“I’ve been lying for a long time, telling you guys there was no pressure…”
Jeter’s comments after the game were referring to reaching the 3,000 hit milestone in Yankee Stadium, and because of a rainout Friday, fans in The Stadium Saturday got to witness one of the greatest and most memorable days in Yankees history.
Derek Jeter became the 28th member of the 3,000 hit club, becoming just the second to do it with a home run (Wade Boggs). Over the 2,362 games it took to reach 3,000, Jeter has had a number of great moments, but watching Jeter embrace his teammates on the field Saturday got me thinking: where does this moment rank in Jeter’s collection of hall-of-fame moments? (Note: I included postseason moments because, after all, those are the best moments.)
5: Setting the tone
Derek Jeter stepped to the plate for Game 4 of the 2000 World Series with his team in need of a spark. Jeter sent the first pitch he saw from Bobby Jones over the left field wall, and sent his Yankees on their way to their 26th World Championship.
When Jeter’s ball landed deep over the left field wall to give the Yankees an early lead, the series momentum switched hands for the last time. The Mets, playing Games 3, 4, and 5 in their home park, had gained confidence after nearly winning a classic Game 1, scoring 5 runs in the 9th nning of Game 2, and beating the previously postseason unbeaten El Duque Hernandez in Game 3. With the Yankees still leading the series 2 games to 1, it was clear the Mets had gained enough momentum to take control of the series with another win in Game 4. But Jeter did not allow the Mets to ever sniff victory; the Yankees won the game 3-2 and won the series the following night with Jeter—who would hit another home run—named World Series MVP.
(You can argue that The Jeffrey Maier Game was a bigger moment in Jeter’s career, especially because it came in his rookie season, but I omitted that moment in favor for Game 4 of the 2000 WS because it was not aided by a 12 year-old kid.)
4: Bloodied and Bruised
The Yankees and Red Sox played instant-classic after instant-classic in 2003 and 2004, and on this July night in the summer of ’04 the two teams played another. The game went to extra innings tied at 3, and in the top of the 12th the Red Sox threatened to take the lead when Trot Nixon sent a bloop over third that looked to be a two-run single. Out of nowhere Jeter sprinted and caught the popup, heading full speed for the camera well down the third base line. Because he was sprinting, his momentum sent him diving over the camera well into the first row of the seats. (Jeter would say later that he made his decision to dive into the first row of seats because, one, he expected the fans to catch him, and two, he recalled injuring himself when he tumbled over the wall onto the cement ground of the camera well in Game 5 of the 2001 ALDS vs. Oakland—but more from that series later.) When Jeter appeared from the crowd his face was bloody and bruised but he had held onto the ball to preserve the tie; and even though he left the game, he allowed the Yankees to walkoff on John Flaherty’s double in the 13th. (Fun fact: The two starting pitchers in this game were Pedro Martinez and the incomparable Brad Halsey).
Remember the “NOMAH’S-BETTAH” chant from the Fenway crowd every time Jeter stepped to the plate in Boston? Well, unbeknownst to the Baseball world at the time, this play forever ended that debate. As Jeter limped off the field with his chin bleeding into a towel, Nomar Garciaparra sat sulking in the Yankee Stadium visitors’ dugout. By choice, Nomar did not play in the game because of a sore Achillies’. Years later Nomar’s teammates recall him begging to get into the game after he saw Jeter sacrifice his body for the team, but Red Sox manager Terry Francona never put him in and Nomar was traded 30 days later.
3: The First Yankee
The Yankees were trailing by a run against David Price and the Rays when Jeter stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 3rd, just one hit shy of 3,000. On the eighth pitch from Price—a curveball—Jeter sent a long drive to the left field seats, perhaps the best hit ball he had in months. When it landed the Yankees and Rays were tied, and a relieved Derek Jeter knew his quest for 3,000 hits was finally over.
But Jeter was not done. For the game Jeter also doubled and had three singles, including the go-ahead single in the 8th inning which gave the Yankees a much needed comeback victory after a week of tough losses.
Career milestones are usually anticlimactic because they have been anticipated for some time; but Jeter’s 5-for-5 performance for 3,000 was something nobody could have anticipated.
The most impressive and most talked about aspect of Jeter’s milestone is that he became the first Yankee to ever reach the plateau, something that cannot be understated. The Yankees have a number of hall-of-fame players, some who have more impressive statistics than Jeter. But something those players cannot say they have is 3,000 hits—a feat attributed to longevity as well as greatness. The franchise with the richest history in Baseball finally has its 3,000 hit king.
2: Mr. November
Just minutes after the clock struck midnight and the World Series moved to November, Derek Jeter’s first career (at any level) walkoff home run was perhaps the biggest hit of his Yankee career. Leading off the 10th inning Derek lined a Byung-Hyun Kim 3-2 pitch over the right field wall to even the World Series at 2 games, a game the Yankees had to win.
With the Yankees—and the city of New York—desperate for something positive, Jeter gave the city something to cheer for. After Tino Martinez’s two-run home run in the 9th, Jeter’s walkoff completed the dramatic comeback. Because of the 9/11 attacks just weeks prior, the World Series was pushed into November for the first time in MLB history. Jeter seized the moment and became Mr. November, while lifting the entire city of New York. Very rarely does a sporting event have any significance outside of the professional sports world, but this was one of the few exceptions.
1: The Flip
When Terrence Long doubled inside the first base bag the Yankees slim 1-0 seventh inning lead looked lost, especially because Shane Spencer’s throw from the right field corner soared over cutoff man Tino Martinez’s head. Even with Jeremy Giambi running from first, he would definitely score because the throw was off line and Posada had no chance to tag him at the plate. Then, out of nowhere (that’s his thing), Jeter dashed from his spot behind the pitchers mount to cutoff the errant throw and back-hand flip the ball to Posada, who tagged Giambi a split second before his right foot touched home. To this day I do not know how the home plate umpire got the call right, but he did.
How often can you say the career defining play of a hall of famer with 3,000 hits is a defensive play? “The Flip” play is not only the defining moment in Jeter’s career; it is the second most iconic defensive play in MLB History (Willie Mays’ “The Catch”).
The play preserved a 1-0 Yankee lead, kept the Yankees alive who were trailing the young and powerful Oakland Athletics 2 games to none, and once again shifted momentum to Jeter’s team. But more than that, it was a microcosm for Jeter’s career. Jeter is always in the right place at the right time while always helping the team win in ways that do not show up in the box score, constantly separating himself from the stigma of what a superstar player was supposed to be in the steroid-era he dominated.