As you might guess, I have attended a lot of baseball games. Despite this, I have managed to largely avoid seeing anything “noteworthy” in the larger historical sense. I had the misfortune of attending the worst loss in Yankee history, a 22-0 drubbing at the hands of the Indians. I once saw Daniel Cabrera come within two outs of throwing a no-hitter, also against the Yankees, but near no-hitters are soon forgotten, even quicker than successful no-hitters. (The last one was Justin Verlander, this season, but I had to think about that for a minute.)
I have attended one game of true historical significance, even if it is one that all baseball fans wish were just an otherwise random game—one of the last games of the 1994 season.
Sadly, I can’t claim to be so clever as to have picked this day deliberately for its long-term historical significance. In my defense, I was just 10 at the time, so I wasn’t really big on making decisions for their long-term ramifications. (Of course, now that I can make those sorts of decisions, I’m still not that good at it; I attended two Yankee games last week but failed to see Alex Rodriguez hit his 500th home run, alas.)
In any case, the choosers of the day were not my parents or friends but instead person or persons I had never met, the scheduling directors for my day camp. Attending a Yankee game was an annual event at Asphalt Green Day Camp, along with rollerblading at Wolman Rink and swimming at Jones Beach.
For the Aug. 11, 1994 game, we were seated in the right field bleachers at Yankee Stadium. I don’t know what compelled the camp staff to seat a huge group of seven- to 12-year-olds in the somewhat rowdy confines of the bleachers rather than the upper deck, but that’s where we were. I’m always grateful for this, as it allowed me to spend the better part of the game chanting “Hell no, we won’t go!” in protest of the impending strike, something I doubt I would have done in the more genteel confines of the upper deck.
The Yankees were hosting the Blue Jays in something of a symbolic match-up. The Jays were two-time defending World Champions, but had struggled badly in 1994. The Jays’ offense had scored nearly 5.25 runs per game in 1993 but dropped to under five in ’94. The pitching also suffered problems, especially in the bullpen, where the team had lost all three of its top relievers. Previously the class of the American League, the Jays had given way to their hosts on this day, the Yankees.
On pace for 100 wins and arguably the finest Yankee team assembled since the franchise’s late-1970s glory days, the Bronx Bombers were second in the league in runs and fourth in ERA. With the future of the season still in question, the past and present of the AL met on an August afternoon.
The Yankees started Melido Perez, one of the “Pitching Perezes” who also included older brother Pascual Perez, younger brother Carlos Perez and cousin Yorkis Perez. Melido had a fantastic season in 1992, throwing nearly 250 innings of 2.87 ERA, but was actually second in the league in losses while pitching for a grim Yankees team. By 1994, however, his best days were behind him.
The Blue Jays, on the other hand, were starting a man with his best days ahead of him. Pat Hentgen won 19 games for the title-winning Jays in 1993 and was pitching even better, if not getting the same number of wins, in 1994. Two years later he would go 20-10, earning a Cy Young award. Hentgen retired in the middle of the 2004 season, coincidentally after deciding he no longer had his stuff after being battered by the Yankees.
Hentgen was little better on this day. After being spotted a two-run lead when the Jays scored two on an Ed Sprague triple—one of only 12 he hit his entire career—Hentgen went to pieces in the third, giving up a sac fly to Wade Boggs and a three-run home run to Danny Tartabull.
The Jays struck back in the sixth, as Mike Huff doubled in a run, then scored when Luis Polonia botched a Darnell Coles sac fly. (Not to impugn guys like Huff and Coles, but their names in the Jays’ line-up in lieu of ones like Joe Carter and Devon White goes a long way to explaining their problems.)
The Yankees were also unwilling to protect a lead as John Olerud led off the eighth with a triple—one of just 13 inhis entire career—and scored on Coles’ double. Coles was stranded on second and neither team could mount a rally in the remaining innings.
Confession time: This was the last game played at Yankee Stadium in 1994. Fittingly, it went into extra innings, giving baseball fans a last few tantalizing glimpses of their favorite game before a long, dark period without it. However, Asphalt Green Day Camp had promised parents that campers would be home before five, and by God, we were going to be home before five. So we left after the ninth inning. Alas.
The game went on without us. Carter homered in the top of the 12th to give the visitors an 8-7 lead. Polonia’s lead-off double helped the Yankees tie the game in their half of the inning; he scored on a Paul O’Neill double play. In the 13th, the Yankees again gave up a home run; Sprague cracked one. The Yankees managed to get the tying run to second with two out but no farther, and ended their “season” with a loss.
So although I may not have been present for the final Yankee outs of 1994, I can say I have few happy memories of the period thereafter. Unhappy as some might be with Barry Bonds breaking Hank Aaron’s home run record, and as fervently as some might defend it, at least we can all agree we’re glad to have baseball still played this season, all the way to its proper end.