On October 8, 2007, the New York Yankees arrived at Yankee Stadium to try to keep their playoff hopes alive. The pressure on the Yankees to win was enormous. They had not won a World Series title since 2001, and they were in danger of making an early ALDS exit at the hands of the Cleveland Indians. After dropping the first two games of the five-game series, the Yankees stormed back and beat the Indians handily in game three, winning by a score of 8-4.
Driving to the ballpark that day, manager Joe Torre and his club knew what a big game they had in front of them, but it is likely that none of them knew what a historic game it would be.
The Yank’s 6-4 loss to the Tribe would mark the last playoff game ever played in Yankee Stadium. In the stadium where Don Larsen once threw a perfect game in the 1956 World Series, Mariano Rivera would be the last Yankee to throw a playoff pitch in The House That Ruth Built. In the very same building that Reggie Jackson hit three home runs in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series, Alex Rodriguez would be the last man to homer in the postseason. In a stadium where three Popes said mass, only God knows who was the last man to say a prayer in the ninth inning.
But none of that was decided on October 8. In the coming days and weeks, it became clear that the Boss, George Steinbrenner, was no longer commanding the ship. His son, Hank Steinbrenner, had clearly taken the reins, and was now running the show. In his first move as the Yankees new hot-headed owner, Hank drove Torre out of town by offering him a contract to remain in New York that would severely cut his pay. Torre had not missed the playoffs in over a decade, and offering him a pay cut was nothing short of showing him the door.
So with Torre gone, Don Mattingly was expected to lead the Yankees as their new skipper. But when Joe Girardi got the nod, Mattingly followed Torre to L.A. With Mattingly and Torre off the bench, Girardi faced a huge challenge as the new Yankee manager. He was expected to win, and he was expected to win right away.
Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy were supposed to be the bright spots in a Yankee rotation that would feature veterans Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte. But early on in the season, Hughes and Kennedy struggled, and eventually both were injured and spent extensive time rehabbing in the minor leagues. Had those two been the only injuries, the Yankees might have been able to survive with the addition of Joba Chamberlain to the starting rotation. But then Alex Rodriguez had to skip a few weeks with an injury. The list of Yankee players placed on the disabled list spanned from the battery to the outfield to the bullpen. Hideki Matsui, Brian Bruney, Jorge Posada, Joba Chamberlain, and Chien-Ming Wang were all forced out of the lineup this year.
In the end, the injuries were too much for the New York Yankees to overcome. The Yanks were overwhelmed by a combination of unfortunate injuries and exceptional competition. Of course, no one expected the Tampa Bay Rays to play the way they have this year. Even with several off-season acquisitions, many of the Rays’ players have had inexplicable transformations from 2007 to 2008. Tampa manager Joe Madden now has a bullpen that features four or five solid guys that he can feel confident in giving the ball.
There are plenty of reasons that the Yankees missed the playoffs, but when it is all over and the dust settles, one fact will haunt Yankee fans. Joe Torre will be in the playoffs and the Yankees will not. Torre may not have been able to lead the Yankees to the playoffs this year, but Yankee fans will never know for sure.
What Yankee fans do know for sure is that this weekend, the cathedral of baseball will close its doors forever. With the last game in the House That Ruth Built fast approaching, everyone will walk away with something different. Derek Jeter will take with him the record for most hits in Yankee Stadium, but he also says that he is taking something else with him that he will not disclose to the media. While Jeter will walk away with some priceless piece of Yankee history, most people will walk away with memories of one of the greatest ballparks in the history of the sport.
After this weekend, baseball will be forever changed. No more roll calls from the bleacher creatures in right. No more short porch home runs reminiscent of Maris and Mantle in the summer of 1961. No more wondering if anyone will ever hit one out of the stadium. They won’t. No more digging into the same batter’s box that Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, and Lou Gehrig did. But most importantly no twenty-seventh championship will be won in the eighty-five year old building. Yankee Stadium will be closed for business in October.