NEW YORK — OK, so we’ve all seen this movie before — several times this season alone, in fact. You know, the one in which the New York Yankees, a team everyone has counted out many times over its first three months, comes back to do something completely unexpected, igniting the hope that this time, they really, truly mean to make something of a generally miserable season.
They did it in the first series of the season, when they took two of three from the Houston Astros, the team that ended their 2015 postseason in slightly over three hours. They did it again in mid-May, when they strung together six consecutive victories, their longest winning streak of the season, and again about three weeks ago, when they swept a four-game series from the Angels.
Each time, it has turned out to be a snare and a delusion, and the transitory pleasure of becoming a .500 team — a modest goal at best — soon melted away in the despair of yet another losing streak.
And so things seemed to be headed south Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium, where the Yankees found themselves three outs away from a third straight loss to the mighty Texas Rangers — the fourth consecutive game in which they had allowed at least seven runs, a dubious distinction they hadn’t achieved in nearly six years. A defeat would have dropped them a whopping 10 games behind the American League East-leading Baltimore Orioles, and that would have been their biggest deficit since Sept. 7, 2014.
But then strange things began to happen. Sam Dyson — the Rangers’ closer who had blown just one save all season, had allowed just four earned runs in his previous 26 appearances and had every reason to believe he would not be used on this night with his team leading 7-3 — was pressed into service when the first two Yankees reached base in the ninth inning.
The wheels immediately began to come off for Dyson and the Rangers. Brett Gardner singled and center fielder Ian Desmond fumbled the ball, allowing a run to score. Alex Rodriguez lined hard to second, but what looked like a potential double-play ball, or maybe even a game-ending triple play, went for just one out as the Yankees baserunners fortuitously held their positions.
And then Brian McCann, brought here on a four-year deal specifically to exploit the stadium’s short right-field wall, powered one over that wall — his second of the game and in fact second in the final two innings — to tie the game at 7. Dyson, rattled, walked Starlin Castro and then hung a changeup to Didi Gregorius, who lined it into the right-field seats.
Just like that, the Yankees had a 9-7 win, and not just any win, but an improbable, rousing, tantalizing and quite possibly horribly misleading win.
“Probably the biggest win of the year for us,” Rodriguez said.
“A win we really had to fight for. They should be excited in there,” said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, adding he hoped the quick turnaround before Thursday’s 1:05 p.m. ET start would help the feeling carry over.
“This one can be huge,” said McCann, a man not given to overstatement, or, to be honest, much statement of any kind.
And it might well be. But as noted earlier, we’ve seen this movie before, and it has yet to have a happy ending. And for eight innings, even this one was a bit of a horror show. Masahiro Tanaka once again was ineffective working on “regular” four days’ rest, allowing six earned runs in six innings, four of them in a third inning in which the Rangers were playing pinball with his splitter. Aside from Chase Headley‘s second-inning home run, the offense wasn’t doing much, managing only three hits off Texas starter Nick Martinez, who came in with a 5.54 ERA. They scraped across a second run in the sixth and a third on McCann’s first home run of the night, but this one had all the makings of another dispiriting loss and a looming Rangers sweep in Thursday afternoon’s series finale.
But sometimes movies take unexpected plot twists, and this one took a doozy. Credit not only goes to Gregorius and McCann, but to Jacoby Ellsbury, who easily could have been doubled off on A-Rod’s lineout, which might well have been a backbreaker. And believe it or not — and considering the way the Yankees have played for much of this season, it’s probably easy to believe — but this was the first time all season the Yankees had come back to win a game they were trailing after eight innings; previously, they had been 0-36. It was also the first time they scored six runs in the ninth inning of a game since May 12, 2010.
Add it all up and it comes out to a win that could be a season-changer.
Or it could be just another cruel tease, that moment of false hope just before the hero falls down an open elevator shaft.
“Well, it feels better [than just another win], and you hope it gives you some momentum,” said Girardi, who has been let down too many times already this season to react with unbridled enthusiasm.
Not so for Gregorius, for whom this was the first walk-off home run in the major leagues, and indeed his only walk-off, with the exception of one for the Dutch national team in 2010, one of the pre-MLB exploits that earned him the soubriquet “Sir Didi.”
Sir Didi refused to anoint this the biggest Yankees win of the season for a most optimistic reason. Having been a member of the cast that has let its fan base down more often than not over the first 77 games, Gregorius believes that this time the ending will be different.
“I’ll say the biggest is yet to come,” he said. “I think we’re a team trying to play better, so a lot of stuff is going to happen. We’re going to play better baseball from now on, so a lot more to come.”
McCann briefly grabbed his knee rounding first after hitting his eighth-inning home run. He said he has been suffering from patella tendinitis and that the injury “grabbed” on him running the bases. But after testing it with some squats in the dugout between innings, the 32-year-old determined it was well enough to play on, and he went out to hit the game-tying home run. “It’s fine,” he said. “It’s nothing unusual for a catcher to have.”