NEW YORK — They manufacture villains here. They generate grudges out of the night sky. After the baseball, that’s what they’re best at. First you are unworthy. That’s how it starts. See the banners? See the monuments? Smell the history?
Then, show a little fight, win a game or two, put a few people in this joint, gets dark, man. Gets mean. Gets desperate. Gets personal.
But, up in the shadows of the frieze, down in the cacophony of the bleachers, along the lines where they pound the padding with hands reddened by the cold, that’s where the 1 or 2 percent that isn’t just the baseball lives. The glorious, raw, beautiful ugliness of it all.
To win games at Yankee Stadium in October, even with the better squad, requires a certain constitution and, turns out for the Houston Astros, a couple of three-run homers. To win games like Game 4 of the American League Championship Series on Thursday night, to play to the verge of the World Series, you have to look around, take it in, pull up your collar, and kind of like it. Decide, man, this is the greatest.
“Me, personally, not at all,” Astros outfielder Josh Reddick insisted. “I don’t think you can enjoy it.”
He grinned, as much for the 3-1 series lead than the question or his answer to it.
So the Astros of 107 wins, of at least 101 wins for three seasons running, of the World Series title that followed the first of those, of 35 postseason games over most of these three Octobers, on a Thursday night in the third week of this October soaked it all in and won again, by an 8-3 score. With neither Justin Verlander nor Gerrit Cole on the mound. Verlander goes Friday night.
As the clock struck midnight and the people left their blue seats behind, and the Astros kept hitting, and the Yankees made another error — their fourth — the orange revealed itself, some in tiny pockets, a few speckled here and there. By the bottom of the ninth, they chanted, “Let’s go, Astros!” and the remaining Yankees fans left them to it. The Astros, the relentlessness and tightness of their game, had emptied the place out. Nearing the end of a week in which they’d been accused of stealing signs, whistling in codes, threading subtleties out of opposing pitchers’ movements and various other acts of nefariousness, they stood in the middle of all this and put the bat head on the baseball, caught the baseball, threw the baseball by them, and shook hands with each other.
“It’s awesome,” said third baseman Alex Bregman. “I don’t know, like you’re in the middle of this boxing match. … There’s madness going on all around you and just play the game you’ve played ever since you were a kid. I love it. It’s a blast.”
Even Reddick, who must stand in that cramped right field with three tiers rising over his shoulder, and then wear the insults heaved without regard to decency, and who hasn’t yet come around to exactly liking it, could offer a soft appreciation for the place.
“I didn’t get anything thrown at me tonight,” he said. “So that’s a good thing.”
Asked if he’d decided they hated him personally or if he just happened to be the closest Astro to them, he said, “Probably a little bit of both. I’m a loudmouth and speak my mind.”
They would, then, have a little something in common, Reddick and the folks stomping and shouting behind him. And they would finally, eventually, get bored and turn on someone else, in a game that slipped slowly toward the Astros. They booed their own players instead. They booed the general outcomes of ground balls sprung from gloves and empty at-bats and the state of a series that for a moment — after a split of two games in Houston — seemed to lean to the Yankees. What was left to cheer was CC Sabathia’s game attempt to continue, when he couldn’t. And they cheered when Robinson Chirinos, the Astros catcher, was hit by a pitch in the eighth.
Reliever Ryan Pressly’s two outs in the fifth inning with the bases loaded with Yankees — strikeouts of Gleyber Torres and Edwin Encarnacion — and those three-run home runs from George Springer and Carlos Correa and inning after inning of lockdown relief beyond Pressly — Will Harris, Joe Smith, Roberto Osuna — had turned Yankee Stadium on itself. That’s how nearly 50,000 sparks of madness go quiet, pack up and make hollow promises to come back tomorrow and encourage the first of the three wins that would make this right.
That’s the beauty of the place and the people who fill it, how it all inches so close to the edge, particularly at this time of year. And then, also, for what it drags from the men in the arena, the real villains, the guys doing all the pitching and hitting and catching. And winning. Who, by the end, could hear their families cheering from somewhere beyond their dugout, because they were about the only ones left.
Reddick nodded at the memory. That part he liked.
“I think winning three straight in their ballpark,” he said, “is going to be better than that.”
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