Like old days, Stadium scene of playoff celebration
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YORK -- Merrill Smith still recalls the moment the cup of beer landed on his right shoulder, bouncing into a New York City police officer by his side in the aisle at the original Yankee Stadium -- a celebratory toss after the third pitch Reggie Jackson saw one night 35 Octobers ago cleared the fence for a third time.
There were no beers thrown at Smith on Wednesday at the current Yankee Stadium -- "security isn't so lax anymore," Smith said -- but there was wild celebration for a pair of improbable Raul Ibanez home runs that gave the Yankees a 3-2 walk-off win in Game 3 of the American League Division Series against the Orioles.
"These people I didn't even know, they're hugging me and giving me high-fives," Smith said.
Longtime Yankees fans in the crowd of 50,497 on Wednesday knew better than to think the Yanks were out of it, trailing, 2-1, in the ninth inning, having witnessed plenty of postseason heroics in the Bronx.
"I was just hoping they'd keep it to one run," said season-ticket holder John Pesapane, who drives an hour and 45 minutes from his Pennsylvania home for every game. "That way one swing could tie it."
Ibanez did, pinch-hitting in the ninth for Alex Rodriguez and sending O's closer Jim Johnson's 1-0 fastball into the right-field seats. Three innings later, Ibanez homered again, sending a shot off Brian Matusz into the second deck in right field to move the Yankees within one win of the AL Championship Series.
In Section 324, where Doug Brindley and Ward Emling shared season tickets since the Stadium opened in 2009, the immediate discussion was over Joe Girardi's decision to pinch-hit Ibanez for Rodriguez. They quickly agreed.
Emling, who flies from his home in Mississippi to New York about six times a year to watch the Yankees, was in the Bronx in mid-September, when Ibanez hit a two-run homer in the 13th inning to extend a game against Oakland that the Yankees eventually won in 14. And Brindley was on hand for Game 161, when Ibanez tied the score against Boston in the ninth with a pinch-hit homer, then won it in the 12th with a walk-off single.
By the time they processed those memories, it was over. Ibanez saw only three pitches for his two home runs, continuing a stretch of clutch hitting that began in September and carried into a month where fans like Brindley, Emling, Smith and Pesapane -- all of whom witnessed Aaron Boone hit a walk-off homer in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS against Boston -- can reference the memories by the name of the hero.
"It wasn't like Boone's," Brindley said. "With Boone's, you had 15 seconds to watch and decide [whether it was gone]. Half the Red Sox were off the field by the time it landed. Last night it happened and it was gone."
Both shots quickly cleared the right-field fence -- "They were tattooed," Pesapane said -- reminding the Bronx of the magic of 2009, when the Yankees won 15 games in walk-off fashion and twice more in the playoffs en route to their most recent World Series. And the roar that filled the October air reminded them of the ballpark across the street, too.
"The old stadium shook. When you had everyone jumping up and down, you could actually feel that section shaking," Pesapane said. "That doesn't happen anymore with the way this one was built, but everyone was jumping up and down."
Steven Miller is an associate reporter for MLB.com.