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You know the play. Game 3 of the 2001 American League Division Series between the New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics. Oakland led the series two games to none and needed just one more victory to advance to the ALCS. The A's trailed 1-0 in the bottom of the seventh inning when Terence Long doubled down the right-field line. Yankees right fielder Shane Spencer's throw missed the cutoff man and Jeremy Giambi looked certain to score and thus tie the game.
All of a sudden, though, Derek Jeter came out of nowhere, grabbed the ball as he sprinted across the first-base line and flipped the ball home. Catcher Jorge Posada grabbed the toss and applied a tag to the leg of Giambi, who chose not to slide. Giambi was out and the Yankees went on to win the game 1-0 and the series 3-2. The Yankees went to their fifth World Series in six years later that October while the Athletics went home and lost Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon to free agency.
All of which begs the question: What if Jeremy Giambi had slid?
Well, things might have been very, very different had he done so. Perhaps if he had slid, Giambi would have been safe and Oakland would have gone on to win the game and the series.
And because of that, the legend of Jeter's postseason heroics would have been diminished (no flip play, no World Series game-winning home run just after midnight on Halloween, no "Mr. November" title).
And perhaps the Athletics could have gone on to the World Series by beating the Seattle Mariners in the ALCS.
And because the 2001 World Series would have been in the Oakland Coliseum rather than Yankee Stadium, President George Bush would not have thrown his uplifting ceremonial first pitch.
And perhaps the Athletics would have gone on to win the World Series, beating the Arizona Diamondbacks in six games.
And perhaps with a world championship ring on their fingers, the Athletics wouldn't have been quite so pressed to find undervalued talent the next year.
And so perhaps Michael Lewis would not have been quite so interested in Oakland's approach to devote his time to writing a book about it. And so there would have been no best-seller named "Moneyball" and no Brad Pitt movie based on the book.
And perhaps advanced metrics would not have spread quite so quickly and quite so thoroughly in baseball.
Then again, maybe if Giambi had slid, he would have been out anyway.