Yankees fans gird their loins and grit their teeth, terrified. It has been several months, really, since the Yankees have played a game that mattered, and the void caused by a lack of urgency was replaced by worry. Is Mariano Rivera still Mo? Can Mark Teixeira hit in the postseason? Lord a-mighty, what happens with the rotation if CC loses Game 1? Tonight’s game sprouted all those concerns, and then vanquished them. The Yankees, these Yankees, just win in the postseason, sometimes even in spite of themselves. What were we all so concerned about?
The first five innings were constant agita. Francisco Liriano was shutting the Yankees down methodically, without any noticeable effort. CC Sabathia was laboring, somehow sweating on a chilly Minnesota night, not acting as the dominant No. 1 starter the Yanks desperately needed him to be. The Target Field crowd was roaring. We’d all just watched Roy Halladay make pitching look far easier than it’s supposed to look, and the Twins’ three-run lead felt irrationally insurmountable.
And then the Yankees exploded. Actually, that’s the wrong term. They plodded, they lurked, they waited until the right time, and then they struck. Four runs in the fifth inning, two hard-earned runs before Curtis Granderson’s ethereal triple off the wall — See? He can hit left-handers! — gave the Yanks the lead. The Twins, not feeling done yet, feeding off the energy of an intense-but-not-as-berserk-as-at-the-Metrodome crowd, tied it right back up, and we were reminded that it was October, that this was what we spend all year stowing away for, that this was going to be a long night. (Note to New York City employers: Thursday morning, all your employees will be zombies, all day. It would behoove you to grow accustomed to this for the rest of the month. It is assumed that you saw this coming.)
Then, in the top of the seventh, Teixeira powered under one and looped it just inside the right-field foul pole. You could feel the oxygen escape Target Field, in cold, impossibly white, . It might not have seemed to Yankees fans that the game was over, and there were certainly some hairy moments to come, but in Minnesota, they knew: The Yankees had them again. (It was shocking to see how many Twins fans left the park in the eighth.) Mariano Rivera came in to throw his bocce ball cutter, breaking bats as if they were made of wiffle, and the Yankees had their ALDS lead. Again. The Twins have to wonder if this will ever stop.
The Yankees should not be too relieved; with a gimpy Andy Pettitte and little rotation absolution to come, this was more of a must-win than any Yankees ALDS Game 1 should be. They didn’t win this series tonight; they just avoided disaster. But both teams’ fans came away from this game feeling that, alas, it is the same as it ever was. The Twins play hard, the Yankees hit some rough spots, not everything runs smoothly … and the Yankees still win. At the time, in the moment, it felt like nothing but peril. In retrospect, it feels inevitable.
Now, get to sleep. We all get to go through this again in about fifteen hours. Tonight was a glorious slog of a reminder: This is the fun part.