After 19 years in the big leagues, 40 year-old Billy Chapel has trudged to the mound for over 4,000 innings. But tonight, he’s pitching against time, he’s pitching against the future, against age, against ending. Tonight, he will make the fateful walk to the loneliest spot in the world, the pitching mound at Yankee Stadium, to push the sun back into the sky and give us one more day of summer.
One of my all-time favorite baseball movie quotes, Vin Scully says this while playing himself in otherwise terrible Kevin Costner film For Love of the Game (the original script was so bad, that Scully reportedly rewrote all his lines himself). I can’t think of a more appropriate quotation about today’s matchup between the Indians and the Yankees in game three of the ALDS at Yankee Stadium, with Roger Clemens pitching and the Yankees down 2-0. To rephrase:
After 24 years in the big leagues, 45 year-old Roger Clemens has trudged to the mound for nearly 5,000 innings. But tonight, he’s pitching against time, he’s pitching against the future, against age, against ending. Tonight, he will make the fateful walk to the loneliest spot in the world, the pitching mound at Yankee Stadium, to push the sun back into the sky and give us one more day of summer.
Or winter, I suppose, if you are a Red Sox fan.
But the point is, that Roger really is pitching against time, both for his own career and against the countdown clock of the current Yankee dynasty, which is rapidly approaching the midnight hour.
Roger Clemens is indeed old. He is not the same pitcher who tossed decisive victories for the Yankees in the 1999 and 2001 World Series, and nearly saved them from the Diamonbacks in 2001. He’s not even the same pitcher who bowed before the youthful Marlins in 2003 and the go-go White Sox in 2005.
He has already “retired” three times. He sits out half the season these days. His fastball, for years a blazing 98 mph, and even in recent years always just managing to cling to the good side of 90, has finally fallen into the mid-80s danger zone. For the first time in recent memory, nagging old-age-type injuries started taking their toll on his famously well-conditioned frame, knocking him out of action for two extended stints this season despite his extra time off. Back pitching in the American League East, where weaknesses have nowhere to hide, his ERA soared into the 5′s before settling in the mid-4′s
But he is all the Yankees have left.
He is that guy left behind to hold the bridge against the barbarian hordes while the others escape. He is the EMT, frantically giving CPR to a victim he knows won’t make it. He is that Dutch boy with his finger in the dike, only much older, more arthritic, and with three grown sons all named Kibbles, or Kaliper or some other ridiculous name starting with’K’.
But the point is, he’s one of those guys who, if they do their job right, something gets to survive for a few more minutes. If Clemens can somehow win this game, the current Yankee dynasty gets to live for one more day.
So yeah, pushing the sun back up into the sky and making day last a bit longer before night is just about right.
Because next year, the Yankees as we have known them for all these years will be gone.
Bernie Williams has already faded out of the picture. Andy Pettite, A-Rod, and Bobby Abreu all have opt-out clauses. Working-class heroes Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada will be free agents. Mike Mussina is pitching on fumes and Clemens has nothing left to offer. Joe Torre is done. And Brian Cashman seems determined to start a youth movement.
A few of those guys might be re-signed, but certainly not all of them, and if they all went, who would be left? Depending how committed Cashman is to the youth, we could end up watching Derek Jeter, Hideki Matsui, and a bunch of 24-year-olds.