FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Derek Jeter's Backhand Flip play has taken on mythical proportions, Jeter racing from his shortstop position to the first-base line to retrieve a throw that had sailed over both cutoff men, then with a backhand flip throwing out Jeremy Giambi at home plate.
ESPN listed that play, which took place in Game 3 of the 2001 American League Divisional Series between the Yankees and Athletics and saved the Yankees from elimination, as the 45th best sports moment of the last 100 years.
On Tuesday, a day the Red Sox practiced relays and cutoffs, manager Bobby Valentine punctured the myth a little.
“We’ll never practice that,’’ Valentine said. “I think [Jeter] was out of position and the ball gets [Giambi] out if [Jeter] doesn’t touch it, personally.’’
Valentine is in the minority -- perhaps a minority of one -- when he says the throw might have gotten to the plate without Jeter’s intervention.
"If Jeter doesn't catch the ball, the ball hits me -- that's how far off the mark it was," said Oakland’s Ramon Hernandez, the on-deck hitter who was desperately signaling Giambi to slide, to no avail. "Jeter made an unbelievable, heads-up play. Then he makes a great throw to boot. Unbelievable. The play saved them."
This is what the Red Sox did practice, Valentine said.
“The Jeter-like simulation today is that idea of what’s a first baseman and third baseman do as the ball is coming in, because they have to react, willing to change the position of where the shortstop is when the ball’s coming in from right, because these guys have to react to the ball. When you see a ball in flight, you have a chance at those positions to adjust.
“That was amazing that [Jeter] was there. I bet it’s more amazing that he said he practiced it. I don’t believe it.’’
I remember hearing, I believe from Joe Torre, that Jeter and the Yankees did practice that play. Then there is the testimony of Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who was with Jeter in his early years.
“That was a play we practiced in spring training,” Showalter told Tom Van Riper of Forbes Magazine in an interview last year. “Derek was maybe 19 or 20, he was just a pup. We practiced that on a back field, it was taught. The reason Derek had to flip the ball was that he was actually a little bit late getting there.”