'Flip play' in Oakland iconic moment in Jeter's career
Yankees shortstop's role key in momentum-shifting sequence in 2001 ALDS
OAKLAND -- From his seat in the first-base dugout, Derek Jeter extended an index finger toward the spot, pinpointing the location of arguably the most iconic play of his career. For anyone who saw the "flip play" develop in real time, its details are forever seared into memory.
It was the evening of Oct. 13, 2001, the seventh inning of the third game of the American League Division Series between the Yankees and Athletics, and Jeter was in the right place at the right time. It was a fluke play that many hardened baseball men had never seen before, and haven't again to this day.
Terrence Long smacks a Mike Mussina pitch down the right-field line, where it is fielded by Shane Spencer, who wildly overthrows both cutoff men. Jeter appears near the first-base foul line, shoveling the ball to catcher Jorge Posada. The A's Jeremy Giambi does not slide and is tagged out to preserve a 1-0 Yankees lead.
"I've seen it a lot. I was where I was supposed to be," Jeter said. "I'm not supposed to throw it home, but that's where I'm supposed to be. I've never been one to sit down and sing my own praises. I'm happy it was at a big moment for us. Maybe years from now, but I've just never sat down and looked at it like that."
Many believe that the play changed the momentum of the series, as Oakland had won the first two games in New York. The Yankees went on to win the ALDS and beat the Mariners in five games in the AL Championship Series to secure the pennant, advancing to an epic and emotional World Series against the D-backs that went the distance before Arizona prevailed.
"It was a big play in that game," Jeter said. "People always talk about momentum. I just never really looked at it like that. It was a big moment in that game to stop them from tying the score, but we still had two more games after that."
Jeter called the play "a perfect storm," in that a lot of moving parts had to align to get the ball into his hand. Spencer said that night that he "just wanted to get the ball in quickly," sacrificing accuracy for speed.
Posada has said that if Spencer had just hit one of the two cutoff men, Alfonso Soriano or Tino Martinez, "We would have gotten him out by a lot." And Giambi made the ill-fated decision not to slide, explaining at the time that "I didn't want to slow down."
"That play, I remember seeing the ball down the line and there was no chance we could make an out at home," Soriano said. "I was the cutoff man with Tino, but the throw was too high. I saw Jeter running to the ball and I thought, 'Whoa, we've got a chance.' An unbelievable play."
Current Yankees manager Joe Girardi confirmed that it is a play that the Yankees still run through in Spring Training, just in case. They do not necessarily practice the flip -- that was a Jeter flourish -- but Girardi said, "We make sure the shortstops understand where they're supposed to be."
In 2012, longtime Athletics star Eric Chavez -- a member of that '01 Oakland club -- signed with the Yankees and was stunned to see it being simulated.
"I was like, 'Oh, God, they do practice it,'" Chavez said. "When I heard it, I was like, 'There's no way you guys do,' but I guess they do."
As Jeter makes his final regular-season trip to the Coliseum this weekend, the flip play is unavoidably at the front of many minds. You've seen it countless times, whether it has flickered at ballparks across the country or in your own living room.
Jeter's toss -- "Maybe he should have been an option quarterback, too," Girardi cracked -- is as indelible in the captain's highlight package as the Mr. November homer, the bloody dive into the stands, the leadoff World Series home run off the Mets' Bobby Jones, and milestone hit No. 3,000.
"That's one of those plays you talk about," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "He's got point-guard qualities, where he's just in the right place at the right time. That was probably as being in the right place at the right time as you're ever going to be on a baseball field."
It matters little, then, that the A's have opted to skip past the flip play when they roll their own video tribute to Jeter on Sunday. As A's vice president of sales and marketing Jim Leahey told the San Francisco Chronicle, the Coliseum video has "conspicuously eliminated all references to that play."
"The fans will see a similar level of respect for what Derek Jeter has done on the field, but we didn't want to show something what would make both sides feel awkward," Leahey told the newspaper.
Informed of the A's decision on Friday afternoon, Jeter grinned brightly.
"Oh, is that right?" Jeter said. "I've seen it. I'm sure they've all seen it."