The moment is still etched in my memory.
The Yankees trailed Arizona by one game going into game 4, and it looked as if they would be down by two.
It was only through gutsy pitching in game 3 that prevented the Bombers from reaching the brink of elimination in the 2001 World Series.
The Yankees were down going into the ninth inning of game 4, but a home run by Tino Martinez tied it and set the stage for the first major league baseball game ever to slip into November.
Game 4 started on Oct 31st – the baseball season shut down for a week after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centers on 9/11, pushing back the playoffs. Derek Jeter was having a dismal time at the plate against Arizona to that point.
As Jeter came to bat in the 10th, the clock chimed 12 times over the PA system to herald the historic chronological milestone.
He worked the count brilliantly against Byung-Hyun Kim after being down two strikes with two outs. It was 3 and 2. An out would push the game into the 11th inning. Mariano Rivera would have had to take the mound again. The ace reliever had already saved game 3 with two innings of work and had one more this evening.
After fouling off a pitch hard down the right field line, he was ready for Kim’s next offering.
Jeter, a right-handed hitter, took it to the opposite field again. This time, he straightened it out and lifted it higher. It sailed several rows back behind the fence. Game over. The rest is history. Mr. November was born….and my primal scream of victory could be heard throughout Valley Village. Just ask my wife. She was ready to call 911.
Jeter was a career 300 hitter. His stats in post-season play were even better. He tops most of the offensive categories for all playoff levels combined, and fares well in those limited to the World Series.
His calm and professional demeanor ranks with the best.
I was privileged to have followed the fortunes of the Yankees from the Mantle-Maris-Ford years, through the successful, but turbulent, years defined by Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson and Billy Martin, to the Jeter led class which included Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettite, Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams. The last group was one of the best to come up through the Yankee farm system. With the exception of Pettite, whose time with the Yankees was interrupted for a few seasons with Houston, the five played their entire careers in New York.
Jeter was named captain of the Yankees in 2003. He had the longest tenure of any in the franchise’s history. Don Mattingly preceded him, but had to retire in 1995 due to back problems. The position was vacant until Jeter was named to fill the role. One wonders how much better the Yankees would have been with both Jeter and Mattingly playing together into the late nineties.
It will be a few years before the Yankees can assemble another winning combination, but they will. History and tradition assures it.
And Jeter will serve as their model.