Los Angeles Dodgers reliever Steve Howe induced a fly ball to center field from New York Yankees first baseman Bob Watson and center fielder Ken Landreaux settled under the ball. When Landreaux made the catch, it ended the Dodgers' 9-2 victory over the Yankees in Game 6 of the 1981 World Series, locking up Los Angeles' first World Championship since 1965.
The date was Oct. 28, 1981. Why is that significant? Because it was the last time until this year's postseason began that the New York Yankees went into a playoff game without the greatest October closer of them all, Mariano Rivera, in the bullpen.
Yankee fans now have another significant date to remember: Oct. 8, 1995. That was the night made famous by what is now known as "Griffey's Mad Dash," when Edgar Martinez drove in Ken Griffey Jr. from first base in the bottom of the 11th inning. Martinez' two-run double (Joey Cora also scored on the play) gave the Mariners a 5-4 victory in the decisive Game 5 of the American League Division Series.
That was the last time the Yankees played a postseason game without shortstop Derek Jeter in the starting lineup … until Sunday, Oct. 14.
It was already a weird postseason without Rivera coming in to the sounds of Metallica's "Enter Sandman" (click here for video of Rivera's final entrance at old Yankee Stadium).
Rafael Soriano has done a fine job in place of Rivera with 42 saves in 46 chances this season but longtime Yankee fans will be quick to say it's not been the same.
And now Jeter's gone, too.
During Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers the night of Oct. 13, Jeter suffered a fractured ankle while fielding a ground ball in the top of the 12th inning of the Yankees' 4-2 loss (click here for video). It's an injury that not only takes Jeter's major-league leading 216 hits away from the top of the New York order, but according to Yahoo! Sports columnist Dan Wetzel, shatters Jeter's aura of invincibility.
New York fans had already gotten a glimpse of a future without the 38-year-old Jeter patrolling shortstop. In Game 4 of the American League Division Series against the Baltimore Orioles, Jayson Nix played shortstop while Jeter served as the designated hitter. That was a night after Jeter suffered a bone bruise on his left foot after fouling a ball off it in Game 3 of the series.
For the record, it was Tony Fernandez who last played shortstop for New York in a postseason game before Jeter on that night at Seattle's old Kingdome a little more than 17 years ago.
Jeter and Rivera will always have a special place in the hearts of Yankee fans. They, along with pitcher Andy Pettitte, are all that remain from baseball's last dynasty, the New York teams that won four World Series titles in five years at the end of the 20th century (1996-2000).
But unlike Pettitte, who left as a free agent to the Houston Astros after the 2003 season and retired for a year after the 2010 campaign, Rivera and Jeter have been Yankee stalwarts. It feels as if they've always been there. They weren't acquired in trades or signed as big-dollar free agents. Rather, they came up through the farm system and, along with Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada, formed the heart of the dynasty-era Yankees.
It is a day Yankee fans have known was coming. After all, Rivera is 42 years old. Pettitte is 40. Jeter is 38. They weren't going to play forever.
But it's definitely not a day the fans were looking forward to, nor eager to get a sneak preview of.
Phil Watson was a writer and editor for several daily newspapers in the U.S. over a more-than-20-year career and is a longtime New York Yankee fan.
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