The day was June 15, 2007. My 20th birthday. My teenage years were now behind me. I was going through some rough times back then, but it was my birthday and I was going to enjoy it.
Up late the night before, my dad (I suppose) felt obliged to come into my room and wake me up at 7:00 a.m. He said there were a couple of birthday gifts downstairs for me, so I managed to drag myself out of bed, still half asleep, and make my way down to open my gifts.
First I unwrapped a framed, personalized Yankee photo; a thoughtful gift that I loved. Today it hangs in my room directly under my framed Derek Jeter Prodigy poster.
Then my dad reached into his pocket to reveal an envelope–two tickets to the Yankees vs. Mets game at Yankee Stadium that night. It was really the only gift I had asked for that year and I was ecstatic that we were going.
“We’ll go watch old Roger pitch tonight, son. Happy birthday!” is what my dad told me.
Roger Clemens and Oliver Perez were the probable pitchers, and I was fully expecting the Yankees to dismantle their cross-town rivals. Perez had showed inconsistency entering that game, posting a (slim) winning record of 6-5.
For Clemens, it was only his second start in his second stint with the Bombers, and in his homecoming game on June 9, he beat the Pittsburgh Pirates and looked on top of his game. In his first start back against the Bucs, the Rocket gave up three runs on just five hits over six innings of work. He walked two and struck out seven.
Not bad, if you ask me. I was expecting more of that on my birthday.
We made it to the stadium early to catch batting practice. It was nice to see Jeter and Jorge Posada go over to Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez during batting practice, as the once-Yankee pitcher, who was a vital part of the Championship years in the late ’90s, was now a starter for the Mets.
I smiled as they embraced and shook hands; it reminded me of those old days when the three were teammates. I realized at that moment that baseball players really don’t forget where they came from; I know those three didn’t.
The game eventually got underway and Clemens quickly got into trouble; he put Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran on base to lead off the game. He soon settled down, however, getting Paul LoDuca to groundout and end the frame avoiding any damage.
The game was moving rather slowly up until the top of the third. Reyes was able to tap a single through the middle into centerfield to score Carlos Gomez, who would later play a pivotal role in the outcome of the game. It gave the Mets a 1-0 lead and I was none too happy about it.
In the fifth, Reyes struck again, belting a solo home run off Clemens. This is what I saw:
From my seat, I saw the ball hit off Reyes’s bat. I looked and saw right fielder Bobby Abreu drifting back. I saw the ball bank off the Modells sign on the facing of the upper deck. And then I looked back and saw Reyes rounding second base on his way home after it was officially ruled a goner.
I could hear the Mets fans in attendance overpower the Yankee fans’ jeers. They screamed in unison, “JOSE! Jose-Jose-Jose. Jose! Jose!” in place of “Ole! Ole-Ole-Ole” as the tune actually goes.
“Where am I?” I remember thinking. “Shea Stadium?!”
Reyes’s homer gave the Mets a 2-0 lead. His home run was hard to watch, but believe it or not it wasn’t the biggest play of the game.
The inning before Reyes left the yard, Miguel Cairo stood at the plate with Robinson Cano on first and Hideki Matsui on second and one out. He smacked a long fly ball to left, unquestionably destined for the seats.
But Gomez leapt for the ball at the wall, reached his glove over the fence and made a spectacular catch to rob Cairo of a big fly. Not only did Gomez snatch the ball, he had the wherewithal to gun it back to second base and double up Matsui to end the frame.
I was beside myself. I could not believe I saw that. I thought to myself, “Cairo needs to call the NYPD, because Gomez stole his homer!”
And that robbed homer proved to be the difference in the ballgame, because the Mets went on to win, 2-0. The Yankees couldn’t generate any offense the rest of the night. Even Alex Rodriguez, who was having the season of his life, could not save the Yankees on that night.
Rodriguez went on to hit 54 home runs that year, knock in 156 runs, and win the Most Valuable Player Award. I knew he was having an amazing season and the crowd was behind him when the eighth inning approached.
The 2007 MVP stepped into the box with two outs and Jeter on third. The capacity crowd went absolutely insane! It was almost like they expected him to hit a home run and tie the game. When I say the crowd was going nuts, believe me, they were going nuts.
Unfortunately A-Rod grounded weakly to his counterpart David Wright and ended the inning. And basically ended the Yankees’ hopes of coming back to win.
Win Perez, loss Clemens. Save Billy Wagner, loss A.J. Martelli.
Yes, I was upset but I cannot say I didn’t have fun. I did what I wanted to do on my birthday and got the opportunity to watch my favorite team play. It was a good night, despite the loss. For as bad as the Yanks struggled, Carlos Delgado struggled just as much.
The Mets’ first baseman recorded the golden sombrero: four strikeouts in one game, three of those four times he was fanned by Clemens. Even though the Yankees lost, it was a legitimate pitchers duel, which are usually the best games to go to. The Yankees just happened to be on the wrong end of it.
And for that I blame Gomez for his thievery; I can’t take anything away from his athleticism, but man did I wonder: if he hadn’t caught that ball, the complexion of the whole game might have been so much different.
I wasn’t only amused by the action on the field that night, either.
What I also recall from my 20th birthday was the yapping that I overheard between two fans. Believe it or not, a Phillies fan was seated next to me, rooting for the Yankees against the Mets. A Met fan was sitting next to him and the two began discussing the National League East.
“Who’s your best guy?” the Mets fan asked. “Chase Utley…I’d say Utley. Or Ryan Howard,” the Phillie fan replied.
The conversation continued.
“Who’s your closer?” the Met fan asked. “(Antonio) Alfonseca!” the Phillie fan answered.
“Yeah. We’ll see you in October,” said the Met fan mockingly.
The irony was absurd.
If that Met fan had only known what was going to happen at the end of that year–the Mets blowing a seven game lead in the division with only 12 left to play–I’m sure he wouldn’t have opened his mouth at all that night.
When the Mets missed the playoffs in 2007, I immediately remembered that conversation. “Yeah, I bet that Met fan is kicking himself right now!” I thought as I witnessed the epic collapse.
I’ll bet he was also crying the next two days. Following the Mets’ 2-0 win over the Yankees on my birthday, they lost to the Yankees the next two games and ultimately lost the weekend series.
I watched the third game with some of my family members who are Mets fans. Rodriguez homered in that game, Chien-Ming Wang struck out 10, and the Yankees won 8-2. It was refreshing to see the Yanks win and in a way it made up for the loss on my birthday two days before.
But I’ll never forget that birthday. Every time someone speaks of the Mets’ 2007 collapse, or I see Gomez, I think of that night.