This article, slightly modified, will appear in the Hunterdon County Democrat on Thursday…
As you know, I was fortunate enough to be able to cover the first two games of the 2009 American League Division Series between the Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees.
And this post can’t go any further without relaying my heartfelt appreciation to the Yankees organization for letting me get a great experience and some great stories as well.
But, just a few hours before the third game of this great series kicks off tonight, let me share a few thoughts from Friday night’s Game 2.
I’ve covered a little more than 650 games in my seven year career, and that may be the best one I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of. From it looking like a pitchers duel through the first five innings, to Alex Rodriguez tying it up in the ninth inning, to the blown call down the left field line, to the Twins loading the bases with no outs and Mark Teixeira’s dramatic walk-off home run that skipped off the top of the left field wall, this game absolutely had it all.
I rarely stay for the entirety of a big league game when I’m covering it. I’m not there for the game — I’m there to talk to players for stories beforehand — so I’ll usually stay for about five innings and then leave so I can get out of everybody’s way. I didn’t even stay for the entirety of Game 1 of the ALDS, to be honest.
But with pre-game player access limited to off-day workouts, I needed to stay for the entirety of Game 2 anyway.
I’m sure glad I did.
It was a circus in the clubhouse after the game, with the media scrambling to interview all the big stars from the game who weren’t going to be in the interview room after the game — those players being Rodriguez and Teixeira. Meanwhile, Alfredo Aceves was finishing up a few interviews with some Spanish-speaking media outlets and Phil Coke was getting dressed by his locker with nobody approaching him at all.
Being that my focus is Thunder coverage, I wanted to know from them what it was like to be a part of a game like that. Sure, around 200 media members and a new stadium record crowd of 50,006 people will know what it was like to be there, but only a handful of players can say they actually played in this epic contest.
“It feels like I pitched yesterday man, not today,” said reliever Phil Coke, who faced just one batter, striking out Minnesota’s Jason Kubel to end the seventh inning.
“There were a lot of innings, a lot of hard fought innings in both directions. We played a great game, and we were in a position to win the game a few times early, but so were they. But it ended up having to go to extras, and we wound up winning in extras. It’s what everybody dreams about doing, but instead of the bottom of the ninth, it was the bottom of the eleventh. It was fun. I had a good time.”
Aceves, signed out of the Mexican League after the 2007 season, has only been in the Yankees organization for two seasons, but has already earned a key role as a long reliever and spot starter in the big leagues.
He pitched the tenth inning of the game, allowing a walk and a hit, but ultimately holding the Twins off the scoreboard.
“It’s a great feeling,” Aceves said.
“It’s kind of different, the postseason. If we lose, we’re going home, and we don’t want to lose. We just played hard, and we won today.”
Aceves, who pitched for the Thunder in 2008, was particularly impressed by the way his team’s star players stepped up when it mattered the most.
“They’re great players,” he said.
“I’m just happy to be there with them. I thank God to be a part of this.”
For Coke, who was known for his easygoing nature and willingness to talk to just about anyone while with the Thunder, it should come as little surprise that if there was any pressure on him pitching in a game like that, he sure didn’t seem to notice.
“I don’t think there was any pressure on me, and shame on me if I did,” Coke told the Democrat.
“I’d faced (Kubel) the first day, and I didn’t make the pitch that I wanted to make, I wanted to make it off the plate. But I got lucky, and he lined it right at Tex. Tonight, I went out there and I was making sure that if I was missing, I was missing off the plate. I was going after him early with the sliders. It was great pitch-calling by Posada back there, and I was right on board with everything that he called. I was happy to do it.”