John Flaherty remembers Derek Jeter's "dive play"Jeter's play is revered, but Flash was the Yankees' hero on July 1, 2004
It may seem like yesterday, but it was now 10 full years ago that Jeter, in full sprint, caught a looper off the bat of Trot Nixon the 12th inning of a Yankees-Red Sox game, his momentum carrying him over the short wall and into the first few rows of seats just where the fence curved down the left-field line.
The iconic image of Jeter coming out of the crowd with a cut on his chin and an already-developing mouse under his right eye will never be forgotten by Yankees fans, but if you ask Jeter about it, he'll likely remember two things: the Yankees won that game, and he wasn't the hero.
Instead, John Flaherty was.
Then the Yankees' backup catcher, "Flash" was in the Yankees bullpen when Jeter made the spectacular play, and as it happened, his emotions went from excitement to concern to concentration.
"I remember having a great view from the bullpen," Flaherty recalls. "We were amazed that he covered as much ground as he did to get there; then, all we saw was Derek disappear, and it went from amazement to concern he was hurt. Like everyone else, seeing his face bloody and bruised raised a lot of concern, because we didn't know how bad it was or if we'd lose him for a period of time."
The game was already rather epic before the play; in the finale of a four-game set where the Yanks had won the first three, young lefty Brad Halsey, he of the two previous major-league starts, went toe-to-toe with Pedro Martinez, and the game became a battle of the bullpens as it went to extra innings tied 3-3.
Jeter's catch ended the Red Sox 12th, and when the Yankees failed to score in the bottom of the frame, Joe Torre had to get creative defensively - shifting third baseman Alex Rodriguez to shortstop, moving right fielder Gary Sheffield back to a hot corner he hadn't played in years, and inserting designated hitter Bernie Williams into a re-shuffled outfield.
The DH lost, pitcher Tanyon Sturtze was inserted Jeter's spot in the order, and that set the stage for "Flash" to become the hero of the day.
"I remember looking up at the scoreboard and seeing Sturtze was due to hit fifth in the 13th inning. No one called me, but I kind of put two and two together and went from the bullpen into the clubhouse, where there was a batting tee set up with a net, and I said 'I better try to take a few swings here just in case,'" Flaherty recalled. "I went there and saw Jon Lieber taking swings on the tee, and I remember thinking to myself 'you've got to be kidding me, they're going to send up a pitcher before me?'"
Flaherty understood the situation, knowing he was the last position player left on the bench and that Lieber had spent nine seasons in the National League, but even as a backup catcher hitting .153 at that point, it was still a shock.
"I figured if I the spot came up in a situation where we needed a sacrifice bunt, then Lieber would go up there," Flaherty said, "but when I came in, Lieber gave the tee up to me and said 'you're going to need this before I do.' As it turned out, the spot came up with two outs and a runner on second, and Joe (Torre) gave me the thumbs up to go out on deck - but even when I was standing next to the bat rack and it was Lieber and myself, I still couldn't believe I was there with a pitcher."
Manny Ramirez's solo homer off Sturtze in the top of the 13th had given Boston back a one-run lead, but Flaherty had a good view from the on-deck circle when Ruben Sierra singled with two outs and Miguel Cairo, who had entered in the 10th inning, doubled him home to tie the game.
And then it was his turn.
"I had taken 10 or 15 swings in the cage, and when I got up to the plate, I felt loose and ready to go," he recalled, "and I wasn't feeling any pressure because I was thinking Cairo had just gotten the biggest hit of the game; I was either going to be a hero or we would keep playing baseball."
On the mound for Boston was Curtis Leskanic, who Flaherty had faced while in the NL, and that, combined with some adjustments he had made with hitting coach Don Mattingly earlier in the day, made "Flash" as ready as he could've been.
"I remembered having a few hits off of him and seeing the ball well out of his hand when I faced him, so that gave me confidence when I walked up," Flaherty said. "I had made the adjustments with Mattingly in the cage that day and felt good during batting practice, and when I saw the first pitch out of his hand like it was a balloon, I was confident I had a good matchup."
Leskanic threw a first-pitch strike before three straight balls, and with a 3-1 count, Flaherty knew he was getting something to hit.
"I remember stepping out and looking over to Gary Sheffield on deck, and I was thinking they would come right at me, so I was pretty much swinging 3-1," he remembered. "Leskanic threw me a cutter and the speed fooled me, but the adjustments I had made that day probably enabled me to have success, and I was able to stay through it and get a hit."
That's exactly what he did, stroking a single to left field that scored Cairo with the winning run.
"Leskanic threw 93 or 94, but he gave me something in the upper 80s with movement," Flaherty recalled, "and it would've been a ground ball earlier in the year, but that adjustment paid dividends right away, and I went on to have a big second half."
The Yankees won 5-4 in what Michael Kay called "one of the greatest games you will ever see," Flaherty went hit .373 in the second half to finish at .252, and the Yankees won their seventh straight AL East crown that year, but the "dive play" still stands out - even if Jeter himself would rather remember Flaherty's contribution and the final score as the most important moment of July 1, 2004.
"Ever since I met him in 2003, that's the way he's been; the focus has always been about the team and never himself, and that's never going to change," Flaherty said. "He appreciated being part of a group of guys trying to do something."
That attitude is infectious, and even a decade later, "Flash" can recall how it rubbed off on him that day.
"I remember saying after the game that it's Jeter or Sheffield or Giambi that gets the big hit day in and day out, so for one game, to be able to get the big hit and pick them up, that felt good."
For further coverage of the tenth anniversary of Derek Jeter's dive into the stands, tune into Yankees Batting Practice Today at 6 p.m. on YES.