In a Game of Stars, Derek Jeter Distinguished Himself With a Flip

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The play happened more than 18 years ago, but for a generation of baseball fans all you need to describe it are two simple words: The Flip.

The 102-win Oakland Athletics were trailing the 95-win Yankees, 1-0, in the seventh inning in Game 3 of the 2001 American League division series. With a runner on first, Oakland’s Terrence Long laced a double to the right-field corner that was fielded cleanly by Shane Spencer.

Jeremy Giambi, Oakland’s lumbering designated hitter, was rounding third base and trying to score from first when Spencer uncorked a throw that seemed destined to live in infamy. It sailed over the heads of two potential cutoff men and started veering out of catcher Jorge Posada’s reach at home plate, right up until shortstop Derek Jeter materialized, streaking across the field, snagging the ball with his glove and flipping it sideways toward home.

Posada wheeled around with the ball and just barely tagged Giambi, who had chosen not to slide. The Yankees, down two games to none in the best-of-five series, would win that game and the series, all because Jeter did something no one could quite comprehend.

The Yankees, who had won four championships over the previous five seasons, went on to lose the World Series to the Arizona Diamondbacks that year. But Jeter’s flip, which became his most famous single play, also helped short-circuit a potential dynasty in Oakland, as Billy Beane’s ragtag bunch never reached the heights many had envisioned.

A couple of months later, Oakland’s best player, Jason Giambi, signed with the Yankees.

On Tuesday the Baseball Hall of Fame will announce its 2020 class of inductees, and the ballot features six players who were in Oakland that night — four of whom played in the game. Back in 2001, it would not have been hard to imagine all six getting a shot at Cooperstown some day, but their careers diverged and now their voting totals could not be more disparate.

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