Yankees find fitting tribute to Steinbrenner: Swisher’s single in 9th beats Tampa Bay 5-4

By Ronald Blum, AP
Saturday, July 17, 2010

Fitting tribute to Steinbrenner: Yanks win in 9th

NEW YORK — Nick Swisher and the New York Yankees paid tribute to George Steinbrenner with the type of thrilling victory the demanding owner loved.

On a night that began with Mariano Rivera placing a pair of long-stemmed red roses across home plate and Derek Jeter speaking a touching tribute to the hushed crowd, Swisher ended the evening in the Yankees’ fashion.

Swisher’s single with two outs in the ninth inning capped a night of comebacks, and the Yankees beat the Tampa Bay Rays 5-4 Friday night in the first game following Steinbrenner’s death.

New York’s players ran into right field on a sweltering night to mob Swisher as fans responded with yet another prolonged ovation. It was their first “walkoff” win since July 4 — Steinbrenner’s 80th birthday.

“I looked up and said, ‘This is for you,’” Posada said. “He wanted to win every game. 162-0 he wanted us to do.”

Manager Joe Girardi cried during a 15-minute pregame remembrance of Steinbrenner, who died of a heart attack Tuesday at age 80. The Yankees also commemorated public address announcer Bob Sheppard, who passed away Sunday at 99.

“We gather here tonight to honor two men who were both shining stars in the Yankee universe,” Jeter said as teammates and the Rays stood ramrod straight, caps off, in front of their dugouts. “Both men, Mr. George Steinbrenner and Mr. Bob Sheppard, cared deeply about their responsibilities to this organization and to our fans, and for that, will be forever remembered in baseball history and in our hearts.”

New Yankee Stadium, opened last year in one of Steinbrenner’s final acts, could not have been quieter. Yankees executives in business suits watched somberly from behind the plate.

“Simply put,” Jeter said, “Mr. Steinbrenner and Mr. Sheppard both left this organization in a much better place than when they first arrived. They’ve set the example for all employees of the New York Yankees to strive to follow.”

New York’s current players did just that.

Swisher hit a tying home run in the eighth, then lined a single that sent Curtis Granderson sliding home for the victory in a matchup of the teams with baseball’s best records.

“On a day like this when we celebrate his life, got to take him out on a W,” Swisher said. “Today was Mr. Steinbrenner’s day. Regardless of the situation, regardless of anything, we went out there and we played that game as best we could for him today.”

Old Yankee Stadium was famed for championship parties, and also was the site for solemn occasions such as Lou Gehrig’s “luckiest man” speech, a dying Babe Ruth propped on a bat and bidding farewell, an empty catcher’s box for Thurman Munson. This was the first funeral event for the new ballpark.

Steinbrenner had lorded over the Yankees since buying the franchise in January 1973. Sheppard’s elegant and booming introductions gave old Yankee Stadium its voice from 1951-07. In his honor, there were no introductions of batters, and the often-obtrusive music that punctuates evenings in the Bronx went silent.

There was a 2-minute moment of absolute silence before the first pitch. Memories of Steinbrenner were shown on the video board during each half-inning.

New York’s players wore patches for Steinbrenner and Sheppard. One included “The Boss” and the other featured a microphone.

“It’s just one of those moments, another one of those special moments here at Yankee Stadium,” Jeter said. “It seems like every time you come here there’s an opportunity to see something special, and tonight was special for everyone that had the opportunity to participate in the game and I think also for everyone that got a chance to watch it.”

Robinson Cano and Posada hit consecutive home runs off James Shields in the sixth to tie it at 3, with Posada homering on a 3-0 count for the first time in his big league career, according to STATS LLC.

“It was an emotional game for the Stadium,” Shields said.

Tampa Bay took a 4-3 lead in the seventh against CC Sabathia on an RBI groundout by Ben Zobrist, but Swisher homered off Joaquin Benoit in the eighth.

Rivera (3-1) picked off B.J. Upton at first base in the ninth. Granderson opened the bottom half with a single against Randy Choate (2-3). Ramiro Pena sacrificed, Brett Gardner walked and fans stood anticipating a winning hit as Jeter came up.

“I’m thinking the same thing,” Upton said.

But Jeter struck out.

“The Boss didn’t like Michigan, so I figured I’d strike out, and let ‘The Boss’ get one final victory for Ohio State,” Jeter said playfully.

Steinbrenner grew up in Ohio and was a Buckeyes fan. Swisher, who went to Ohio State — a rival of Jeter’s Michigan — lined a single against Lance Cormier, and Granderson beat right fielder Gabe Kapler’s throw.

“I think pretty much the agenda today was win,” Swisher said. “That’s what Mr. Steinbrenner wanted us to do.”

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