The 2001 season, in hindsight, goes down as the last great gift of the late ’90s Yankees Dynasty. Although they did not win a fourth in a row World Championship title—a feat not accomplished since 1949-1953 the Yankees won five in a row—they dispatched the 116th win Seattle Mariners He packs in five games in the ALCS and has played seven games with the Arizona Diamondbacks at the World Dramatic Championships.
However, the exciting pennant race ended almost in its infancy. The lineup, which ranked fifth in the AL with 804 home runs during the regular season, was completely smothered by young Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson, and while Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte did well, the lineup gave them no room for it. A foul against a strong A command. Just like that, not only were the three-time defending champions on the brink of elimination, they were also on the verge of being swept by a 102-time win. Oakland Athletics.
But that was the Yankees in the late ’90s. When the season looked bleak, magic happened.
The final result: Yankees 1, Athletics 0
The best player in the game: Mike Mussina
With the team facing elimination and youngster Barry Zito on the mound, the Yankees needed a big game from future Hall of Famer Mike Mussina. And boy, was he born. Through the first six innings of the game, he allowed only two hits—a pair of singles by Jason Giambi and Jermaine Day in the fourth—and one walk, striking out four. He was absolutely electric: according to Baseball Reference’s Game Score, the most dominant postseason start of his Yankee postseason career. And it came at just the perfect time, as the Yankees offense was only able to scratch two batters against the Oakland left fielder.
Unfortunately for Mussina, no one really cares about his daring performance. What matters in history is not the game, but rather a play that every child born in the mid-to-late 90s has mimicked hundreds of times, despite the fact that this is the textbook definition of what not to do as a short stop.
Let’s set the scene. It was down seventh in Oakland. The Yankees had a 1-0 lead, courtesy of Jorge Posada’s single off the following year’s Cy Young Award winner in the top of the fifth, which broke the Yankees’ 15-run scoreless streak.
The bottom of the seventh began like almost every other Yankees inning, with Mussina having Jermaine Day out to shortstop and Eric Chavez to fly to center. With two out, Jeremy Giami put a ground ball through the hole for a single to right, sending Terrence Long to the plate.
Despite quickly finding himself trailing 0-2, Long made his way to the 2-2 count, then put up a ground ball down the first base line after Tino Martinez dived into the right field corner. Giambi, who was running at contact, kept running, and as he approached third, Shane Spencer’s putt was airmailed and missed by all. Giambi would easily score, tying the match.
But then, Derek Jeter…
I’ve seen this play thousands of times. I have re-enacted this play as a child hundreds of times. I’m still struggling to explain it. According to Jeter and bench coach Don Zimmer, this was a play the team practiced, with the shortstop moving into position to cut the ball in order to cut off the runner advancing to third. While this explanation makes sense, it ignores the fact that Jeter wasn’t actually in a position to cut the ball. To me, it just feels like a reaction play: As Spencer knocked the man down, Jeter raced along the line to cut it so that his play—whether it was a throw to third or a shovel pass to Posada that he made—could try.
But in the end, the reason doesn’t matter. What we do know is this: Giambi was called to the plate for the third of the inning, and he held a very slim lead in a must-win game. Since Mussina handed the ball to Mariano Rivera in the last two rounds, in essence the game ended there.
The excitement with this victory gave the Yankees momentum, and they went on to win the next two games in decisive fashion (including a dominant 9-2 win in Game 4 and another The highlight of the play jitter reel in Game 5) to send the Yankees to the ALCS for the fourth year in a row.
The 2001 postseason was filled with epic moments, and — spoiler alert — a notable part of the series. However, without The Flip, that run would likely end after just three games.