There went Derek Jeter charging at full speed toward the third-base line, into foul territory to chase a pop fly that he had no business catching in the first place. It was the 12th inning of a Yankees-Red Sox game that seemed as if it might never end, two outs, runners on second and third, and Jeter kept chasing, chasing, chasing Trot Nixon's foul ball all the way to the edge of the stands. He lunged with his glove, did a half-gainer over an empty seat, and landed in a heap of flesh and leather.
Even from afar, it looked awful. It looked like a swan dive into an empty pool. From close-up, said Alex Rodriguez after the Yankees' improbable 5-4, 13-inning victory completed a three-game sweep, it only looked worse.
"He just went in so hard," Rodriguez said. "You think the guy's gonna be dead."
But this is Jeter, and this is his way-always hard, never stopping - and a moment later, in the midst of several fans, up he popped. He had blood trickling down his bruised right cheek and spotting his uniform, and he had lacerated his chin and bruised his shoulder, and yet there, in his glove, was the baseball. And on his face was a defiant look that most likely will not be forgotten any time soon. Not in Boston, and not in New York.
This was an October face: the blood, the bruises, the frown. And this was an October play.
"He'll probably feel like he's in a car wreck when he wakes up," said Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.
"Greatest catch I've ever seen," Rodriguez said.
Long after Jeter had gone to Columbia Presbyterian hospital for X-rays on his bruised right cheek (they turned out to be negative), this was the play the Yankees couldn't stop talking about. This was the kind of play that made them think they couldn't possibly lose, that kept running through their minds as this game got crazier and crazier and ended with Rodriguez playing shortstop for the first time all season and Sheffield playing third base for the first time in more than a decade and John Flaherty, of all people, getting the game-winning hit.
On and on went the twists and turns, as only Yankees-Red Sox can provide. But all of the discussion kept coming back to Jeter.
"That's probably the best play I've ever seen," Sheffield said. "I've never seen a guy of his caliber go all out like that. It shows you how important these games are."
And it shows you how important Jeter is. His absence prompted chaos in the Yankee infield. The bench was depleted, and Rodriguez found himself at shortstop again. Sheffield, who had discussed playing third with manager Joe Torre, found himself asking first baseman Tony Clark for a few extra warm-up tosses so he wouldn't hurl a ball into the fourth row.
"I thought we were in the middle of a softball charity game," Rodriguez said. "I didn't really enjoy it too much. It was like I had the Miami ocean to cover - too much ground."
Sheffield made an error in the 13th on a bad throw, but it was inconsequential. What mattered in the end was that the Yankees rebounded from a 4-3 deficit in the bottom of the inning. What mattered in the end was not the game of musical chairs that occurred in the wake of Jeter's play, but the play itself.
With the Yankees now in command of the American League East, with the Red Sox reeling, this was the sort of play that could carry a team through until October.
"Our captain," said Sheffield, "showed us the way."