I am a pretty lucky gal when it comes to my baseball fandom because thanks to my Bronx-born and bred father, I grew up a Yankee fan. Sure, there was a pretty long playoff drought during my childhood but as an adult, I've attended no-hitters, playoff series clinchers and World Series games. I have also been blessed enough to write about my favorite team on this and other blogs, in newspapers and in magazines, and I've been extremely fortunate to be able to talk about them in an HBO documentary. And the one play I have written and talked about a few times just happens to be our #2 Top Moment which fittingly enough is "the flip play" by Derek Jeter.
2001 is one of those years that people in the New York City metro area will never forget for one reason: 9/11 and all that happened on that dreadful day. It is also a memorable year because of what the Yankees were able to do during the playoffs that fall. For a few hours a night, they helped the city and its residents focus their attention on something other than the horrific events and aftermath of September 11, 2001. They gave some of us hope and made most of us believe that things would eventually get better.
When the playoffs began, the Yankees were matched up with the Oakland A's in the Division Series but because the Seattle Mariners had won the AL West, they played the Indians in the first round to avoid playing their division rival. So right off the bat (ha ha), the Yankees' fate was slightly altered.
The series began in New York and it didn't start off well for the Yankees. They lost both games at home and took the cross country flight back to Oakland down 0-2 in the series. It was an uphill battle for sure but it was not without hope.
The game was scoreless for the first four innings with both starting pitchers setting down the batters with relative ease. Mussina had a little bit of trouble in the fourth when he gave up back-to-back singles to Jason Giambi and Jermaine Dye but was able to get out of it by getting both Eric Chavez and Jeremy Giambi to ground out and ending the scoring threat.
The Yankees struck first in the fifth inning thanks to a Jorge Posada solo shot off Zito. Shane Spencer followed that up with a double but nothing more came out of it as Zito settled down and retired Randy Velarde and Scott Brosius.
In the top of the seventh, with the Yankees clinging to a 1-0 lead, Mussina was able to induce a pop fly from Dye and a fly ball to center from Chavez. Jeremy Giambi stepped in with two outs and hit a first-pitch single to right field.
Moose just needed one more out to get out of the inning and he got it, just probably not the way he - or anyone else for that matter - expected it.
Terrance Long was probably expecting to be a hero in that moment. He was going to tie the game with his line drive into the right field corner. And it looked like it would happen when Spencer missed two cutoff men with his throw as Giambi was chugging around the bases. Instead, Derek Jeter came out of nowhere with his shovel pass to Posada at the plate and stomped on the hopes and dreams of the Oakland team and the Coliseum crowd. You could hear the mass groan of disbelief when the umpire signaled that Giambi was out at the plate. It seemed to envelope the stadium and that one play cast a pall on the rest of the series for A's.
Mussina, Posada and Jeter all pumped their fists in excitement and were greeted by very happy teammates and coaches in the dugout as the inning came to a close.
Mariano Rivera replaced Mussina in the eighth inning and went on to pitch two scoreless innings to close out the victory for the Yankees and to keep them alive in the series.
That night, Derek Jeter added another iconic moment to his resume that will be shown over and over again for years to come.
I happened to be watching this game at home with my father that night. He actually jumped up out of his seat after Jeter made the flip play, reached over to give me a high five and said, "That play just won the series for the Yankees." I was definitely not as confident as my father was at the time (he was always optimistic about the Yankees' chances in the playoffs) but he turned out to be right because two nights later we attended the series clinching game together and watched the Yankees celebrating moving on to the American League Championship Series.