The Yankees were getting drubbed.
It was the eighth inning of a humid night in the Bronx, and the Bombers were facing yet another loss, this time in humiliating fashion — they were down 7 to 1 against the last-place Baltimore Orioles, who smacked four home runs off of recently-acquired starting pitcher Andrew Heaney.
Fans cried out to the Baseball Gods for intervention, and their prayers were heard: With Yankee slugger Aaron Judge at the plate, a tiny shape streaked across the left side of the infield, just behind the foul line.
“The one and two,” Yankees TV play-by-play man Michael Kay said as the Orioles’ pitcher delivered. “Uh oh…”
The shape moved, and the gait gave it away: It was definitely a cat.
“How in the world did he get out here?” color commentator Paul O’Neill asked.
For a moment it looked like play would continue. Then the stadium’s cameras zoomed in on the little interloper, a brownish tabby. The kitty took off toward left field and the crowd went wild.
Orioles left fielder Ryan McKenna stood and watched as the little guy streaked past him, heading for the outfield wall where a door — which remains closed during play — leads to the bullpen.
Seeing no way out, the cat paused, then jumped on the padding that lines the walls, drawing more cheers from the crowd, who encouraged him as he tried to leap the rest of the way over the fence.
By the time a quartet of Yankees security guards tried to corner kitty and he dodged them — not once, not twice but three times! — the crowd was pumped, shouting “MVP! MVP! MVP!”
Almost four minutes elapsed from the time the cat appeared on the field to the moment when a Yankees employee with some brains opened a side door, allowing kitty to escape from what was undoubtedly a stressful situation. Quite an adventure for the little guy.
The Orioles won that game and the troubled Yankees looked like they were headed for a bitterly disappointing season.
The cat changed both narratives, at least for the kind of people who put stock in sports superstition — a group that includes the players themselves.
Since that Aug. 2 game, the Orioles have suffered through a historically brutal stretch, losing 19 games in a row before finally earning a win last night. That epic losing streak represents the worst run of futility in Major League Baseball in 16 years and stopped just two losses shy of a 21-game losing streak set in 1900. (For British and international readers, you read that right: No other sport is as meticulous as baseball when it comes to continuity and keeping stats. Those statistics go all the way back to the first professional games in 1869. While seasons have been interrupted — most recently last year when the schedule was reduced from 162 to 60 games due to the pandemic — only World Wars I and II have scratched entire seasons from the history books.)
Fearing a curse, the Orioles’ players tried all sorts of things to change their luck, most noticeably growing mustaches. (Note to the Orioles: Playing like a major league team tends to work better than growing facial hair.)
The Yankees, meanwhile, have experienced a renaissance that has them looking like the perennial championship contenders they’re supposed to be, vaulting over five other teams in the standings and breathing down the necks of the first-place Tampa Bay Rays.
With their win over the Braves on Tuesday night, the Yankees are 18-3 since Rally Cat (as he’s now known) appeared in Yankee Stadium, and they’re riding an 11-game winning streak, their longest stretch of wins since 1985. It’s a stunning turnaround for a team that had been disappointing all year, looking lifeless for long stretches.
As for the cat, it’s not clear what happened to him. Local shelter operators and animal rescue organizations haven’t heard anything.
One thing was clear to anyone who is familiar with felines: The kitty’s body language clearly conveyed fear and confusion, and he was desperate to find a way out. Any cat would be, with 35,000 humans making a ton of noise, lights and huge advertising screens everywhere, and additional humans standing on the grass in what must look to cats like some bizarre ritual.
Yankees security didn’t do themselves any favors by the way they were trying to remove the cat, Elyise Hallenbeck, director of Strategy for Bideawee Animal Rescue’s Leadership Giving & Feral Cat Initiative, told the Bronx Times.
“They should be grateful that they weren’t able to lay hands on it, because the cat would have won that,” Hallenbeck said. “The cat was severely and terribly, terribly, frightened.”
Rally Cat, wherever you are, we hope you’re in the care of a loving human and you’re enjoying some delicious yums. You deserve it.