Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Happy 5th Anniversary, Jeter's Face & The Stands

My favorite regular season Yankee game of all time took place five years ago today. It was the day that the two things in the title met, however briefly, on the way to a thrilling extra innings victory.

On July 1st of 2004, the universe was still aligned. The Red Sox were still a bunch of hopeless choke artists and the Yankees had just appeared in their sixth World Series in eight years. Despite trailing Boston in the season series 1-5 entering the series, the Yanks were up 5.5 games in the division. After outscoring the Sox 15-5 in the first two games of the series, that lead had swelled to 7.5. Their record was 49-26, which was the best in American League by six games.

That Thursday night, the Yankees prospects for victory didn't look so hot. Pedro Martinez was scheduled to start for the Sox while all the Yankees could counter with was Brad Halsey. Making just his third professional start managed to make it 5 1/3 innings and allowed only two runs, which came on a two run homer by Manny Ramirez. It was a dramatic improvement from his last outing in which he was destroyed for 7 runs by the Mets and chased in the fourth inning. The legendary Paul Quantrill cost Halsey a chance at a victory by giving up the tying run in the seventh inning.

Pedro wasn't perfect but he went 7 innings, allowed 3 runs and struck out 8. When he left the game, the score was tied 3-3, a position Yankees fans would have happily accepted at the outset of the evening.

Felix Heredia/Tom Gordon and Keith Foulke matched perfect 8th innings to keep the draw intact. Gordon delivered another scoreless frame in the ninth, but Foulke ran into some trouble. The Yankees loaded the bases with one out but Foulke got Ruben Sierra to strikeout swinging and Kenny Lofton grounded out to send the game into extras.

In Mariano Rivera's second inning of relief (the 11th), the Sox had runners on first and third with two outs. With Trot Nixon at the plate, Johnny Damon took second on defensive indifference. Then, on the 4th pitch of the at bat, Nixon popped one in back of third base, drifting towards the stands. Jeter, sprinting at full speed made the catch and unable to stop himself, flew head first into the stands.

Did the play decide the game? Probably not. Had Jeter not caught the ball, it would have landed in foul territory and Trot Nixon still would have had two strikes against Rivera, and regardless, the Yanks would have had a chance to respond in the bottom half. It most certainly defined the game, however.

I'm not sure if most Yankee fans would remember that Boston actually took the lead in the 13th on another homer by Manny and it took back-to-back-to-back two out hits by Ruben Sierra, Miguel Cairo and John Flaherty to vault the Yankees to victory. The lasting image was not of Flaherty rounding first base with his arms in the air, but of Jeter emerging from the stands and being tended to by Gene Monahan, his face bloodied and bruised.

It was a concrete representation of the mythical qualities and intangibles of Jeter, that can typically be dismissed as bullshit, all rolled into one photograph. It was part hustle, part toughness and part all-out effort.

Home from college for the summer, I watched that game at my friend John's house, over a soundtrack of powerful thunderstorms. We had plans to go out, but couldn't pull ourselves away from the extra inning drama. I'm glad we didn't.

6 comments:

  1. Lenny Herold7/1/09, 3:24 PM

    I was at the game. I had been to the two previous games of the series as part of my season package (I think I had 46 games that year), and my wife and I scalped tickets in the Loge level that night so we could catch the finale. I know it's an overused cliche, but the game had a playoff atmosphere from the start - as it went on, you could just sense this was going to be a barnburner. The unfortunate part about it (for us) was that from our seats in Loge, we couldn't actually SEE Jeter go into the stands - it happened right below us. We knew he had hurt himself, and we knew he'd made the catch, but we didn't get to actually see the beauty of the play until we got home hours later and could watch the replay.

    As Jay mentions, the play didn't decide the game... but it did come in a very, very big spot, and there is no doubt that it fired up the Yankees. A lot of people remember the game, but most don't remember Flash was the one who won it for the Yanks. It was one of the best regular-season games I've ever seen, and I have been to an awful lot of Yankees games.

    Here's hoping we can channel the memories of this game and finally beat those lousy Red Sox when the season series resumes next month. I'm making my first trip to Fenway for the games on 8/22 and 8/23.

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  2. I was lucky enough to be at the game. I was going to skip the trip down from Albany due to the fact that I thought Halsey was going to get shelled and the Yanks weren't going to get squat off of Pedro. Needless to say, luckily I was able to catch the last appearance of The Curse.

    One of the most overlooked plays in the game was a brilliant 5-2 double play turned by A-Rod that saved the game in one of the late innings (maybe the 8th). If I recall correctly, he dove for the ball, crawled to touch 3rd and gunned it to the plated.

    Don't forget Sheff playing 3B when A-Rod moved to SS after Jeter got taken out.

    Definitely the best game I was ever at.

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  3. And Jeter was in the lineup the next day against the Mets at Shea.

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  4. What I remember from that game, albeit from the other side of things, was the dichotomy of Nomar and Jeter. Nomar was still with the Sox but there was growing discontent with him, both from the F.O. and the fans. Watching Nomar sit out the game with some minor ailment, as opposed to seeing Jeter destroy his mug for a foul ball, well, the difference was not lost on most Red Sox fans. As we learned later on, only after seeing Jeter make that catch did Nomar make himself available for pinch hitting. To his credit, I don't think Francona put him in the game. Was a tough loss...

    BUT, anything that reminds me of 2004 is fine with me. Thanks for the memory.

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  5. You weren't supposed to bring up the rest of 2004 Tad, unless you wanted to talk about how tough guy Varitek kepy his mask on when he decided to go at it with A-Rod later that month.

    I think this game in question was the beginning of the end for Nomar. It wasn't just that Nomar didn't play, it was as if he was entirely uninterested in one of most exciting regular season games in recent memory. While the rest of the team was up on the railing, watching intently, Nomar stayed parked on the bench all night. Apparently his injury prevented him from standing up.

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  6. I'm not commenting on the toughness or morality of the incident, but disarming myself in the heat of the moment would not have crossed my mind. On the other hand, I probably wouldn't have started a fight in the first place.

    Nomar was always an introvert, or came across as one. If you were to watch the end of the 2003 ALDS (Boston over Oakland), Nomar can be seen with arms in the air after the final out, cheering, alone. For the longest time, no other players came over to him, and he walked kind of slowly to the his celebrating teammates. Telling, that.

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