The 2001 playoffs were an extremely emotional time for New York Yankees fans. Yes, the Yanks were cruising along in search of their fourth straight title, but there was more in the air and hearts of New Yorkers. We were less than a month removed from the September 11th attacks, and the city was still very much devastated.
I was at all three home games of the 2001 ALDS against the Oakland A’s. I remember the vibe inside the old Yankee Stadium heading into Game 1. It was electric, but not the same as usual. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that when you looked up, there were snipers at the ready on the roof of he Stadium. It was that kind of time in New York. You had no idea what to expect.
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That Yankees team was playing for more than a trophy. They were playing for New York. It was one of the rare times that the nation rallied behind the Evil Empire, as everyone wanted to see a win for New York. After the first two games, it looked like the season was lost. Roger Clemens, who would win the CY Young Award that season with a 20-3 record, was beat up early in Game 1, and then Tim Hudson out dueled Andy Pettitte in a thrilling 2-0 Game 2. They headed to Oakland to square off against one of the best teams in baseball on their own turf down two games to none.
Moose pitched a doozy in Game 3, combining with Mo on a 1-0 masterpiece against Barry Zito. Of course, this little flip by the Captain made history and saved the game. Jeter rallied the troops and the tides turned. A 9-2 massacre by the Yanks sent the series back to New York tied where Roger Clemens would get a chance to redeem himself.
Game 5 was not like the other two games. That New York feeling was back. People were screaming. Clemens once again went down early 2-0 in the top of the second. But in the bottom half of the inning, a rookie second baseman batting in the nine hole named Alfonso Soriano drove in two to tie the game. The Stadium was rocking. If you have never been to the old Yankee Stadium, this is not a metaphor. When Yankee fans rallied, the Stadium literally shook. You lived for moments like that. Those were the greatest. You weren’t exactly confident that the stands wouldn’t just collapse, but you didn’t care. Moments like those you kept jumping and screaming and yelling, usually curse words and comments about how bad the other team was.
The Yanks would take the lead in the third, and tie one more on in the fourth on a Derek Jeter sacrifice fly. Jason Giambi, only a few months away from becoming a Yankee himself, got the As back into it with his second RBI of the night. The score was 4-3, and up came David Justice.
There is just something about a home run at the old Yankee Stadium in October. Justice smashed the insurance run that night and Yankees fans were going bananas. That was all they needed. Mariano Rivera came on in the eighth ready for a patented 2-inning save. I’ll never forget it. My three friends and I were going so nuts, I knocked my glasses straight off my own face two rows in front of me. After Mo struck out the second out of the ninth, I yelled, ‘Don’t pitch till I find my glasses!’ I got them back to see Mo strike out the final batter. Yankee Stadium exploded.
It wasn’t the best game I have ever been to, I had seen bigger home runs and more historic hits in my years at the old ballpark. But this game was a lot more. The Yankees won one for New York. We were back, not just as Yankees fans, but as New Yorkers. That’s a feeling I will never forget.