For a stadium richer than any other in baseball history - and perhaps American sports lore - it doesn’t seem appropriate that the final game at Yankee Stadium will be played on a late summer night.
But with no more Fall Classics to be played inside the hallowed walls of the Bronx landmark, the New York Yankees will have to settle for a shot at a sweep.
On the day its postseason hopes could officially come to an end, New York will try to close the final chapter in Yankee Stadium on Sunday night by completing a three-game sweep of the Baltimore Orioles.
Babe Ruth hit a home run in the first game at Yankee Stadium, a 4-1 Yankees win over Boston on April 18, 1923, and over the next 85 years “The House that Ruth Built” has been more than just a ballpark - its been an iconic America landmark.
It’s been the site of NFL championship games, heavyweight boxing matches and Knute Rockne’s 1928 speech urging Notre Dame to “win one for the Gipper.” There were soccer games with Pele and the New York Cosmos, papal masses, a Nelson Mandela rally and sold-out rock concerts.
More than anything though, the park has been the home to some of baseball’s biggest moments. Yankee Stadium has hosted 100 World Series games - including nine of New York’s 26 championship clinchers - 11 no-hitters, three of baseball’s 17 perfect games, Roger Maris’ 61st home run, Lou Gehrig’s “luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech and countless other legendary memories between the lines.
“I believe it’s the most important sports venue in the whole world. I don’t think there’s any sports venue that has more history than Yankee Stadium,” said former New York Mayor and renowned Yankee fan Rudy Giuliani.
The new Yankee Stadium, a $1.3 billion facility rising across the street, is set to open next spring. On Sunday, the Yankees will offer ticketholders one last chance to pay homage to the venerable shrine.
Gates will open seven hours before the first pitch, and fans will be permitted to walk on the field before a pregame ceremony honoring the stadium’s rich history. Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Goose Gossage and Bernie Williams are among the former stars scheduled to participate in the festivities.
“You get a feeling it’s baseball when you walk into this place,” said Paul O’Neill, who won four World Series titles with New York and now works for the team as a broadcaster. “You can go to brand-new ballparks that have every amenity in the world, but you don’t get that feeling and the smell that you get in this place of baseball.”
The Yankees (84-71) have made 13 consecutive appearances in the postseason, one shy of the major league record set by Atlanta from 1991-2005. But sitting 6 1/2 games behind Boston in the AL wild-card race, it doesn’t look like New York will tie the record and extend the life of Yankee Stadium beyond Sunday night.
If the Red Sox win in Toronto Sunday afternoon, a Yankees loss would officially eliminate them from postseason contention.
Even though New York likely won’t be involved in the playoffs, for the finale it’ll hand the ball to a pitcher who has plenty of experience pitching in big games. Andy Pettitte (13-14, 4.57 ERA) played a major role on all four Yankees World Series winners from 1996-2000 and was the 2001 ALCS MVP, but he feels this start is nearly as significant.
“It’s going to be right there, it really is,” Pettitte said Saturday. “The Yankees wanting me to pitch that last game, that means an awful lot to me. I’m just extremely excited to be able to do it and it’s just going to be a special night for me.”
Pettitte, though, hasn’t been pitching well over the last two months. The left-hander is 1-7 with a 6.45 ERA in his last 10 starts, and has lost five consecutive outings for the first time in his career.
He gave up four runs and six hits over six innings on Tuesday in a 6-2 loss to the Chicago White Sox.
Despite his recent struggles, manager Joe Girardi expects Pettitte to be revved up for his final start at Yankee Stadium, where he’s 114-56 in his career.
“You’ll see that look in his eyes and I think you’ll see that fierce competitor,” Girardi said.
Pettitte has every reason to be confident against the Orioles (67-86). He’s 24-6 with a 3.73 ERA in his career against Baltimore, including 2-0 with a 1.32 ERA this season.
The Yankees have waited too long for it to make a difference in the standings, but they’re playing well entering the final week of the season. They’ve won seven of eight in their final homestand, including a pair of one-run wins against the Orioles.
Saturday’s game was scoreless until the ninth. Derek Jeter was hit in the hand by a pitch to start the bottom of the inning, and though he had to leave the game, pinch- runner Brett Gardner eventually scored the game’s only run, coming around on a two-out Robinson Cano single.
X-rays on Jeter, who recently passed Gehrig for the most career hits at Yankee Stadium (now 1,275), were negative, and he expects to play in Sunday’s finale.
“I don’t need to ask,” Girardi said. “It’s not broken. It’s sore.”
The Orioles have lost four in a row and have the second-worst record in the AL primarily due to their dreadful pitching staff, which has a 6.45 ERA - the worst in baseball - since Aug. 17.
The last time Chris Waters took the mound, though, was a major success. The 28-year-old rookie tossed a complete game on Tuesday at Toronto, giving up just four hits in a 2-0 win.
“He had very good tempo,” manager Dave Trembley said. “He looked like he was in complete control from the first pitch of the game to the end.”
Much significance has been given to the final home run at Yankee Stadium - an honor that would belong to Cano if none were hit in the finale - and Waters has only allowed one in his previous four starts. Mariano Rivera has given up four in 67 1-3 innings this season, and Girardi would like to get his star closer, who has saved 230 games in the Bronx, one last shot on Sunday.
“I think Mo deserves to be on the mound in the last inning,” Girardi said.
The last nine teams to close their home stadium have lost since Detroit won its finale at Tiger Stadium in 1999.