The upper decks at Yankee Stadium actually bounced, just like they do in October.
Only this was May 9th.
It’s crazy to think that we could have an experience like that in the Bronx for a regular-season game, even with the Red Sox in the building. But that’s what happened Wednesday night during the late innings of the Yankees’ 9-6 comeback victory, spurred by an electric four-run rally in the eighth.
We heard the noise escalate, from Neil Walker’s leadoff double against Sox reliever Matt Barnes, then kick up a few more decibels when Gleyber Torres drew the one-out walk to put runners at the corners. These Yankees already have planted the seeds of belief in the Bronx fandom, the confidence that anything is possible.
So when Boston manager Alex Cora finally called on Craig Kimbrel — the first time the closer has ever been called on for a save of more than four outs — those who stayed from the announced crowd of 47,088 sensed that the Sox were ready to crack, just because these fans have witnessed it before.
Sure enough, Kimbrel did shrink in that moment. Better yet, give Brett Gardner credit for breaking him. The previously-slumping Gardner, who already had two doubles and narrowly missed a third, ripped a 97-mph fastball into the left-centerfield gap that sent Mookie Betts sprinting madly in vain.
As the two runs scored easily, and Gardner hustled along the basepaths for a triple, that’s when the concrete structure shuddered, bringing back memories of last year’s improbable playoff run. The wild-card Yankees twice wiped out 2-0 deficits to division winners, the Indians and Astros, before ultimately falling to the eventual world champs. The energy to do what most thought impossible that October was drawn from what the Bronx could muster, and to hear it summoned again so early, for this series against the Red Sox, was unexpected.
“It’s May, and it was bedlam,” Aaron Boone said.
The Yankees’ rookie manager knows what bedlam in the Bronx truly feels like, having stirred it up himself in the old place with his pennant-clinching walk-off homer against Tim Wakefield way back in 2003. This new version can’t rock like that stadium did. It’s three levels can’t shimmy and sway to the point of feeling like they might collapse — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But this shiny, luxury-infused ballpark still can party, and the hated Red Sox always make for the best entertainment.
For as much as Gardner fired up the crowd, it was Aaron Judge who popped the top off by slamming another Kimbrel 97-mph bullet high over the wall in dead-center. That’s when the October flashbacks really started coming fast, and the calendar was completely forgotten. This could have been one that slipped away for the Yankees, as soon as Hanley Ramirez put the Sox ahead at 6-5 with a rocket two-run homer off Chad Green in the seventh. Written off as an inspired effort that came up a little short.
But the 2018 Yankees don’t operate like that. They pulled off an improbable comeback against the Indians last Sunday, wiping away a 4-0 deficit with only six outs left. In retrospect, that was a great tuneup for this week’s main event with the visiting Red Sox, who now find themselves in second place, victimized by the unstoppable spirit that has been driving the Yankees during a 17-1 stretch that hasn’t been seen in the Bronx since 1953.
“I wouldn’t say it’s inevitable,” Gardner said of the team’s late-inning heroics. “I think we all have a lot of confidence in each other that we can get the job done.”
Only seven weeks into the season, we’re exhausting our supply of superlatives for these Yankees, a sizzling club that needed just 19 days to wipe out a 7 1⁄2-game deficit and vault over the Red Sox into the top spot in the AL East. As unlikely as that seemed, what we’ve witnessed in the Bronx over the past two days has been remarkable in itself, and that includes the frenzied playoff atmosphere.
We never believed it could be possible. Until now.
“It’s May, but you wouldn’t have known it,” Neil Walker said. “You would have thought it was September or October.”
Those months will have a lot to live up to.