Sights and sounds from an Opening Day at Yankee Stadium like no other before and (we sincerely hope) like no other in the future:
The Yankees opened 2021 with a 3-2, 10-inning loss to the Blue Jays in front of 10,850 masked and socially-distanced fans on Thursday afternoon.
The Yankees went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position and left 10 runners on base. That was the story of the game.
But was the story of the game the big story of the day? No, not from this press box seat, with a Newsday colleague more than six feet to my left and a Plexiglas barrier my only companion on the right.
The big story was you (if you were a fan who went to the game). And you. And you. All 10,850 of you.
Your overall cheering and booing and yelling were muted, as they had to be in a stadium that was limited to 20% capacity.
But your individual cheering and booing and yelling was the soundtrack of baseball, as much as the crack of the bat and the sound of ball hitting mitt.
“It was awesome. It really was,” manager Aaron Boone said. “It felt like a bigger crowd that that. You could feel their energy. You could feel them waiting to erupt when we had some chances to take the game late.”
It started when the gates opened at 11 a.m. The trickle of fans through the entrances matched the light rain falling in the Bronx. Not enough people to be concerned about close proximity in the age of COVID-19; not enough rain to be concerned about the game being postponed.
A few thousand are in their seats at 12:45 when public address announcer Paul Olden booms: “Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome BACK to Yankee Stadium.”
The traditional Opening Day introductions. The Blue Jays first, on the third-base line, in their darling powder blue uniforms, Steven Matz among them.
Then the Yankees, on the first-base line. The first player introduced is longest-tenured Yankee Brett Gardner. But it isn’t his longevity. It’s his uniform No. 11, the lowest on the squad.
A loud call of “Luuuuuuke” for Luke Voit, who limps out of the dugout on one crutch after knee surgery. “Booooone” for manager Aaron Boone, a few “Bruuuuces” for Jay Bruce. Cheers for DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Judge and Clint Frazier and the rest.
No boos for Gary Sanchez, but such is the laser focus on Sanchez that that would have changed if he had struck out in his first at-bat (he didn’t).
Gerrit Cole’s first pitch, at 1:10, with a game-time temperature of 43. A high fastball to Marcus Semien. Cheers after the second pitch, a grounder to short.
The Roll Call from the bleacher creatures, standing and chanting and sounding like more than their numbers. The turn and a wave of a hand or glove from the players.
The first “Let’s Go Yankees” chant in the top of the second to try and help Cole through a two-on, two-out, one-run-in jam. Now the rhythmic two-strike clapping . . . the jeers for a close ball call . . . the tiny eruption on a called strike three.
The Yankees’ first hit of 2021 is a high, looping single to left by Gleyber Torres in the bottom of the second. The crowd rises in anticipation as the ball takes flight and the leftfielder races in and the shortstop races back. Joy is the only sound when ball strikes grass.
Boos on a pickoff throw to first, a pointless little exercise if there ever was one. On this day: what a lovely sound (but, please, leave it alone next time).
On the next pitch, Sanchez launches a two-run homer to left, the end result of the swing obvious as soon as ball left bat. The Yankees take a 2-1 lead and boy do the fans love them some Sanchez. For that moment, at least.
On the out-of-town scoreboard, under Mets-Nationals: “Postponed due to COVID issues.”
There but for the grace . . .
Sun breaks out in the middle innings. Cole starts mowing ‘em down.
“Oh, nos!” when Teoscar Hernandez ties it in the sixth with a solo shot. Cheers when the home run ball is thrown back on the field – still one of the dumbest “traditions” at Yankee Stadium and every stadium.
Joining in the “YMCA” dance (you know who you are). Singing along with “God Bless America” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
Everyone on their feet, ready to explode, but nothing except groans when Judge hits into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded in the seventh.
The first boos of the season for Giancarlo Stanton when he strikes out in the eighth.
Inventive chant of “O’Day, O’Day, O’Day, O’Day” – sung like “Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole” – when Darren O’Day makes his Yankees debut in the ninth.
In the bottom of the ninth, as anticipation grows for a Yankees walk-off, Blue Jays shortstop Bo Bichette asks for time to grab a floating hot dog wrapper out of the air. He fails to snag it. He is booed.
Sanchez walks, is replaced at first by Mike Tauchman, who steals second on the first pitch to Bruce. After Bruce strikes out, Tauchman steals third without a throw. Toronto brings in the infield.
Frazier swings through a high fastball.
“Just put the ball in play,” someone yells from the stands.
LeMahieu, swinging at the first pitch, grounds weakly to third. Tauchman is thrown out at the plate.
“Why did you go home?” someone yells from the stands. Maybe the same guy.
Judge strikes out to send the game to extra innings. Free baseball on Opening Day!
The Blue Jays start the 10th with a runner on second, a carryover rule from 2020. Randal Grichuk crushes a double off Nick Nelson over Judge’s head to give Toronto a 3-2 lead.
One last chance for the Yankees, with Judge on second to start the bottom half. Hicks strikes out. Stanton strikes out on three pitches and really hears it.
“Why are we paying you so much?” someone yells from the stands. Definitely the same guy.
Torres strikes out to end the game. Not the best outcome for Yankees fans.
“Wasn’t the result we wanted,” Judge said, “but having that buzz, that energy back in the stands was something special.”
The best part? After a day off, 10,850 will get to cheer and boo and chant and yell again on Saturday. These days, that’s a victory in itself.