Five things you may not remember about the Jeffrey Maier Game
22 years ago today, a 12-year-old from Old Tappan, N.J., quite possibly shaped the course of baseball history -- Derek Jeter lifted a fly ball to the wall in right, Tony Tarasco got under it and lifted his glove, and thus the Jeffrey Maier Game was born.
You probably knew those broad strokes already, even if, like the greater Baltimore area, you wish you could Men in Black the entire thing from your memory. But there are plenty of other wild things you may not remember about that fateful night -- so let's set the time machine for Oct. 9, 1996.
The starting lineups were wonderfully weird
1996 may not feel like all that long ago, but trust us: A lot can change in more than two decades. Exhibit A: Tim Raines and Wade Boggs hit 1-2 for the Yankees that night, while Cecil Fielder DH'd. The O's designated hitter? None other than Eddie Murray, while Bobby Bonilla hit cleanup.
A 27-year-old Arthur Rhodes appeared in relief that night for Baltimore, as did a 39-year-old Jesse Orosco, in the second of what would be a five-year stint with the club. Also coming out of the O's bullpen that night: Armando Benitez, serving as Baltimore's setup man and still three years away from becoming the closer for the Mets. And speaking of Benitez ...
The aftermath was complete bedlam
Tarasco's reaction was instantly iconic -- pointing at Maier like he'd just had his lunch money stolen, getting closer to right-field umpire Rich Garcia than any one human being had ever gotten to another:
But that's just the tip of the iceberg. The real fun started a few seconds later: Garcia had hustled all the way to the warning track in right to make that call, which meant that in order to argue the call, the O's had to travel ... all the way to the warning track in right. Did this dissuade Benitez in any way? Reader, it did not:
For the next couple of minutes, as many as five or six Baltimore players surrounded Garcia, even as the other members of the umpiring crew tried to make space for him. Manager Davey Johnson was almost immediately ejected, all while the Yankee Stadium crowd got louder and louder.
Maier was an instant a star
As you might imagine, Maier -- or "the kid" as the broadcast booth referred to him, before the words "Jeffrey Maier" had become etched into the brains of baseball fans across the country -- was the most popular kid in New York. He started slapping five with seemingly every fan in his section, and even got a celebratory shoulder ride like he was a king of antiquity:
But that was just the beginning of his media circus. Within the hour, Maier was doing an interview with NBC Sports' Jim Gray in front of a throng of fans, and in the days to come he'd make appearances on the national talk show circuit. (The New York Daily News even invited him to sit behind the Yankees dugout in the World Series.)
The homer didn't win the game, it just tied it
For the large space it occupies in baseball's memory, it's easy to assume that the homer-that-wasn't actually gave New York the lead. In reality, though, it brought them even -- New York went into the eighth inning trailing, 4-3, and Benitez struck out the first batter before facing Jeter.
The tie score meant Baltimore had to face Mariano Rivera in the ninth and 10th, and though the O's threatened, they failed to score. Then, in the bottom of the 11th, Bernie Williams sent everybody home:
It was only Game 1, and the O's were far from done
Thanks to Maier, Baltimore lost the game and, wind taken out of their sails, the series was more or less over after that. Or so the story goes, anyway.
Somewhat shockingly, though, the O's actually came back and won Game 2 thanks to a two-run homer from Rafael Palmeiro. They headed back to Camden Yards with home-field advantage, just three wins away from the team's first World Series since 1983 ... and then New York took all three games in Baltimore to slam the door.
Still, if they'd taken both games in New York, who knows how the series would've played out?