Calling the Pen: Trying to come back from a missed comeback -
Baseball Essays

Calling the Pen: Trying to come back from a missed comeback

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I was at Yankee Stadium for Game 4 of the 2017 American League Championship Series between the Yankees and Astros. I truly get the hardships for many high-paying fans to get to the stadium for a 5 p.m. game. There were many empty seats at the first pitch—hardly a one for the last pitch 3:37 later.

But I loved it. Loved getting home by 10 p.m. Loved that when I picked up hard copies of the New York tabloids, there were fully written game stories and analysis and front-and-back page headlines (“Tied of the Yankees”).

Here’s what I most loved about Game 4. I was able to repay a debt that I thought was unlikely to ever be paid. See, I took my 17-year-old son to the game. He’ll never let me forget the only other playoff baseball game I’ve taken him to. It was Game 2 of the 2009 Division Series vs. Minnesota.

It’s time for my confessional. Despite that game having a 6:08 p.m. start—and despite having the time of my life—I was tired. Dog tired. The game was scoreless through five innings. The Twins took a 3-1 lead in the top of the eighth. In the bottom of the eighth, Twins pitcher Matt Guerrier retired Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon in order. There were 50,000 fans in the ballpark. I had to work early the next morning. My son was 9, and had school the next day.

I didn’t have to look at anything called Win Probability, but I instinctively knew that with closer Joe Nathan in to pitch the bottom of the ninth, the Twins had better than a 90 percent probability of winning the game.

So, after Mariano Rivera struck out Joe Mauer in the top of the ninth, I hustled a reluctant young Heath to walk with me toward the car, thinking I would save a good 45 minutes of traffic. As I turned on the ignition, I turned on the radio and heard John Sterling describe “An A-Bomb—from A-Rod” to tie the game. Oh, no.

The new stadium was shaking inside, and I was outside in the car, congratulating myself on “saving” 45 minutes! Mark Teixeira would win the game—which ended 4:22 after it started—with a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 11th. My boys never let me live that down. Since then, every game we go to has a sarcastic, “you want to leave now?” remark.

It probably started the curse of not being able to take my boys to games and seeing the home team win. It’s a joke at this point.

So, flash ahead eight years. Heath is 17, and able to drive us home if I am tired. Trust me, I was committed to a complete game on Oct. 17, 2017.

There were similarities to that 2009 divisional game.

  • Late-afternoon start
  • Scoreless first few innings
  • Plenty of fried food consumed
  • Visiting team taking a two-run lead into the bottom of the eighth.

This time, we stayed to the end. And the march out of the ballpark felt like a series-clinching victory. The Sinatra music endlessly looping, the drunk fans giving high-fives to all. My son took it all in, the greatest game he ever attended. With the help of the Bronx Bombers, I was able to make good on a mistake I had made in 2009.

This time, when we got to the car and turned on the radio, Sweeny Murti was talking, comparing this comeback to some of the great comebacks in previous Yankee Octobers. (Correctly, he said it will be determined once this Series is over.)

I read and heard many stats. ESPN Stats and Info said that the Yankees had lost 27 straight games when trailing by four or more runs in the seventh inning or later.

I heard that the last time the Yankees came back from four runs down in a postseason game was 2003 Game 7—the Aaron Boone home run. In that game, the Red Sox took a 3-0 lead early, and had a 4-0 lead going into the bottom of the fifth. They had a 4-2 lead through seven innings.

However, Game 4, 2017 reminded me more of a different game. I was there exactly 17 years earlier. On Oct. 17, 2000, the Yankees clinched the ALCS against the Seattle Mariners. In that game, the Mariners took a 4-0 lead into the bottom of the fourth. The Mariners—trying to force a Game 7—led, 4-3, going into the bottom of the seventh.

And the bottom of the seventh in 2000 looked a lot like the bottom of the eighth in 2017. The Yankees exploited a weak Seattle bullpen and scored six runs. This new Yankee Stadium was loud, but nothing like 17 years earlier when David Justice greeted Arthur Rhodes with a huge home run. Nothing sounded so loud.

So, I thought of Joe Nathan and Alex and Tex and Arthur Rhodes and David Justice, and so many other October memories. If you’re lucky, you are a fan of a team and that team has provided you with some magical moments over a lifetime. It doesn’t have to be every year. The October moments can come out of the ground every 17 years, like buzzing cicadas.

Elliott Kalb is a 13-time Sports Emmy winning producer, writer, and researcher. He has more than 35 years in sports television, including more than two decades with NBC, where he was known as Mr. Stats.  Kalb has authored five books, including  “Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Baseball?  Mr. Stats sets the record straight on the Top 100 Players of all Time”  He is MLB Network’s Senior Editorial Director, and appears on camera in offseason trivia segments on “High Heat with Christopher Russo.” He has four children, including three boys. Heath, now 18 and a college freshman, is the youngest.

In February 2017, he was on the air with Greg Amsinger, Ron Darling, and Bill Ripken, defending the list of Top 100 Players Right Now show—a list the three took exception to when he left Adam Jones off the list.  Ripken needled him that entire season, every time Jones did something positive. And, in his 2003 book ranking the top players of all time, he did have Frank Robinson (37) and Cal Ripken Jr. (44) among the top 50.

Editor’s Note: Elliott’s essay reminds us that baseball gives us second chances, and lasting memories. His last line — that October moments can come every 17 years — made me wonder if it will take the Orioles that long to produce another like Delmon Young’s three-run, pinch-hit double that produced a 7-6 comeback victory over the Tigers in Game 2 of the 2014 Division Series.  My memories go back to Frank and Brooks hitting first-inning home runs off Don Drysdale in the 1966 Series sweep of the Dodgers. What are some of your favorite Oriole memories — those that help you forget 2018?

Jack Gibbons spent 46 years in sports journalism, including a chunk of that time as sports editor of The Baltimore Sun. Now retired from full-time work, Jack serves as the lead editor and writer for’s “Calling the Pen,” a periodic feature that highlights baseball essays written by the community. If you would like to contribute to ‘Calling the Pen,” send a 750-1,200-word, original piece via email to [email protected] for consideration.


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