To delight of Yankees, 12-year-old plays catch Rookie Jeter says thanks; teammates defend call

THE BALTIMORE SUN

NEW YORK -- Derek Jeter didn't pause to admire his controversial eighth-inning home run last night at Yankee Stadium. He just dropped the bat, lowered his head and took off.

"I don't hit too many home runs," he said. "I'm not one to stand there and watch them."

This one was worth a look.

This one had to be seen to be believed.

With the New York Yankees down a run in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, Jeter lofted a high fly ball to right off Orioles reliever Armando Benitez. Right fielder Tony Tarasco stood with his back against the padded wall, waiting to make the catch. But when a 12-year-old fan named Jeff Maier reached out and scooped the ball into the stands, Jeter had more than just his first postseason homer.

The Yankees rookie had a lot of explaining to do.

"It was a fastball away and I thought I hit it too high, but it kept carrying," he said, after Bernie Williams' home run to left field off Randy Myers in the 11th inning gave the Yankees a 5-4 win.

When did Jeter know it was a home run? "When the umpire [Rich Garcia] went like this," he said, making a circular motion with his right arm.

"I wasn't going to argue."

There were enough people doing that -- Tarasco, Benitez, Orioles manager Davey Johnson, to name a few.

"Do I feel bad? We won the game. Why should I feel bad?" Jeter said.

"It's just something that happens. It's a judgment call. Sometimes, you're going to call it right, sometimes you're going to call it wrong."

Jeter did nothing wrong yesterday, going 4-for-5 from the bottom of the lineup. Three times he reached on infield hits.

"I'm happy we won. Personal things don't mean anything," he said.

Asked whether he ever feels like a rookie, Jeter -- who batted .314 with 10 home runs during the regular season -- said: "I'm always a rookie, no matter how you look at it. I just have to go and play. There were butterflies, but I'm more nervous watching the game."

Everyone in the Yankees' dugout watched Jeter's fly ball to right -- everyone except manager Joe Torre.

"I didn't see it," Torre said. "People jumped up, but that's not the first one I've missed. I always judge by the reaction of the fans and I heard the cheer and saw a couple of my players raise their arms. The result was perfect."

"Hey, it's a tough call for the umpire. We all know that," Cecil Fielder said. "He's moving to the outfield, a man's camped up against the wall. No ball appears and he calls a tater. Things happen."

Said outfielder Paul O'Neill: "It could be a foul ball, a home run ball, whatever. They're going to reach over and try to get the ball. It's going to happen more so in Baltimore than any park in the league with left field the way it is. But it makes for exciting plays out there."

Reliever Jeff Nelson (Catonsville) was watching from the bullpen with the other Yankees relievers. "When he hit it, the crowd started yelling, so everybody got off the bench," he said. "This is a game of breaks, and we got one there, maybe."

Jeter took his heroics in stride, as he does every challenge that comes with being a first-year player in the Bronx. "That didn't win the game," he said. "If they called it a double, Tim Raines got a hit on the next pitch."

What message would Jeter give to Maier if he saw him? "Thank you. We're at home. Reach over all you want," he said, smiling. "I'd like to take him out somewhere."

Williams was deserving of a night on the town, too. Or at least one at the manager's home.

"He keeps getting invitations for Thanksgiving dinner, as far as I'm concerned," Torre said.

Williams hit a 1-1 slider from Myers, "pretty much a mistake," the Yankees' center fielder called it. "I knew I hit it pretty good. I was just concerned about whether it was going to be foul or fair."

Pub Date: 10/10/96

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