This is one of the things about the Yankees, one of the reasons the New York Yankees are a sickness on the soul of baseball, this play from Ichiro Suzuki last night. Ichiro! Honestly, if you root against the Yankees—which is to say, if you are not a native of the Bronx or a depraved human being—this might be the worst of it. Yes, it's annoying that they just fling open the vaults and throw nine-figure contracts at a class of players that most other teams literally cannot afford, not just Alex Rodriguez but Jason Giambi and C.C. Sabathia and Mark Teixeira, and it's even more annoying that they can absorb these MVP costs when their gem-encrusted superstars stop being superstars, a turn of events that would break the finances of a middleweight franchise for a decade. That's all awful.
But somehow worse than all that is the supporting cast—the supporting cast of players who have had great and glorious baseball careers anywhere and everywhere else, admired and beloved players, who have already written their own full chapters in the history of the game, and who now are having some extra pages stapled on at the end, with a golden stapler. Pages that don't even match, printed on pretentiously heavy stock, with pinstripes on it and gilt edging. Cecil Fielder. Tim Raines. Robin Ventura. John Olerud. Johnny Damon. Andruw Jones. Wade Boggs. Darryl Strawberry AND Dwight Gooden. Because the Yankees needed a spare part and they didn't mind the cost or the weight of the past.
And now, of all people, Ichiro. Brett Gardner hurt his elbow, and the Yankees had a hole in left field. When the Orioles had this kind of problem, they picked up Lew Ford. The Yankees picked up the guy with 3,811 career hits on both sides of the Pacific.
So there he was, in the road grays, in a playoff game that saw Derek Jeter, the Captain, Mr. Clutch, neglecting a cutoff play, failing to get his glove down on a grounder, and sailing a throw to pull the first baseman off the bag. What did Ichiro do? He did this: reached on an error, saw Robinson Cano drive the ball into the right-field corner, and took off, first to third and right around for home.
The Orioles played it almost perfectly. Too well. Chris Davis fired it in from deep right, straight to Robert Andino. Andino wheeled and fired home, to Matt Wieters. The throw beat Ichiro by plenty. Watching it, I felt a sudden dread. It was like seeing a great punt returner bobble one, retreat, and recover—to find the coverage team overrunning its spots, the broken-field possibilities opening up before his eyes. The usual race between runner and ball was about to turn into a game of tag, between the most agile body in baseball and a 240-pound catcher in armor.
So Ichiro threw his hip toward the dugout, curled around the tag, overshot the plate all the way to the opposite batter's box, and then pounced back, arching over Wieters's second tag attempt, to slap the plate. It was impossible and inevitable at the same time, a moment of apotheosis for a baseball legend. Or, you know, it was just another goddamn run for the the Yankees.