September 20, 2005
Crosby Show and Yanks Win Emmy For Drama
The possibility was too rich for Bubba Crosby to consider. For two seasons, the Yankees had pounded a harsh reality into his psyche. Crosby was fast enough to pinch-run, and dependable enough to play outfield in the late innings. But Crosby was not a hitter.
They gave him an occasional spot on the major league roster, with more round-trip plane tickets to Columbus, Ohio, than he could ever want. The possibility of starring with his bat at Yankee Stadium was so distant, he never dreamed of it.
"I didn't wonder," Crosby said. "I didn't think it was ever going to happen."
Crosby went three months without a hit last season. He was so expendable this summer that he briefly lost his roster spot to Melky Cabrera. When he came off the field after the top of the ninth inning last night, Crosby had not hit a homer in 17 months.
The Yankees were tied with the Baltimore Orioles in a tense, pennant-race, must-win kind of game. Crosby would lead off the inning. He crouched as he watched Eric DuBose warm up, saying a prayer to himself, as he always does, asking for confidence and peace.
What he also wanted -- from DuBose, at least -- was the breaking ball his teammate Jorge Posada had told him to look for. When DuBose threw it to him on a 1-0 pitch, Crosby unloaded, sending the ball hurtling toward the right-field bleachers. Crosby shot a fist in the air, and there was never any doubt: the Yankees had won, 3-2, because of him.
"I've never hit a walk-off homer, ever, in my whole life, not even in Little League," Crosby said. "To do it at Yankee Stadium, this time of year, when it counts, it just doesn't get any better than this."
The victory brought the Yankees within a half-game of the Boston Red Sox for first place in the American League East. The Red Sox lost at Tampa Bay, and several Yankees watched the last few outs on a TV in the players' lounge.
Crosby did not expect to start last night. Manager Joe Torre had given him 15 starts this season, none against a left-handed pitcher. But Gary Sheffield is still unable to play the outfield because of a thigh injury, and Ruben Sierra hurt the Yankees on defense in right field on Sunday.
So Torre used Crosby there against the left-hander Erik Bedard, figuring the Yankees would sacrifice offense for a better defender in right. "That shows how smart we are," Torre said.
Crosby had an infield single and a bunt single in his first two at-bats off Bedard, who frustrated the Yankees along with two relievers. In the first seven innings, the Yankees struck out five times with at least two runners on base.
They could never get a lead for starter Chien-Ming Wang, who seemed to spend eight innings fielding soft choppers. Wang made nine assists, two shy of the record for a pitcher, and limited the Orioles to seven singles and a walk. Baltimore had only one fly out against Wang, who was making his third start after missing two months with shoulder trouble.
"He showed us what he showed us in the first half," Torre said. "You're not really sure, when someone's coming off rehab, if you're going to see that again. Tonight, with all the ground balls, that was nice for us."
But it was hard for the crowd to appreciate Wang, considering how futile the Yankees' hitters were. DuBose struck out Hideki Matsui with two outs and two on to end the seventh, and after he worked a 1-2-3 eighth inning, the ballpark went silent.
It stirred a little for Mariano Rivera (7-4), who came on for the top of the ninth and worked a 1-2-3 inning. And it exploded after the blast by Crosby, who had thought about bunting before he thought better of it.
Crosby has been coming alive at the plate. He started six games in late July after the Yankees shipped Cabrera back to Class AAA Columbus, but he did not start at all in August. During that time, Crosby worked intensely with the hitting coach, Don Mattingly, trying to shorten his swing and use the whole field.
Mattingly would position a batting tee deeper than Crosby was used to. It taught Crosby to let the pitch travel a bit farther, to give himself a split-second longer to react and to trust the quickness in his hands. He had 9 hits in his last 23 at-bats before coming to the plate in the ninth.
Facing DuBose, a left-hander, Crosby remembered Posada's advice. DuBose, Posada had told him, loves to throw breaking balls to left-handed hitters. Crosby resolved to look for one.
On the bench, the Yankees just wanted him to ignite a rally. Derek Jeter would be up next, then Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi. Crosby's job was to get on base.
"The last thing you think is home run," Rodriguez said. "Nothing against Bubba, but you're hoping for a walk, a hit-by-pitch, a broken bat, a bunt single. And then he hits the ball like Darryl Strawberry."
Crosby, who said he was simply trying to hit through the middle, pulled a rocket deep into the stands, his third career homer. He said he had tried to take his home run trot slowly, to soak in the moment, which is just what Aaron Boone said the last time a Yankee homered so improbably to end a game.
But Crosby found himself racing toward the plate, to an ecstatic throng of teammates and, later, to a dugout curtain call from the fans. This was his moment, the moment he will never forget, the moment he had wanted years before he was ever a Yankee.
"Everybody was screaming and hugging, clapping and banging my helmet," Crosby said. "It's just one of those things every kid dreams of."