Not only was it a heads-up play, but it was a momentum changer. Derek Jeter‘s flip to catcher Jorge Posada turned the 2001 ALDS against the Oakland Athletics around. Jeter’s play prevented Jeremy Giambi from tying the game and potentially sweeping the New York Yankees. Instead, Jeter threw out Giambi and the Yankees won the game 1-0 and then won the next two games to advance to the ALCS.
The 2001 American League Divisional Series
The New York Yankees were in big trouble. Home-field advantage had been wiped out. Two of their best pitchers, Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte had already suffered losses in the best-of-five series against the Oakland Athletics and now the Yankees had to travel to Oakland and hope to put together a three-game win streak to continue their season.
The Yankees were struggling offensively in the series. They had scored three runs combined in the first two games, including getting shut out by Tim Hudson in Game 2. The Yankees had seven hits off Hudson, none of the timely variety. They left eight on base and were 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position. It wasn’t going to get any easier in Game 3 as they were set to face left-hander Barry Zito.
Through four innings against Zito, the Yankees were scoreless. Luckily for them, Mike Mussina did the same to the Athletics. In the top of the fifth inning, Jorge Posada smacked a one-out solo home run to left field to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead. Mussina kept the A’s in check, but they threatened in the bottom of the seventh before Derek Jeter made the series-turning defensive play that still goes down as one of the best ever.
Derek Jeter’s game-saving play
The New York Yankees were struggling with the bats. They had gone 14 straight innings without a run before Jorge Posada’s solo homer in Game 3 not only gave the Yankees a 1-0 lead but also injected some life into them. They knew they had to rely on pitching and defense to maintain the lead and Mike Mussina was cruising.
Mussina ran into trouble in the seventh inning with the Yankees nursing that 1-0 lead. With two outs and Jeremy Giambi on first base, the red-hot Terrence Long was at the plate. Long smacked a double down the right-field line. As Giambi was rounding third base looking to tie the game, Yankees right fielder Shane Spencer overthrew two cutoff men.
Derek Jeter sprinted across the diamond, picked up the ball, and flipped it to Posada. Posada applied the tag to a non-sliding Giambi for the out that ultimately changed the outcome of the game and the series. The Yankees held on for the 1-0 win and then won the next two games to advance to the ALCS.
Jeter breaks down the play
Earlier this year, right before he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, Derek Jeter made an appearance in the MLB Network studios. There, he spoke with analyst Harold Reynolds about that defensive flip. Jeter broke down the play.
“My job is to watch the runner, the runner at first was Jeremy Giambi,” Jeter said. “I saw the ball down the line, so my job is to see if there’s going to be a play at third base. But once you see that Giambi is going to go home, my job is to then be the third cutoff man to redirect the throw to third base. Now we don’t practice actually shuffle-passing the ball to home plate. If you look at the replay, if I actually wanted to throw to third base, we could’ve gotten Terrence (Long) at third.” Jeter said if Spencer hit one of the cutoff men, Giambi would’ve been out by 10 feet.
“I looked at Giambi to see where he was before I actually got to the throw,” Jeter said, knowing Giambi wasn’t the fastest of runners. “So when I was about here (in the middle of the field), I could see we had an opportunity to get him. Now, you still see the ball in the air and it has to be a clean exchange to throw it home. Worst case scenario, if you look at the replay, it could’ve gone to third.”
Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.