Carlos Beltran had his first signature Yankee moment last night with a game-winning, walk-off, three-run home run with two outs in the ninth inning to beat the Baltimore Orioles. These are moments and games that are burned into the memory of fans across generations. Some moments stand the test of time and can take on a life of it own. Asking any baseball fan about “The Called Shot,” “The Flip Play,” “The Pine Tar Game,” or “The Catch” and they will instantly know exactly what you are talking about. A game-winning home run in June will not join that illustrious company but it may certainly be an exclamation point for Beltran in his first Yankee season.
Derek Jeter has had a plethora of signature moments in his career (The Flip Play, The Dive, Jeffrey Maier, et al) but in any career there is always a first one. For Jeter it would have been Opening Day 1996. His first Opening Day as the Yankee starting shortstop. He was a former first round pick that lacked the confidence of George Steinbrenner (who wanted to trade him at the time) and allegedly had little range and no power. In that game against the Indians, Jeter hit a home run and made an incredible over the shoulder catch in short center field helping the Yankees win the game.
Later that year, Tino Martinez got his first signature Yankee moment. Tino came over in a trade from Seattle and was given the unenviable assignment of replacing the beloved Yankee Captain, Don Mattingly, at first base. Tino struggled out of the gate in that first season in pinstripes and was hitting only .226 with two home runs as the Yankees traveled to Camden Yards to take on a loaded Orioles team that would take the Wild Card that year. Tino’s seventh inning home run had proved the difference in the first game of the series. Meanwhile, the second and final game of the series went to extra innings. Then in the top of the fifteenth, Tino hit a game winning Grand Slam as the clock struck 1 AM. It gave Andy Pettitte the win, who came on in relief and propelled Tino into the hearts of Yankees for the rest of his career.
There have been many other first signature Yankee moments over the year: Jason Giambi‘s 14th inning grand slam in the rain against the Twins. Hideki Matsui‘s grand slam in his first game at Yankee Stadium. Dwight Gooden‘s 1996 no-hitter. Carlos Beltran had his last night. Hopefully, since Beltran will be in the Bronx for at least two more years, there will be many more to come, but the first one is always one that will be remembered.
Today as Tino is given a plaque in moment park alongside the very greatest players in the storied history of Yankees and you will see the significance of those moments. Tino had a nice career that included a coulple of All Star selections, a sliver slugger, over 330 home runs and over 1200 RBIs. But he was never considered a prospect for Cooperstown and would probably be forgotten by most casual fans within a few years of his retirement in 2005. But for Yankee fans, Tino will always be remembered for the World Series wins including his Game 1 grand slam in 1998, his incredible 1997 season, his Home Run Derby Championship and a night in Baltimore where he won as exciting a baseball game as you could ever wish to see with a thrilling home run. Moments are what makes baseball special and an otherwise forgettable player immortal within the minds of fans for all time.