19 Years Ago Derek Jeter Became Mr. November

It was Game 7, tied 2-2 on November 4th, 2001 when Mariano Rivera was trying to shut down an Arizona threat and send the clinching World Series ballgame to extra innings, as Luis Gonzalez, 0-4 on the night, came up with what Joe Buck deemed “the chance of a lifetime” against the unanimous Hall of Fame closer. The Yankees were, for the first time in their dynasty, America’s team in the wake of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center in the Financial District of Lower Manhattan. Gonzalez fouled off a first pitch cutter inside, he took a second pitch that never came in and hit it to centerfield as the Diamondbacks won a championship three years into their existence.

The Yankees looked stunned in the dugout. Alfonso Soriano had one of the most dramatic homeruns of all-time off of Curt Schilling that is no longer remembered. The fourpeat didn’t happen. Derek Jeter had lost his first World Series in his fifth opportunity. It was 5x All-Star Paul O’Neill’s final game. Tino Martinez consoled Rivera on the mound while the Diamondbacks dogpiled. Bernie Williams never won another championship. The dynasty had ended just days after it seemed like they had no chance of losing.

The Yankees went back to the absolutely mesmerizing Bank One Ballpark (now known as Chase Field) up 3-2, looking to clinch. They had won three consecutive games. In Game 6, they pitched Andy Pettitte and the Diamondbacks won 15-2. In Game 7, it was Roger Clemens, a 2x Triple Crown and eventual seven time Cy Young recipient. The Rocket was undoubtedly the best pitcher of his generation. On this night, Curt Schilling was just that much better and Randy Johnson was unhittable out of the bullpen. How did a team with such elation full back down to earth like they got hit by a truck? How did they even get that elation in the first place? Two words: Derek Jeter.

The Diamondbacks had a 2-0 series lead heading to the Bronx, as they took Game 1 9-2 and Game 2 4-0. The Yankees came thundering back. In Game 3, current Tampa Bay Rays color analyst Brian Anderson dueled with Roger Clemens and more than held his own. The Rocket was just slightly better, as a Jorge Posada lead off homerun put the Yankees on top early, but Matt Williams tied the game with a sacrifice in the fourth. Bernie Williams basehit in the sixth chased Anderson while Mike Morgan surrendered the game winning RBI to Scott Brossius. In Game 5, Albie Lopez gave up the game winner in 12 to Alfonso Soriano. Yet, it was Game Four that is the most revered game of the series and the most integral piece in the Yankees going up 3-2 heading back out west.

Curt Schilling pitched on three days rest as he went head to head with Orlando Hernandez. Shane Spencer hit a third inning homerun, while Mark Grace knotted it up in the fourth. An Erubiel Durazo double gave the Diamondbacks an eighth inning lead. The Yankees scored two in the ninth, a two homerun by Tino, tying the score. A walk from Posada and a single from Dave Justice put the Yankees in prime position to walk it off before Byung-hyun Kim struck out Spencer to send the game to extra innings. Rivera retired the Diamondbacks in order in the top of the tenth.

In the bottom of the inning is where it gets really good, because Tino Martinez had set up baseball immortality for a superstar shortstop. Kim returned to the mound and immediately sent the first two hitters (Brossius and Soriano) down. Derek Jeter stepped into the box. “Jeets” didn’t have the most pop on the team, but did have a knack for sneaking one out when it matters. Most of them were embroiled in controversy. For example, the incident with 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier in 1996 against Baltimore. This one? This one wouldn’t have any controversy as he etched his name into Yankee lore.

He was hitting .067 over the first four games, with only one hit in fifteen at bats. Kim was a notorious sidearmer, a release point that Jeter self-admittedly struggled with.  “For my entire career, I could never pick up the release point on sidearm pitchers. I just could never figure it out. That’s why I tried to get on base with a bunt [earlier in the ninth]. I didn’t think I would be able to get a hit off him if I was swinging, especially because I hadn’t seen him before that night.” He was 0-4 on the night heading into the tenth, playing through an injury he acquired when he dove into cameras in the fifth game of the ALDS against the Oakland Athletics. The first pitch was an inside slider that Jeter fought off.

Then the clock struck midnight. The scoreboard noted “welcome to November baseball.” It was the first time MLB had ever played in November. The next pitch was a high fastball that Jeter was behind on. Down 0-2, he needed to make the Arizona closer work. He fouled off two of the next five pitches and suddenly the count was full. The next pitch was hard hit, but foul, down the right field line as Jeter looked to use the infamous porch to his advantage like he’d done so many times before. Jeter asked for time, the camera zoomed into a fan that held a sign that said “Mr. November.”

The Yankees already had a Mr. October: Reggie Jackson, who entered Cooperstown less than a decade before this. There had never been a basehit in November, however.

Derek Jeter and Reggie Jackson at the 2008 Homerun Derby.

It was the ninth pitch of the at bat. Kim moved to the stretch. Derek Jeter made decent contact on what seemed to be an inside out swing. The ball kept carrying and carrying toward the porch until Reggie Sanders ran out of room and Michael Kay exclaimed “SEE YA! SEE YA! SEE YA! SEE YA!” as only Michael Kay can. “A homerun by Derek Jeter as he pumps his fist in the air as he rounded first. He’ll hit on third base, he high fives Willie Randolph and the entire Yankee team mobs him at home plate as he leaps onto the plate with a 4-3 Yankee win. Ohhhh what a ballgame!” Kay, who gets a lot of flack from non-Yankee fans, often times completely misguided, painted the portrait in a more colorful way than anybody else could in that moment.

Derek Jeter didn’t hit it that well and it only travelled 314 feet, but both teams play with the same dimensions and one took advantage of it. Derek Jeter had his worst World Series, hitting .148 in the seven game set, but he had his most memorable World Series hit. Derek Jeter has spoken fondly of that postseason, however, noting that “the beauty of the postseason is it really makes no difference what you’ve done up to a certain point, because every time you are at the plate or every time you are in the field, you have the opportunity to do something special.”

For one night, the Yankees made everybody in America forget about the World Trade Center, The Twin Towers and The Pennsylvania Field. The morale of the city of New York was at an all-time low and the city was devastated. The Bronx was about a half hour away from Manhattan down I-278 W, but in that night that borough represented all of New York City. Baseball brought the world a sense of solace a lot during 2001, consoling the city in Queens with the Braves vs Mets right after the terrorist attacks.

MLB Hall of Famer Tom Glavine greets the Mets in the first game post-9/11.

If 9/11 showed the Nation anything, it’s that baseball would always be there. Whether it’s the well-documented (and highlighted above) game between the Braves and the Mets, or whether it’s the dramatic 2001 World Series, and more specifically Derek Jeter. Baseball is always there, baseball will always be there. Baseball offered the city of New York so much when they were at their lowest point. Baseball was essentially that friend everybody wishes that they had that would never leave. Baseball did the same for the entire country in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic. As Brad Pitt says in Moneyball, “how can you not be romantic about baseball?”

Derek Jeter was supposed to go into Cooperstown this year alongside Ted Simmons, Larry Walker and Marvin Miller. Unfortunately, the outbreak of COVID has postponed that. He received all but one vote, for the second highest percentage of all-time, only behind teammate Mariano Rivera. His percentage was higher than that of players such as Tom Seaver, Mickey Mantle, Ken Griffey Jr., Pedro Martinez, Henry Aaron, Dave Winfield and many other all-time greats.

It was Game Four of the 2001 World Series that solidified one of the biggest legacies in the history of sports.

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