Top of the 11th inning, The Yankees' final game in Tropicana Field this season. They were trying to salvage the final game of a three game set. Alfonso Soriano was standing on second base, with one out and Curtis Granderson at the plate. As Tampa Bay Ray pitcher Jamey Wright delivered his pitch, Soriano took off for third base. He stumbled then slid head first. Safe! One sac fly later the Yankees had a lead that Mariano Rivera would secure a half inning later.
Let that sink in: The Yankees salvaged a win against the Rays because of Alfonso Soriano's wheels. When Soriano was traded back to the Yankees, fans were excited. Not only because of the power he could, and would, bring and not because his defense was so spectacular, although it is passable. But also because he a fan favorite from a time when the Yankees made the playoffs rather easily every year, when you couldn't count the Yankees out until the last out of the ninth inning, when there was always a miracle waiting in the wings, a player to step up and provide the fireworks.
Soriano is different from Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner and even Ichiro Suzuki. All are former elite players, all have known individual success but only Soriano knows what it is like to succeed in a Yankee uniform. Maybe the "Yankee way" can be overstated and oversold. Maybe it's just another concept sold to Yankee fans to keep us vested in the brand. But every now and again it seems like the players buy into it as well. Or, at least, some of them, like Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera do. After watching Soriano play over the past few weeks, I'm inclined to add him to that group. It's true he never won a championship while in a Yankee uniform but it's more than the rings. It's the mentality.
The Yankees have to find a way to win games over the next five weeks. They have excuses for missing the playoffs, a DL list full of them. But that can't stand in their way. It's the Yankee mantra of old, the Steinbrenner school of thought: Go out there and win. No excuses, no regrets. Just win. It's what led a 37 year old outfielder to take off for third base in a tie game on the road with a power hitter at the plate. The knowledge that the Yankees need to win and, if he had to be that player to get them there on Sunday, then so be it. He would provide the miracle. And standing there at third base, that's what he did.