Down by a run in the bottom of the eighth, the Yankees were running out of time.
After Jim Leyritz struck out to begin the frame, Derek Jeter came up to the plate and attacked the first pitch from Baltimore closer Armando Benitez. The ball shot out to right field, sending Tony Tarasco back to the warning track. Tarasco stuck his glove up to make the catch, but the ball had been intercepted — by 12 year old Yankee fan, Jeffrey Maier.
Right field umpire Richie Garcia signaled home run on what was obviously interference. Tarasco went into a tirade, and Orioles manager Davey Johnson came running out onto the field and argued to no avail. The homer stood, and the Yankees had life.
The game remained tied at four until the bottom of the eleventh, when Bernie Williams sent a long fly ball deep to left field off reliever Randy Myers for a walk-off homer. The Yankees now have a surprising 1-0 series lead.
“Do I feel bad?” asked Jeter of his aided home run ball. “We won the game. Why should I feel bad? Ask them that.”
On the Baltimore side, Tarasco was still in disbelief after the game. “It was like a magic trick,” explained Tarasco. “I was getting ready to catch it and suddenly a glove appeared and the ball disappeared. When the kid reached over the wall, the kids’ glove was very close to mine. We almost touched gloves.”
Regardless, starter Andy Pettitte said the bottom line was that they had won the game. “Ain’t nothing tainted about this as far as I’m concerned. We’re up, 1-0. Nothing else matters.”
Pettitte went seven innings and allowed four runs on four hits. He allowed a pair of home runs, one to Brady Anderson to tie the game at two in the third, and the other to Rafael Palmeiro to give the O’s the lead in the fourth. “Two stupid pitches,” Pettitte said. “I’m glad it didn’t cost us.”
Aside from the homers by Jeter and Williams, the Yankees scored on RBI groundouts. One in the first by Williams, and one in the second by Leyritz.
Williams, who has long been labeled as a superstar in the making, finally put it all together this season – emerging as one of the Yankees’ most clutch players. “I’m just like a surfer,” Williams said. “I’m riding the wave. It’s going pretty good now. It’s been a long time I’ve waited to play at this level. I’m having fun right now.”
The Yankees are also having fun right now. Every break is going their way. To be a World Champion, you have to be good.