As we all know, because he is retiring this year, it is the year of Derek Jeter. It has been hard for me to be won over by him inasmuch as I have been a diehard Red Sox fan forever. But his decency as a human being has a much greater value in my eyes than the fact that he is a despised Yankee.
In 2004, however, I think that Derek Jeter inadvertently did the Red Sox a great favor. It was on July 1st of that year that the Red Sox were trailing in the American League East pennant race by 9.5 games and, as a further insult, were in danger of being swept by the Yankees in New York.
The game proceeded to be a typical cliffhanger, full of exciting plays, with the score seesawing back and forth between the two teams. It was the top of the 12th inning with the score 3 to 3, two out, and two men in scoring position when Trot Nixon came up to bat. He hit a ball to short left field that, at first, looked like it might drop in as a base hit. Then the ball began to tail off into foul territory and, suddenly, almost from nowhere, Jeter was seen madly dashing for the ball. He was rapidly running sideways toward the stands, and as he appeared to make the catch, the impact of his run threw him head first into the stands in foul territory. Some fans, awestruck, saw Jeter’s face, all bloodied, as he was escorted off the field at the end of the inning. Jeter went to the hospital, received some stitches due to his injury, and the Yankees went on to win the game in the bottom of the 13th inning.
Meanwhile, throughout the game, the camera zoomed in on Nomar Garciaparra, who was sitting in the Red Sox dugout, with an injury some people were questioning. Even if he was not 100% to play, we all wondered why Terry Francona did not use him, at least, as a pinch hitter in such a tight game. Garciaparra had already missed 57 games that year due to an injury to his right achilles. As a Red Sox fan, I remember it being painful to continuously see Jeter playing and making a brilliant catch, in contrast to Garciaparra, sitting in the dugout, resting, with an almost helpless look on his face.
Later on, just before the trade deadline on July 31st, Theo Epstein, then the General Manager of the Red Sox, did the unspeakable: He traded Garciaparra to the Chicago Cubs for what appeared to be two much less known and much less regarded players: Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz. Epstein explained the trade because he hoped to strengthen the team’s defense that had been faltering. He also stated that he made these trades with the hope of helping the Red Sox stay in contention for the pennant race and the World Series. Epstein, in a separate deal, was able to acquire Davey Roberts from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Insofar as Garciaparra had been always a favorite of Red Sox fans, they were horrified by what Epstein had done. Many of them thought Epstein completely had lost his mind giving up such a great player as Garciaparra.
In the end, we all know what happened: The Red Sox defense was bolstered throughout the rest of the year, and they went on to win the American League pennant after trailing the Yankees 0 to 3. In the 4th game of that series, Davey Roberts stole second base, a steal that resulted in the Red Sox winning that game. If he had not been successful at stealing second base, it is likely the Red Sox may have lost that game and the series with the Yankees.
Finally, when the Red Sox won the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, 4 to 0, Theo Epstein had been totally vindicated. For the first time in 86 years, the Red Sox had won a World Series. Thanks need to go to Derek Jeter for making that spectacular play in the 12th inning. I am pretty sure, if any event sealed the fate of the Red Sox and Garciaparra in 2004, it was, indeed, that catch.