Tonight will be Derek Jeter's first game back in Oakland since July 2012. There have been countless incredible moments throughout his career, but few compare to what happened in Oakland about 13 years ago. Most fans with even a small knowledge of Jeter's history remember this game: the Flip Game. Jeter made an incredible game-saving play that few had ever seen before. Since it's the occasion of the first "Farewell Tour" Jeter game in Oakland (and since it was such a tense 1-0 victory), I thought that it would be fun to look back on the Flip Game with the help of YouTube and see what else happened in that game.
The Yankees were the three-time defending World Series champions heading into the 2001 playoffs, and they actually posted a much better regular season than they did in 2000. They won 95 games, finishing well ahead of the Boston Red Sox thanks to a starting rotation led by Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens, who became the first pitcher to begin a season 20-1 and ended with a voter-pleasing 20-3 record, 213 strikeouts, and a 3.51 ERA (128 ERA+). However, the real star of the pitching staff and more deserving winner of the award was probably off-season free agent acquisition Mike Mussina, who struck out 214, pitched to a superior 3.15 ERA (143 ERA+), and led the league with 7.1 rWAR. Regardless, they teamed with mainstay Andy Pettitte and a solid bullpen featuring Mariano Rivera and Mike Stanton to give the Yankees the third-best pitching staff in the league. The offense was merely league average at a 100 OPS+ on the dot, but Tino Martinez (34), Bernie Williams (26), Jorge Posada (22), Paul O'Neill (21), and Derek Jeter (21) all reached the 20-homer plateau. Young second baseman Alfonso Soriano also provided 55 extra-base hits and stole 43 bases, finishing 3rd in AL Rookie of the Year voting.
In the Division Series, the Yankees faced the Wild Card-winning Oakland Athletics. They were no ordinary Wild Card though; they were one of the best Wild Card teams of all time, surging from 10 games under .500 on May 1st and four games under .500 on July 1st to end with a 102-60 record. To put that into perspective, they went 64-18 after July 1st, a ridiculous .780 winning percentage, which would equate to 126 wins over 162 games. The only reason they didn't win the AL West division title was the record-setting 116-win Seattle Mariners. Miguel Tejada and Eric Chavez combined for 63 homers, and AL MVP runner-up Jason Giambi was absurd with a .342/.477/.660 triple slash, notching 47 doubles, 38 homers, and a 199 OPS+. Their "Big Three" had a trio of starters under age 26 with Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito; all were stalwarts with four-win seasons by rWAR, and fourth starter Cory Lidle wasn't far behind them with a 121 ERA+ of his own. They forced the Yankees to a decisive Game 5 in the ALDS a year prior, and they were definitely a formidable foe.
Although the A's had a better record, the Yankees had the home-field advantage by virtue of winning their division title. They seemingly blew that advantage when they promptly tossed up a couple duds at Yankee Stadium in Game 1 and Game 2. Clemens had to leave early in Game 1 due to injury and the A's scored five runs on the strength of three homers--one by Jason Giambi, but two by the surprising Terrence Long. Mulder pitched well and the A's won 5-3. Hudson was dominant in Game 2, outpitching Pettitte with eight scoreless innings. The A's scored on a homer by veteran Ron Gant and a misplay by Yankees third baseman Scott Brosius in the ninth after a Johnny Damon triple. A rally against closer Jason Isringhausen put the tying run on first and the winning run at the plate with no one out in the ninth, but "Izzy" rallied to strike out Posada and induce pop-ups from David Justice and Brosius to end the game. Oakland now had a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series. No team had ever come back from such a deficit with the first losses occurring at home; the Yankees had their work cut out for them as they flew to Oakland to try to avoid a stunning sweep.
2001 ALDS Game 3
The Yankees were given a great chance to score in the first when Tejada made a very silly error, reaching for the ball with one hand rather than trying to scoop it with two. That's... not defense.
Bunting iz smrt
Fortunately for Tejada, Joe Torre thought it would be a great idea to bunt with Soriano, who couldn't bunt anyway even if it was a smart play. That worked well.
Majesty of Moose
The A's coincidentally had an opportunity with Jeremy Giambi (Jason's brother) on first base and Long at the plate with two outs. Sound familiar? This time, Moose fanned Long on a terrific pitch. Never forget: Moose belongs in the Hall of Fame.
Oh right, you weren't always crap
Sometimes, it's easy to forget that before he became the laughingstock of the San Francisco Giants with an ugly contract, Zito was a sensational young southpaw on the A's, boasting a devastating curveball. That pitch was just unfair against the free-swinging Soriano.
Reggie: "Cash, you ever worry about losing your hair?
Reggie: "Well... okay then."
Cash: /turns around to fan/ "You agree, right?"
Fan: "...sure. I haven't been staring at your growing bald spot or anything."
(Also, I like Rick Cerone's water bottle dance.)
Georgie juiced one!
Posada crushed the only big blow of the game with a long homer to left against Zito, and the Yankees at last had a lead. It was incredibly their first of the series. It's a good thing Posada went deep because the Yankees had just one other hit in the entire game--Zito hurled eight brilliant innings.
Knobby: Good in left?
Beleaguered former second baseman Chuck Knoblauch was relegated to left field duty in 2001 after three years of badly declining play at second. Although not a natural left fielder, he surprisingly made a terrific yet forgotten catch late in this game. He displayed incredible range to come over from near left-center to make this catch in foul territory.
Why was Knobby's catch forgotten? This. It's still incredible 13 years later. With Jeremy Giambi on first base and two outs and Moose on the mound, a situation identical to the one earlier in the game, Long came up with a big hit. He smacked it past Tino and down the right field line. When Shane Spencer retrieved it, he airmailed both Tino and Soriano on the relay, but Jeter came all the way over from the shortstop position to field the ball roughly 50 feet from home plate. Without him shuffling the ball to Posada (who made a quick tag on Giambi's back leg after Giambi elected to not slide for whatever reason), the game would have been tied.
And yes, A's fans, Giambi was out.
Mike Mussina was not typically a man who showed much emotion on the mound. However, even he couldn't help but be pumped up after Jeter's phenomenal play. As an aside, the play completed seven superb scoreless innings from Moose, wherein he allowed just four hits and one walk, a Game Score of 72 that was the best of his Yankees playoff career. The Yankees needed excellent pitching to stay alive while facing Zito, and they got it from Moose. To think some people have said Moose wasn't a big-game pitcher... Phooey on them.
Mo entered for the save in the eighth. He gave up a one-out single to pinch-hitter Greg Myers but kept the tying run from scoring by getting Damon to pop up and Tejada to line out to Knoblauch. In the ninth, he again gave up a one-out hit, this time a double to right-center by Jermaine Dye. The tying run was in scoring position and the winning run was at the plate in Chavez, but Mo struck him out, then got Jeremy Giambi to roll one over to second. That clinched the victory with two scoreless frames, and the Yankees avoided a sweep with a tremendously satisfying victory.
The Yankees of course went on to win Game 4 in Oakland to force a trip back to New York; they completed the crazy comeback with a win in Game 5, where Jeter made another ridiculous play. They then beat the 116-win Mariners for their fourth AL pennant in a row and came within one inning of their fourth World Series title in a row after a highly competitive Fall Classic. Although they fell short, it was still an unbelievable finish to a season that New York City natives desperately sought to distract themselves from the tragedy of September 11th. The Flip Play will likely stand as the pinnacle moment of Jeter's career, and I know I'll never forget it.