It's rare when Mariano Rivera pitches in the postseason and doesn't play a starring role in the story. Yankees fans have become accustomed to watching the future Hall of Fame closer record saves in the playoffs, or at least be the pitcher on the mound when the Yankees win crucial games.
On Oct. 9, 1996, Rivera was the pitcher of record when the Yankees defeated the Orioles, 5-4, in the 11th inning of Game 1 of the 1996 American League Championship Series. But Rivera was just a footnote in a game whose star went by another name: Jeffrey Maier.
The 12-year-old fan put his name into Yankees lore that Wednesday evening, reaching over the wall in right field at Yankee Stadium and catching shortstop Derek Jeter's deep fly ball over Orioles outfielder Tony Tarasco's outstretched arms, turning a potential second out of the eighth inning into a game-tying home run.
"I was just trying to catch the ball," Maier told reporters after the game. "I feel bad for Baltimore fans. But as a Yankees fan, if I helped the team win, I feel pretty good. I think I had a right to catch it because I thought it was going out."
Jeter's blast -- and Maier's catch in the stands -- tied the game, 4-4, entering the ninth inning. Neither team plated a run in the ninth despite three combined baserunners, sending the game to extra innings.
Yankees manager Joe Torre called on Rivera to start the 10th inning and, like he's done countless times throughout his career, the right-hander kept the game right where it was.
In the 10th, Rivera worked around singles from Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro and designated hitter Eddie Murray to retire the side without allowing a run. The right-hander came out for the 11th inning, too, striking out two batters while allowing just one hit.
And just three pitches after Rivera struck out second baseman Roberto Alomar to end the 11th, Bernie Williams gave him the win. The Yankees center fielder took a 1-1 pitch from reliever Randy Myers and blasted it into the left-field seats, giving the Yankees a controversial 5-4 victory.
"That didn't win the game," Jeter told reporters about Maier's catch. "Bernie won the game."
Rivera pitched two scoreless innings in that game, allowing three hits while striking out three to become the winning pitcher in the infamous Jeffrey Maier game.