Tanyon Sturtze remembers Derek Jeter's "dive play"Jeter and John Flaherty's heroics made Sturtze a winner on July 1, 2004
Jeter was among those teammates Flaherty "picked up" that night, but perhaps none was more relieved he did than the man who, in the span of 10 outs, went from web gem beneficiary to goat to winning pitcher: Tanyon Sturtze.
It was Sturtze who threw the pitch that Trot Nixon hit into perhaps the greatest defensive play of Jeter's career, one that ended his first of two innings of work that night in the Bronx.
"I can't believe it was 10 years ago; I'm not that old," Sturtze laughed in a chat with YESNetwork.com last week. "But yeah, I couldn't believe he caught it, to be honest. I think all of us were hoping it would go foul, and from the position I was at on the mound, it looked like no one was going to get it. All of a sudden, I saw No. 2 streak by and snag it; he came out of nowhere, stuck up a glove, and went into the second row. It was pretty quick, and pretty amazing he got to the ball."
That saved Sturtze's bacon so to speak in the 12th, but after the Yankees failed to win the game in the bottom of the inning, the right-hander went from lucky to unlucky when Manny Ramirez unleashed what he called "a bomb" of a home run leading off the top of the 13th. It was a tough blow, especially so early in the inning, but it actually calmed Sturtze down in a way.
"At that point, I just wanted to finish the inning and get back in the dugout," Sturtze recalled. "I wasn't too worried because it was a solo homer, but I wanted to give them a chance to get it back, and eventually we did."
He did that, although not without some further trouble - a walk and a reached on error that he mitigated by getting Cesar Crespo to hit into a double play - and as he went back to the dugout, Sturtze realized that he was due up fifth in the bottom of the frame, so for the Yankees to win or even tie the game, he was likely going to have his turn come up.
"I was hoping someone would pinch-hit for me; the reason I'm a pitcher is because I can't hit," he laughed about the situation. "There wasn't anyone left but Flash, but we had other pitchers who could hit; Moose (Mike Mussina) was a pretty good hitter and Jon Lieber had been in the NL, so I knew we had guys and I was probably coming out of the game."
It was indeed Flaherty who came in and got the job done, but as Sturtze laughed, the "under-heroes" of that game were Miguel Cairo and, by extension, Ruben Sierra, who singled with two outs and then scored from first on Cairo's double to set up the game-winner.
"Miguel hits the double and I don't know how Ruben scores from first base, but he did," Sturtze laughed, "and then when Flash won the game for us, everyone was ecstatic. It was one of those games, and as hot as the rivalry was, to have that kind of knock-down, drag-out battle with the Red Sox was awesome. The games were so intense all the way through, so for us to pull it out, people were going crazy everywhere - in the dugout, on the field, in the stands. The fans in the old stadium were right on top of you and it was loud in there, and it was just a great feeling."
Especially so for Sturtze, a Massachusetts-born and bred boy who grew up rooting for the Red Sox but quickly turned them into public enemy number one upon turning pro.
"I played with a couple of other Mass guys in Texas, and they always said 'Boston didn't take us, so we want to make sure they don't do well,'" he laughed. "Everyone back home got to see those games, too - NESN is just like YES, it's everywhere - so the spotlight was on."
And what made it doubly sweet was the fact that one of his best friends on the team got the moment of spotlight.
"Flash came up clutch like he always did, and there was no better backup catcher we had on those teams than him," Sturtze said. "I had him as my starting catcher in Tampa, so I knew how good he was, and to be able to come up to New York and throw to him again was a bonus."
Sturtze and Flaherty are still good friends and occasional golf buddies to this day, and the right-hander also still counts Jeter among his closest pals as well. The latter two ended their careers in 2008 and 2005 respectively, and as Jeter prepares to end his after 2014, Sturtze had nothing but compliments for the career of The Captain.
"You can't say enough good things about him. The Yankees organization has been blessed with a guy who represents them the way he does, because there's no better guy on or off the field, and New York has been blessed for a long time to be able to watch him play every night." Sturtze said. "I'm a huge fan, and I loved playing with him. I always get asked about how great of a guy he is, and tell everyone he's one of the best guys I ever met in the game. The way he competes makes you want to compete harder and makes you look at the game in a different way."
Sturtze shared the field with Jeter once again a few years back in his lone appearance at Old-Timers' Day, and while he doesn't think The Captain will be quick to join him in that realm - quipping "I don't think you'll see Derek at one of those for a while" - he does hope to soon be a colleague of Flaherty.
"I retired in 2008 to spend some time with my family, and I started doing some work in New York City with an insurance agency…but now I'm starting to get into broadcasting," he revealed. "I'm doing some work with MLB Network, and I'll be doing some games with the Yankees' Triple-A team in Scranton, so hopefully someday I'll get the opportunity to join Flash in the YES booth!"
Sturtze acknowledges he has some work to do to get there and hopes to get good enough to earn the chance, but for now, he'd love to at least hang with Flash one more time on Old-Timers' Day.
"I came back a couple years ago and I had a blast; I'd love to be able to do it again if they ask me," he said. "It's a great weekend and a lot of fun, and to be able to put the pinstripes on again and be out on the field is awesome. You look around the clubhouse and it's amazing to see all the guys who come back."