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On This Date in Sports October 9, 1996: The Jeffrey Maier Incident

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The New York Yankees steal Game 1 of the ALCS against the Baltimore Orioles, winning 5-4 in 11 innings as Bernie Williams hit a walk-off home run. The game got to extra innings when Derek Jeter hit an opposite-field fly ball in the eighth inning. Tony Tarasco should have caught the ball, but a 12-year-old fan named Jeffrey Maier reached out and pulled it over the short porch. Despite the protest of the Orioles and the clear view of Maier interfering, the ball was ruled a home run. The umpires had thought about walking off the field in protest before the postseason after Roberto Alomar spit in the face of John Hirshbeck but was allowed to play in the Division Series. They got revenge instead as the Yankees won the series in five games. 

Managed by Davey Johnson, the Baltimore Orioles made the postseason for the first time in 13 years, as they claimed the American League Wild Card with a record of 88-74. They had made a late push at the division title but fell four games short. Near the end of the season, Roberto Alomar was involved in an ugly incident when he spat on umpire John Hirschbeck. Alomar was suspended for the first five games of the 1997 season but allowed to play in the postseason. This did not sit well with the Umpire's Union as they wanted Roberto Alomar to serve the suspension in the ALDS. Especially after the Orioles All-Star second baseman made comments about Hirshbeck's son, who died of ALD. The umpires considered walking off the job in protest but backed out as the Orioles upset the Cleveland Indians in the ALDS in five games, winning the finale 4-3 in 12 innings on a home run by Alomar. 

The New York Yankees, led by Joe Torre, had their best season in 15 years, winning the East with a record of 92-70. It was the Yankees' first division title since 1981, as Derek Jeter made a splash and was named Rookie of the Year, while Mariano Rivera proved to be a revelation in the bullpen. The Yankees reached the ALCS by beating the Texas Rangers in four games, as they rallied several times in the series. 

The opener of the ALCS saw Andy Pettitte get the start for the Yankees while Scott Erickson made the start for Baltimore. The Yankees drew first blood as Tim Raines scored on an RBI ground out by Bernie Williams. The game would go back and forth in the early going, as the Yankees scratch out another run in the second. At the same time, the Orioles scored single runs in the second, third and fourth to take a 3-2 lead. Leading the way were Brady Anderson and Rafael Palmeiro, who each hit home runs. In the sixth inning, the Orioles extended the lead to 4-2 on a sac-fly by B.J. Surhoff. The Yankees got one run back in the seventh as Darryl Strawberry walked with the bases loaded against Armando Benitez. 

Armando Benitez struck out Jim Leyritz to start the eighth when Derek Jeter reached out and poked the ball to right field. The ball was going to be caught easily by right fielder Tony Tarasco. However, 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier reached out and knocked the ball over the short porch. Tarasco pointed to the kid in the stands but was ignored by the umpires, especially Richar Garcia, perhaps revenge for the spitting incident. The game remained tied 4-4 until the 11th inning when Bernie Williams took the first pitch by Randy Myers into the stands to win the game. 

While the Orioles were obviously upset over the stolen home run, the Yankees were pleased and gave young Jeffrey Maier VIP seats to the next game, as the 12-year-old from New Jersey became a celebrity. Maier would play college baseball but never was drafted, but his moment was forever frozen in time. 

With David Cone on the mound in Game 2, the Yankees jumped out to an early 2-0 lead. However, David Wells shut down New York over the next six innings as the Orioles rallied to take a 4-2 lead on a two-run home run by Rafael Palmeiro in the seventh inning. Baltimore would win the game 5-3 to even the series. The Orioles had a chance to take control of the series in Game 3 at Camden Yards, as Todd Zeile hit a home run in the first to give them a 2-0 lead. However, Jimmy Key shut down Baltimore the rest of the way. In the eighth inning, the Yankees took advantage of a tiring Mike Mussina to score four runs and won the game 5-2, as Tino Martinez hit a go-ahead double and scored on a two-run bomb by Cecil Fielder. 

Game 4 was all New York as the Yankees won 8-4, with Bernie Williams hitting his second homer of the series, while Darryl Strawberry went deep twice. The Yankees would win the series in five games, taking the finale 6-4. The Yankees scored six runs in the third innings with home runs by Jim Leyritz, Cecil Fielder, and Darryl Strawberry. The Yankees would go on to win their first World Series in 18 years, beating the Atlanta Braves in six games.