Turn Back The Clock: October 9th, 1996-The Jeffrey Maier Game
By Billy Brost
The mystique and aura hadn’t been apparent in the House That Ruth Built for quite some time. Sure, Yankees fans had witnessed the greatness of former Captain Don Mattingly hitting his only Bronx-bound playoff home run the October prior, and yes, Jim Leyritz also hit the first of his heroic postseason bombs, but the Yankees lost the season. Fast forward to 1996, and the Yankees, with a new manager, and a rookie shortstop, were looking for more, as they had advanced to the American League Championship Series for the first time since 1981.
Joe Torre was now at the helm, the first year Yankees’ skipper who had never been to the World Series, and the Yankees, looking to return to glory, as Game One of the 1996 ALCS unfolded. The Yankees had jumped out to an early 2-1 lead, but the Baltimore Orioles, led by their Iron Man, Cal Ripken, Jr., weren’t going to just lay down and go away without a fight. Consecutive runs in the second, third, and fourth innings, gave the O’s both the lead and the momentum. They tacked on a fourth run in the sixth, and had the Yankees down 4-2, when the Bombers trimmed the lead with a run of their own in the seventh, making the score, 4-3, Orioles.
Remember that mystique and aura that I had previously mentioned? Well, the eighth inning for the Yankees, is when it reared it’s glorious head for the first time in decades, but not the last for many seasons and Octobers to come. One of the dominating relievers of the game was on the mound for Baltimore, in the large frame of flame-throwing Armando Benitez. This would be the first of many moments he would be involved in with the Yankees. At the plate, the rookie, not yet the Captain, shortstop Derek Jeter.
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With his future patented inside-out swing, Jeter sent a long fly ball towards the right field wall. Orioles right fielder Tony Tarasco was set up, ready to make the play up against the wall, and just as the ball came down, the overexcited mitt of a 12-year-old boy came out of nowhere, snatched the baseball from Tarasco’s grasp, and became a New York City legend himself. Jeffrey Maier, or the first version of mystique came to the rescue, and the ball was ruled a Jeter home run, tying the score at 4 apiece.
Tarasco began jumping up and down, pointing to Maier, stating that the baseball had been stolen and that it was fan interference. Right field umpire Richie Garcia ruled the ball to be a home run, and his fellow umpiring crew agreed. Without instant replay, all Orioles manager Davey Johnson could do was argue the call to no avail. The home run stood, and the first of Jeter’s legendary moments was cemented.
As a result of the Jeffrey Maier-assisted home run for Jeter, the game went to extra innings. During the bottom of the 11th inning, center fielderBernie Williams
sent the Bronx faithful home happy, as he blasted a walk-off home run into the left field bleachers, giving the Bombers the 5-4 victory. Set-up manMariano Rivera
got the win for the Yankees, and Orioles leftyRandy Myers
took the loss with the long home run allowed.
Not only did Jeter’s home run give the Yankees extended life in Game One, but many believe it changed the tide of the entire series, and gave the Bronx Bombers the momentum the remainder of the way. The Orioles bounced back the next night to win Game Two, 5-3, but then Torre’s Yankees slammed the door on the Orioles, winning the next three straight, and clinching the pennant in Baltimore. It would send the Yankees to the World Series for the first time in 15 seasons, and would kickstart the Joe Torre/Core Four Dynasty of the 1990s and early part of the 2000s.
It was this day, 18 years ago on October 9th, 1996, a legend and the mystique came around again. It was the Jeffrey Maier/Derek Jeter home run!