NEW YORK — New York Yankees fans – with resentment gurgling in their souls, their eyes bulging with rage, and their lungs burning with fury – taunted, jeered and cursed the Houston Astros all night long.
There may have been only 10,850 fans in the stands, the maximum permitted at Yankee Stadium during the pandemic, but Tuesday night’s game had all of the emotion and ambience of an October playoff game. It was an atmosphere not seen or heard in these parts since the Astros were in town two years ago for the 2019 ALCS.
“The fans let them have it,’’ Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton, who had a four-hit game Tuesday night, said. “They were definitely expressing some bottled-up emotions.’’
The Yankees, who believed they may have won the 2017 World Series title if the Astros hadn’t cheated by illegally stealing signs and still question whether Houston was cheating when they were eliminated by the Astros in 2019, didn’t express their anger in the same fashion but got their dose of revenge the old-fashioned way with a 7-3 victory.
“It felt like a playoff atmosphere,’’ Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “The energy they created, we haven’t seen that since 2019. …It was intense. You could feel it when you walked out there 15 minutes before the game. It got your attention.’’
Still, the game’s outcome was nothing more than a mere backdrop to the drama on this night.
Everywhere you turned, everywhere you looked, in virtually every crevice of the Stadium, there was fury.
Luke Carrado of Long Island was buying a beer and chicken tenders at the concession stands in front of section 226 when he suddenly became incensed, and screamed obscenities at a New Jersey family of six who had the audacity to wear Astros jerseys.
Well, those fans just happened to be the family of Astros reliever Brandon Bielak, who grew up in nearby Sayerville, N.J. They watched him pitch for the first time at Yankee Stadium when he entered the game in the fifth inning.
“We took some heat walking in,’’ said Brian Bielak, Brandon’s father. “I just want people to keep calm and act like adults.’’
David Taub came to the stadium wearing an outfit resembling a human trash can. He donned a green “Oscar the Grouch’’ costume from Sesame Street, a black T-shirt with the name “TRASHTROS” written on it, a picture of a small trash can underneath, and baggy pants saying “Scram.’’
“This game has been two years in the making,’’ Taub said. “Those cheaters, I had to be at this game. It’s the one game I’ll go to all year. We got robbed of a World Series. This was our revenge.’’
MLB power rankings:Brewers, Dodgers in dead-heat at No. 1 after hard-fought series
COVID-19:Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright reveals wife, all five kids had COVID-19
Tyler Grimm wore an authentic Astros jersey, with No. 1 on the back. The name stitched across the back: ‘Trash Can.’’
“How they got away with such a big thing,’’ Grimm said, “I have no idea. Blame that on (Commissioner) Rob Manfred. And everybody knows how we feel about him, so I’ll keep it PG.’’
Well, for a whole lot of the fans on hand, they didn’t try to restrain their sentiments, no matter how many parents were covering their kids’ ears.
The most popular refrain, heard virtually every inning, was directed towards second baseman Jose Altuve, whose homer in Game 6 of the 2019 ALCS vaulted the Astros into the World Series.
“(Expletive) Altuve! (Expletive) Altuve! (Expletive) Altuve!” they chanted.
It didn’t matter whether Altuve was at the plate, in the field, stretching, standing in the on-deck circle, or in the dugout.
“(Expletive) Altuve! (Expletive) Altuve! (Expletive) Altuve!”
The chant reverberated throughout Yankee Stadium at least 20 times throughout the night.
“I wouldn’t want to be on the other side of that,” Stanton said. “They brought something heavy.’’
Said Boone: “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that. It was definitely an energetic crowd, and they expressed themselves.’’
Loud, clear, and merciless.
“At least there wasn’t any violence,’’ Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “They can say whatever they want. It sounded like a packed house tonight even though it wasn’t.’’
It was so outrageous that with fans chanting “MVP! MVP!” after Stanton’s two-run homer in the first inning off Astros ace Zack Greinke, they immediately shifted into the “(Expletive) Altuve!” chant.
Astros left fielder Michael Brantley, who was still playing in Cleveland during the 2017 cheating scandal, instantly joined his teammates as a true Astro villain when he fielded a foul ball in the third inning. He was just a few feet away from the left-field stands, but instead of flipping the ball into the crowd for a free souvenir, he tossed it towards the Astros’ dugout, with the crowd cursing him.
Brantley got his revenge with a homer an inning later, momentarily quieting the crowd, until a fan threw the ball back into right field, drawing a monstrous ovation.
The chant then became generic, “(Expletive) the Cheaters!”, before breaking back into the popular refrain of the evening, “(Expletive) Altuve!’’
There were clever signs, like “Judge them Guilty.’’
There were several inflatable trash cans confiscated before any could be thrown onto the field.
And despite all of the animosity the Yankees exhibited last spring when the Astros’ cheating scandal became public, everyone was on their best behavior.
There were no hit-by-pitches, knockdowns, brushbacks, or even inflammatory words.
Baker didn’t even bother to address the possibility of retaliatory pitches before the game, saying he didn’t want to put any thought of fear into his players’ psyche.
“To address it would not do any good,’’ Baker said. “You don’t want to have them fearful or apprehensive of something that may not even happen. There’s no way to really prepare for this except to go out and play.
“A state of high anxiety does no good. You have to be calm. At the same time, on the inside, you have to be fearless and of high desire. You have to try to play the same game here that you play elsewhere.’’
It there was any nervousness or apprehension, the Astros covered it up well. The two teams mingled freely before the game as if nothing ever happened. Boone and Baker even hugged while exchanging lineup cards.
“Dusty is someone I respect and love so much in this game,’’ said Boone, who made his lone All-Star team in 2003 when Baker was manager of the NL All-Star squad. “He’s just somebody I kind of revere in the game. …He’s just been a giant in our sport, and so greatly respected, I think beloved by just about everybody in this game.’’
The Yankees were tranquil in their comments after the game, while sending the message that they will always remember. They may forgive one day, but they’ll never forget.
“I don’t think people will turn the page on it anytime soon,” Yankees infielder DJ. LeMahieu said. “It was pretty intense.”
One victory won’t bring back a World Series trophy, or lead to calls for a parade, but for a night it was a game every Yankee fan will savor.
“Payback time,’’ said Nick Venier of Queens, who bought a ticket the moment they went on sale with a group of friends. “We missed all of last year, so this, in a way, was our revenge game.’’
The Yankees didn’t apologize for their fans’ behavior, saying their energy brought their game to another level, and for the Astros, they certainly weren’t going to admit it they were fazed. “Our job is to go out and play baseball,’’ Astros center fielder Myles Straw said, “and not worry about what the fans or anyone says. We don’t get frustrated with it. We just try to ignore it. We don’t really focus on whether they are cheering or not for us. The fans are here to watch a game and cheer on their team.’’
And taking great delight in making life as miserable as possible on those visitors from Texas, deep in the heart of New York.
Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale