NEW YORK — On a night filled with touching tributes, Nick Swisher found the most fitting way to honor George Steinbrenner.
Swisher hit a game-winning single with two outs in the ninth inning and the New York Yankees ended a Friday evening full of tears and cheers by beating the Tampa Bay Rays 5-4.
Manager Joe Girardi cried during a 15-minute pregame remembrance. Captain Derek Jeter worked hard to keep his composure while speaking to the crowd. Closer Mariano Rivera placed two long-stemmed roses across home plate in memory of the team's demanding owner and beloved public address announcer Bob Sheppard.
"On a day like this when we celebrate his life, got to take him out on a W," Swisher said. "Today was Mr. Steinbrenner's day. Regardless of the situation, regardless of anything, we went out there and we played that game as best we could for him today."
Swisher hit a tying home run in the eighth, then lined a single that sent Curtis Granderson sliding home for the victory in a matchup of the teams with the best records in baseball. The Yankees streamed from the dugout to celebrate, and Swisher wound up way out in right field, surrounded by jumping teammates.
"I thought the club played like Mr. Steinbrenner expected," Girardi said, sniffling. "I think The Boss would have been proud."
The joyful ending was in sharp contrast to earlier events that saluted Steinbrenner, who died Tuesday, two days after the passing of Sheppard.
There was a 2-minute moment of absolute silence. Not a single fan shouted out, and the only sounds were the flags flapping at half-staff and a passing subway.
It was muted inside, by design. To honor Sheppard, who was 99 and announced players in dulcet tones for more than a half-century, there were no PA introductions. Even the Bleacher Creatures in right-center field held off on their daily roll call.
A season after the Yankees christened their new stadium by celebrating a World Series title, the ballpark was quiet.
So it was, too, in the days of old Yankee Stadium. Famed for hosting championship parties, the park also was the site for many of baseball's most solemn occasions – Lou Gehrig's "luckiest man" speech, a dying Babe Ruth propped on a bat and bidding farewell, an empty catcher's box for Thurman Munson.
"It's just one of those moments, another one of those special moments here at Yankee Stadium," Jeter said. "It seems like every time you come here there's an opportunity to see something special, and tonight was special for everyone that had the opportunity to participate in the game and I think also for everyone that got a chance to watch it."
Hours before gametime, crowds snapped pictures of Steinbrenner's statue in the main lobby and gathered around a makeshift memorial outside another gate.
The Yankees wore patches for Steinbrenner and Sheppard. One included "The Boss" and the other featured a microphone.
Between innings, the video board showed clips of Steinbrenner, including his skits on "Saturday Night Live" and commercials with Billy Martin.
"It's a weird feeling when you don't have that extra noise at a ballpark, and I think that changes the atmosphere," Girardi said. "Every half-inning you have that reminder of how special of a man he was. And you get caught up in all that, listening to all the stories."
When it was over, a recording of Sheppard played over the sound system. "Thank you for coming to the game," he said.
Rivera (3-1) picked off B.J. Upton at first base in the ninth. Granderson opened the bottom half with a single against Randy Choate (2-3).
Ramiro Pena sacrificed, Brett Gardner walked and Jeter was next. The whole crowd stood anticipating a winning hit – "he comes to the plate and I'm thinking the same thing," Upton said – but Jeter took big cuts and struck out.
Swisher, however, lined a single and Granderson beat right fielder Gabe Kapler's throw.
"I think pretty much the agenda today was win. That's what Mr. Steinbrenner wanted us to do," Swisher said.
CC Sabathia and James Shields began the day going in different directions, and both wound up with no-decisions. Sabathia had won eight straight outings, Shields had lost eight of nine starts.
Robinson Cano and Jorge Posada hit consecutive home runs off Shields in the sixth to tie it at 3.
"It was an emotional game for the Stadium," Shields said. "Once the game started, it was business as usual."
Tampa Bay took a 4-3 lead in the seventh against Sabathia on an RBI groundout by Ben Zobrist.
Swisher homered off Joaquin Benoit in the eighth. Swisher also had an RBI single in the third.
Notes:The Yankees and Tampa Bay have split six games this year. They play 12 more times. … Saturday is Old-Timers Day at the stadium. The 1950 championship team is being honored, with Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra among seven players from that club expected to attend.
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