Posted by: Larry Smith Jr. | January 24, 2010

It’s Too Cold for Baseball, but Never Too Cold For Memories

            As we reach the end of January we come ever closer to the point in time where we flip the calendar over into the same month where Spring Training begins.   Only four weeks away from pitchers & catchers reporting and six weeks from the start of game action, for those of us who miss the game during the Winter months it is difficult to stare out of our windows at the cold and snow and imagine that the season is so close to beginning.   It brings giddiness and excitement to realize that those days are near.    In times like this, I prefer to pull out recordings I have of old games or watching them on the MLB Network.   And I decided to have one of those moments in this forum today.  I wanted to relive one of the strangest — And most fun — Games I’ve ever attended.   The Tigers/Yankees game on August 24, 2007.   I think I can say without hyperbole that it is unlikely that I will ever see another game like it again.

            Setting the stage for part of what made it such a surreal experience is the actual importance of the game itself.   It was the first of a four game series between the Tigers and Yankees.   Both teams entered play that day in second place and fighting for a Wild Card spot.   The Yankees were 71-56, placing them five games behind the Red Sox in their division and two games behind Seattle for the Wild Card.   The Tigers were 68-59, placing them two and a half games behind the Indians for the division and five behind Seattle for the Wild Card.   Both teams needed to win the game to gain ground on their respective division leaders as well as the Mariners, but they also needed to knock each other out of wild card contention if at all possible.

            Adding to the situation was that due to the unbalanced schedule, the Tigers and Yankees were only slated to play two series against one another during the regular season and had just concluded the first of those series five days earlier at Yankee Stadium, where the Yankees won three of four games against Detroit on the strong pitching of Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, and Chien-Ming Wang.    Back in Detroit, the Tigers team needed the games not only to gain in the standings, but also to show that they could decisively take on a winning team.

            I had tickets for the game that night, as I was still a season ticket holder at the time and had a Friday night package that provided me with tickets to every Friday home game.   However, I was almost certain that I would not go.  I had an excess of work to do in the field at my job that day which would take me rather far from the Detroit area, and didn’t expect to return to the office — Which itself was roughly a half hour away from Comerica Park in good traffic — Until about a half-hour after the game was slated to begin, at 7:05.   As things turned out, I was far more optimistic than I should’ve been:  I didn’t return to the office until 8:30.    Part of the reason for that was an incredible deluge that hit Metro Detroit in a large wave of dark clouds, booming thunder, and lightning flashing across the sky.   It rained so hard that I could barely see out of my work truck — And going 20 MPH down the interstate is a good way to fall short of your estimated time of arrival to any given location.

            Fortunately for me, the same rainstorm that hampered my ride home also hit Comerica Park, and hit it hard.   This was not minor drizzle that would be easily taken care of by a top notch ground crew in a few minutes.   This was major rainfall that hit roughly twenty minutes before game time that caused rather significant trouble.  In fact, just doing a little digging I discovered that two-thirds of an inch of rain fell that night.   As I eventually left work and tuned in, I determined that incredibly the Tigers were determined to playing the game that night.   The reasons were easy enough to determine:  Radar showed that the rain cleared for the night and scheduling a double header during that weekend would be a logistical problem.   Due to a dearth of common off days that late in the season and no more schedule series between the two teams, it would be very difficult to reschedule the game for later in the season.   So they decided to wait it out.   As of 8:30 they were not saying on the radio exactly when the game would start, so I made the decision to see if I could go home and change out of my work clothes and into more comfortable “regular” clothes and still make it to the game on time.   When I walked into Comerica Park at 9:30 the game not only hadn’t yet started, but the tarp was still on the field and a rainout had not yet been called.  This set the stage for a crazy night in which the tarp was not pulled until roughly 10:20, and the game was never cancelled or postponed but only delayed — It would start at 11:06 PM, roughly an hour after the West Coast games started that night.

            Of course, the fact that the game was a relatively important one that started at 11 on the East Coast is strange enough, but there was still much in store for that night of baseball.   The game itself was highly exciting, one of the better games (purely on strength of the game in a vacuum, divorced from its implications) that the Tigers would be involved in that season.   The starting pitching match-up was exciting, pitting one of the game’s all-time greats in Roger Clemens for the Yankees against a Pitcher who then (and to an extent now, but not nearly as great of an extent) was considered one of the top young pitching prospects in baseball in Andrew Miller for the Tigers.   By the start of the sixth inning, both pitchers were out of a game that by that point had already seen three lead changes and the two teams deadlocked in a 6-6 tie.    And then suddenly as quickly as each team had poured the offense on the highly regarded starting pitchers, both teams saw their bullpens step up and completely shut down the opposition.   From the time Clemens left the game through the eighth, the Yankee bullpen would only allow the Tigers one base runner.   In the 3 2/3 innings between Miller’s departure and the end of the eighth, the Tigers would allow three Yankees to reach base.   The teams entered the ninth still tied, 6-6.

At this point I remember that there may have been maybe 8,000 people left in the park.  Many streamed out about an hour before the game began, and throughout the game people were filtering out presumably due to attrition:  They figured they could make it, but as the clock struck 12, and then 1, and then 2 o’ clock, their bodies were telling them that they couldn’t.    Those of us that stayed would be treated to a tremendous ending.   The Tigers would get two on with two out against Luis Vizcaino in the ninth but fail to score, and they would load the bases against Mariano Rivera with one out in the tenth but fail to score.   Meanwhile, the clock steadily moved past three o’ clock as it would take extra innings in a game that took an extra long time to begin to determine a winner. 

Entering the eleventh inning two things happened of note.   The first was that the Tigers in-house DJ made probably the most appropriate song selection that I’ve ever heard at any public event of any kind in my life.  In between the bottom of the 10th and top of the 11th he played over the PA the song “Ocean Avenue” by Yellowcard.   I’d never heard the song before that night, and for those unfamiliar with the song I’ll tell you that the reason it was such an appropriate selection is that one of the refrains of the song is: “Party all day and stayin’ up all night”.   I actually added the song to my own music collection later that week and every time I hear it, I’m reminded of this game and sitting in Comerica Park at 3 AM watching Chad Durbin take his warm-up tosses.   The second thing of note that happened was that I took note of the time and realized that in Detroit in the Summer, the Sun often rises around 5:30.   I began HOPING that the game would go into very late innings — 15 or 16 or 17 — So that I could experience the novelty of attending a baseball game that started at night and ended in the day without a break in between.   While that did not happen, it wasn’t until the top of the 11th that the thought entered my mind.

To put an exclamation point on a strange but outstanding night of baseball, the Tigers put runners on first and third with two outs in the bottom of the 11th for Carlos Guillen to face Sean Henn.   Guillen, a strike away from being retired, would club a monstrous home run over the Left Field fence at Comerica Park at 3:30 in the morning, putting an end to a wild night of baseball that went well into the next day.   Leaving the ballpark after the game was a surreal experience, as there weren’t all that many people left in the park, and with people having parked in all directions from the park, only a fraction of fans would go in any one direction at any given time.   As a result, only a few hundred (or maybe just a hundred) fans were walking down the street along with me as we went back to our cars nearing 4 o’ clock in the morning.   Everything was dark except the stadium and no cars were anywhere on the road.   Even driving home from the game was surreal, as there was no post-game traffic and no virtually nobody on the road home.  By it being a Saturday morning, there wasn’t even business “pre-rush hour” traffic.

Sometimes on cold Sundays in January’s that are without major league baseball, it is fun to relive some of our most fun moments, and this game definitely qualifies as one of the more fun fan moments I’ve had.  It’s also one of the wildest games I’ve ever attended, though slightly short of almost every game I’ve ever been to at Progressive Field as far as that’s concerned.   Hopefully the season will get here soon and bring us more memorable nights (and maybe mornings) like the ones that were given to me on August 24, 2007.

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