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10 Years Ago, Jeter Went Into the Stands While Nomar Sat

Ten years later, it is the image that endures for many.

Not the introductory blast he delivered at Oakland late in 1996. Not the three homers and 10 RBIs he totaled one July night in 1999. Not the .323 batting average over parts of nine seasons. Not the sidearm throws and not the compulsive adjustments to his batting gloves.

Not the thunderous reception that met him upon his return from a wrist injury midway through the 2001 campaign. Not the way he responded that afternoon, ripping a game-tying homer in the sixth then a go-ahead single in the seventh. And certainly not the way he played over his final month as a member of the Red Sox, when he hit .386 with a 1.028 OPS.

On July 1, 2004, television cameras caught Nomar Garciaparra sitting idly by as his teammates engaged in 13 emotional, epic, intense innings with the Yankees, as Derek Jeter went diving into the stands to potentially save the game in the 12th, and as all-but-officially began the countdown on his final days in Boston.

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Realistically, Garciaparra's days as a Red Sox were probably already numbered by then. He'd rejected a reported four-year, $60 million contract extension offered by the club in the spring of 2003, and so with just a season left on his existing deal the team tried sending him to the White Sox as part of their all-in attempt to trade for Alex Rodriguez during the previous winter.

Garciaparra's agent called Boston's pursuit of A-Rod -- who was the American League's reigning MVP -- a "slap in the face" of his client, and when no trade was made the player arrived at spring training harboring some anger. That prompted plenty of public suspicion about the voracity of an Achilles injury that kept him on the disabled list until June 9 the next season.

That speculation didn't quiet any when Garciaparra allegedly told team trainers that he would need to go on the DL again in August to deal with some inflammation in the tendon, and that perceived threat was apparently among Theo Epstein's rationale for shipping the shortstop to Chicago ahead of the July 31 trade deadline. Maybe the story was leaked as part of a smear campaign to help justify the forced exit of a former icon. Maybe it was the power play of an unhappy player who couldn't even wait for his impending free agency to get out of town.

But by then, the behind-the-scenes machinations mattered little to the many whose minds were made up by what played out in plain view on this night 10 years ago -- when the juxtaposition was too juicy to ignore.

Remember, this game was far more important for the Red Sox. Coming on the immediate heels of a heartbreaking loss to the Yanks in the 2003 ALCS, there was a special urgency on every visit to the Bronx, and especially on this night. Boston had lost seven of 10, including the first two tilts of a three-game set with its rival. Garciaparra had made two errors in the first of those losses; he made another the second night on top of going 0-for-4 as his average slid to .235.

When the Sox took the field, they trailed by 7.5 games in the AL East, and at 42-34, they were a game back of the A's in the wild card race. Things weren't dire, but they were desperate enough that Terry Francona summoned closer Keith Foulke to start the eighth inning of a tie game, the first time he did so. He'd do it only once more during that regular season.

Conversely, the Yankees were rolling. Their two wins over the Sox gave them four straight victories, and allowed them to finish June with a mark of 19-7. They were five games better than anybody in the American League, ranking second in runs scored and third in runs allowed. They were on pace to win 106 games.

So if Trot Nixon's soft pop had landed near the left field line, and had Cesar Crespo and Johnny Damon been allowed to score, Thursday, July 1, 2004, it would've been but a blip in New York. In Boston, even as a nice win, it wouldn't likely have still resonated a decade later.

But when Jeter came flying over from shortstop to snare Nixon's floater at a full sprint, then struck a Superman pose as he hurtled headlong into the seats, then held on to the ball, then came up with his face bloodied, then left to an enormous ovation from the same fans who'd booed him earlier in a season when his batting average was .189 as late as May 25 -- it shined a bright light on his Bostonian counterpart, even as he recessed to the darkness of the dugout, having been given the day to rest his Achilles.

Watching the game, fans would've loved to see Garciaparra pinch hit for his replacement, Pokey Reese, when Reese's spot came up with men on the corners, no outs, and the Sox trailing by a run in the seventh. Or when Reese came due again with a man on in the 12th. Or even when Mark Bellhorn, working on an 0-for-5, batted with two aboard and one out a hitter ahead of Nixon in that same inning.

Garciaparra had played the previous nine games, and would subsequently play the next 15, but on this night, he never entered. And as the television broadcast repeatedly reminded its viewers that he remained on the bench, the verdict was delivered. Prominent columnists quickly started calling for the trade of a franchise icon. Still forlorn amid an 86-year drought, an increasing number of frustrated fans agreed. And 30 days later, Epstein appeased those who were fed up.

How things played out after that is certainly a factor in how that night in New York is viewed nowadays, as had the trade backfired on Boston, and had October not been so magical for the Red Sox, Garciaparra's legacy would likely be very different than it is today. Especially if he went to the Cubs and helped them to become the team that burst its curse.

But as it was, and as it is, it's become almost too easy for Sox fans to forget how good Garciaparra was here. He won a batting title hitting .357, then followed it up by winning another by hitting .372. He had 85 extra-base hits as a rookie. He had 56 doubles one year. He had 1,281 hits in 996 games. And every time he played at least 40 games, he finished among the top 11 in MVP voting.

In those six seasons, he was worth 40.9 wins above replacement. Jeter, by comparison, Baseball-Reference valued at 32.2 wins over those same years.

Yet, for many, thanks in no small part to one night, it's a very different image of the era that endures.