The New York Yankees won an iconic ALCS game in 1996 thanks to Jeffrey Maier (and Derek Jeter).
Entering the 1996 ALCS, the New York Yankees were no longer the preeminent franchise in baseball, and a lot of their iconography was beginning to feel dated. Instead, they were simply another playoff team coming off a five-game choke in Don Mattingly’s finale, the 1995 ALDS, and their key cog was a rookie shortstop (coming off a .412 ALDS, but I digress).
Yankee Mystique? Nah. This team had come up empty-handed for nearly two decades.
Ahh, to be young again. But to be filled with such anxiety, completely unaware of what’s to come? I don’t envy that.
Game 1 of that all important dynasty-definer began innocently enough with Scott Erickson and Andy Pettitte on the mound at Yankee Stadium. Midway through the contest, Baltimore led 4-2. Same old, same old. But within the hour, the complexion of the American League East would change for the next decade.
By the bottom of the eighth inning, the O’s lead had been cut to 4-3 on a bases-loaded walk by Darryl Strawberry, surrendered by Armando Benitez the inning prior.
The lightning rod righty was still on the mound to open the eighth, when Derek Jeter strode to the plate with one down. He pushed one to the opposite field — which he’d eventually do hundreds more times — that didn’t quite have enough juice to get out.
Until a 12-year-old named Jeffrey Maier poked his arms well beyond the wall and grabbed a baseball ticketed for Tony Tarasco’s glove for a timely souvenir. Yankees fans can’t even lie to themselves on this one — it was a robbery.
Wildly enough, such antics were even predicted by Yankees color man Michael Kay earlier in the contest on a long fly ball to left.
Of course, all the Jeter “blast” did was tie this game up — after some spotless relief by Randy Myers, Bernie Williams finally touched the ex-Nasty Boy up in the 11th, firmly swinging the series momentum to the good guys — though Baltimore WON THE NEXT DAY, then lost three straight on their home turf. Never say the Yankees stole this series. They went in there and took it, thrice.
As for Maier? He went on to play college baseball at Wesleyan, and told Yahoo! that the moment adversely affected his collegiate career.
“It stuck with me throughout my baseball career,” he said. “I’ve been hit several times when I played competitively, certainly with intent. Things were certainly thrown at me at one point in my freshman year at Wesleyan.”
Is this moment somewhat shameful? Sure. But it was the unfortunate kickstart to so much magic, and we…would kind of love to see Maier in the crowd when The Captain takes his rightful spot in Cooperstown next summer.