The day Yankees great Derek Jeter became Mr. November
Shortstop homered just after midnight in Game 4 of 2001 World Series
It was Halloween night when New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter stepped into the batter’s box in the 10th inning of Game 4 of the 2001 World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
That World Series game at Yankee Stadium was, for New Yorkers, therapeutic: The Yankees’ fourth straight appearance in the Fall Classic was a welcome distraction from the terrorist attacks just six weeks before in which two planes slammed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, leaving more than 2,500 people dead in lower Manhattan. The tragic events of Sept. 11 led to a brief postponement of the regular season, pushing the entire schedule back a week.
That’s the backstory of how Jeter became the first baseball player to bat during a World Series game in November, which occurred as the clock struck midnight just after he stepped to the plate.
Jeter, in guiding the Yankees to three consecutive World Series titles leading up to the 2001 series, was well on his way to creating a winning culture in New York and building his resume as a Yankee legend. His batting average during the three straight titles was a gaudy .375, including the .409 he hit in the 2000 World Series, when he hit two home runs en route to winning the MVP award.
But there was no recent World Series success to rely on for Jeter when he batted in the bottom of the 10th of that Game 4. Jeter had just one hit in 15 at-bats (.067) when he stepped to the plate against Arizona reliever Byung-Hyun Kim with the bases empty and two outs in a 3-3 game.
After fouling off the first pitch, Jeter swung and missed at the second, and it appeared that his struggles at the plate would continue against the sidearm-pitching Kim. After looking at a pitch that was low and outside, Jeter fouled off two more in what was building as a lengthy at-bat.
Jeter’s contact on Kim’s ninth pitch was good — not great. But his opposite-field drive traveled down the line of a stadium with one of the shortest right-field porches (314 feet to the corner) in baseball.
Jeter was rounding first base as his shot barely cleared the wall, leading him to slow to a home run trot as he pumped his right wrist in the air. His teammates had already surrounded home plate as he rounded third base, and as Jeter made his final hop into a mass of humanity to end the game, a fan held up a sign that would make its way to the back pages of the New York tabloids later that day:
“When I first hit it, I had no idea whether it was going to go out,” Jeter told reporters after the game. “But once it goes out, it’s a pretty special feeling.”
Adding to the special moment for Jeter: Baseball’s first November World Series home run was the first walk-off home run in the career of the soon-to-be Hall of Famer, whose timely heroics made everyone forget his 2001 postseason struggles to that point.
“The beauty of the postseason is it really makes no difference what you’ve done up to a certain point,” Jeter said, “because every time you are at the plate or every time you are in the field, you have the opportunity to do something special.”
The Yankees won 3-2 the next day to take a 3-1 series lead. But just like in the road games of the 2017 American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros, the 2001 Yankees could not score on the road.
With a chance to win the World Series in Game 6 in Arizona, the Yankees were blown out, 15-2, forcing a Game 7.
The Yankees took a 2-1 lead into the ninth inning of Game 7 with their ace, Mariano Rivera, on the mound.
Typically, for the Yankees, that’s money.
But Mark Grace led off the bottom of the ninth with a single and the next batter, Damian Miller, reached first on a Rivera throwing error to second base. Two batters later, Tony Womack doubled to right field, driving in a game-tying run. The next batter, Luis Gonzalez, singled to center, driving in the game-winning run.
The blown save was a rare collapse for Rivera, one of the most dominant postseason pitchers in MLB history.
The .148 average for Jeter during the seven games against the Diamondbacks was the worst performance in his seven World Series appearances.
Jeter would play 12 more seasons, ending his 20-year career in New York as one of the most successful players in team history. He’s a five-time World Series champion and 14-time All-Star and is remembered as the player who helped the Yankees transition back to being a winning organization.
Compared with Mr. October, Reggie Jackson, Jeter’s postseason career might fall short. But Yankees fans will never forget Jeter’s 2001 heroics that briefly earned him the “Mr. November” title.