The most fitting ending, Joe Girardi said, would have occurred had the previous batter come through. But he still found it plenty appropriate that Nick Swisher lined a two-out RBI single in the ninth inning Friday night to give the Yankees a 5-4 victory over the Rays.
It capped an emotional night at Yankee Stadium, one that started with a pregame ceremony honoring owner George Steinbrenner and longtime public address announcer Bob Sheppard, both of whom passed away earlier in the week. "There are two things I know Mr. Steinbrenner loved," Girardi said. "He loved his Yankees and he loved his Buckeyes. And a Buckeye won it."
Just before the single by Swisher, who went to Ohio State, Derek Jeter, the Yankee most inextricably linked with Steinbrenner and Sheppard, struck out.
Jeter, who grew up in Michigan and is a fan of the University of Michigan - a constant source of needling from Steinbrenner - smiled. "The Boss didn't like Michigan, so I figured I'd strike out," said Jeter, who went 0-for-5. "Had to be one final victory for Ohio State."
The Yankees (57-32) rallied from 2-0, 3-1 and 4-3 deficits to beat the Rays, who fell three games behind in the AL East. "I thought the club played like Mr. Steinbrenner expected," Girardi said. "Fought back [three times] and then we won it in the end."
It was reminiscent of Aug. 6, 1979, when Bobby Murcer drove in five runs in the final three innings - two with a walk-off single - to beat the Orioles hours after giving a eulogy at Thurman Munson's funeral in Ohio.
"Thurman Munson comes to mind. The game Bobby Murcer had after he passed away,'' Jorge Posada said. "And today, just one of those, we just kept playing it and playing it. We never died and we never gave at-bats away even later in the game until we won that game.''
Swisher's second-deck blast - his 16th homer of the year - off Joaquin Benoit tied it at 4 in the eighth. The Yankees had received back-to-back home runs with two outs in the sixth from Robinson Cano and Posada (on a 3-and-0 pitch) that tied it at 3.
After the game, Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York'' theme was interrupted by a recording of Sheppard thanking everyone for coming and imploring them to "please drive carefully and arrive home safely.'' The crowd let out one final roar, and Swisher got hit with the obligatory whipped-cream towel to end his big night. "It was important for us to win this game today," Posada said.
It's difficult to measure, but it had to rate among the stranger regular-season atmospheres at the Stadium, old or new.
In honor of Sheppard, after the pregame ceremony, PA announcer Paul Olden told the fans the booth would be left empty the rest of the night, with no further announcements about batters, pitching changes, pinch runners or defensive substitutions. And to "honor'' both men, as a sign held by one of them stated, the Bleacher Creatures did not perform their roll call.
The pregame ceremony started at 6:45 p.m. with a recording of Sheppard's famous "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Yankee Stadium," which elicited cheers.
Olden opened with a statement about the Yankees having lost two "legendary" men in the last week and introduced a video tribute to Steinbrenner. Included on the video were recorded remembrances from longtime Yankees Jeter and Andy Pettitte and newer ones such as Mark Teixeira. "George Steinbrenner is the greatest owner in the history of professional sports," Brian Cashman said during the video as the fans applauded.
Mariano Rivera laid two long-stemmed red roses across home plate - one for Steinbrenner and one for Sheppard. Girardi's voice cracked when he recalled that moment after the game, and Posada said he couldn't hold it together at the time. "That got to me," he said. "I got emotional. I lost it a little bit. I gathered myself, looked up and [thought] he's in a good place."
The applause accompanying Rivera was interrupted by the sound of Sheppard's voice asking everyone to direct their attention behind the plate to "No. 2, Derek Jeter," who stepped behind a microphone.
"We gather here tonight to honor two men who were both shining stars in the Yankees' universe," he said, speaking without notes. "Both men, Mr. George Steinbrenner and Mr. Bob Sheppard, cared deeply about their responsibilities to this organization and to our fans. And for that, they'll forever be remembered in baseball history and in our hearts. Simply put, Mr. Steinbrenner and Mr. Sheppard both left this organization in a much better place than when they first arrived. They've set the example for all employees of the New York Yankees to strive to follow. So now I ask everyone to join us in a moment of silence."
Jeter said, "It's tough. I've never spoken before at a memorial service or anything like that."
"Just a wonderful night," Girardi said. "A night that's a very sad night, but I think The Boss would be proud. And I think Bob Sheppard would have loved being the PA for this game."
Said Jeter: "It was wonderful. It was an honor to be a part of it. It was another one of those special moments at Yankee Stadium.''