- Gordon Edes, Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- New Boston Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine got the 2012 rivalry with the Yankees going early Tuesday.
"From afar, he was everything you want a guy who wears a 'C' to be," Valentine said of the longtime Red Sox captain. "He was a man's man, he was a big hitter when needed, he was the leader of the pitching staff. [Pause] He was able to beat up Alex, all that stuff. He was exactly what he was supposed to be.''
Alex, of course, is Alex Rodriguez. Valentine was referring to the July 24, 2004, episode in which Varitek gave A-Rod a facial with his catcher's mitt and bare hand, setting off a bench-clearing brawl that would spark the Red Sox to an unlikely 11-10 victory.
The moment is one many Red Sox fans point to as a turning point in the rivalry with the Yankees. The Red Sox rallied with three runs in the ninth off closer Mariano Rivera to win the game. A few months later, they'd become the first team in baseball history to erase a 3-0 series deficit when they beat the Yankees in the American League Championship Series en route to their first World Series title in 86 years.
Yankees fans, of course, have always viewed Varitek's actions in that fight through a different prism: Namely, if he was such a tough guy, why didn't he take off his mask before mixing it up with A-Rod?
Earlier in his media session Tuesday, when discussing his team practicing the fundamentals of relays and cutoffs, Valentine took a shot at Jeter's renowned backhand flip in Game 3 of the 2001 AL Division Series. The 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 throwing out Jeremy Giambi with a backhand flip at home plate. It saved the Yankees from elimination in that series and was even named by ESPN as the 45th best sports moment of the last 100 years. To Valentine, though, it was a misplay.
"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 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, according to Valentine:
"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."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who was with Jeter in his early years, said that indeed was a play Jeter had practiced.
"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."
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.