Posted by: Mike Cornelius | July 10, 2011

DJ3K, And Then Some

Derek Jeter is 37, and every available metric indicates that he is starting to decline. Plus he has never been known as a slugger. But then he has played his entire career with a team known as the Bronx Bombers; and the man nicknamed Captain Clutch has always had a flair for the dramatic. So in the end, it was at once surprising and yet appropriate.

The captain of the New York Yankees strode to the plate with one out in the bottom of the third inning Saturday afternoon. On the mound was David Price, the ace of the Tampa Bay Rays. In the last of the first Jeter had worked the count full against Price before sending the ball safely between third and short for a single. It was the 2,999th hit of Jeter’s storied career in pinstripes.

Two innings later, with the Rays leading 1-0, the capacity crowd at the Stadium was on its feet as Jeter made the short walk from the on deck circle. They were all there hoping to be a witness to history, hoping to forever be able to tell the tale of how they were there the afternoon their captain got his 3,000th hit.

In the long history of the Great Game, only 27 other players had recorded 3,000 or more hits. Remarkably enough, given the offensive prowess that is the team’s legacy, none had done so as a New York Yankee. It is a mark that is in part a testament to longevity and good health. Jeter had just recently come off the disabled list after straining his right calf. For the Yankees’ shortstop it was a rare injury in a career in which he has averaged more than 150 games a season. But 3,000 hits are also about enormous and enduring skill at one of sports’ most difficult tasks.
Only 10 of the 27 players in the 3,000 hits club achieved the mark with a single team. Since being chosen by the Yankees with the 6th pick in the 1992 draft, Jeter has worn only pinstripes. Long before he was formally named team captain in 2003, he was the de facto team leader and an overwhelming favorite of the fans. Now, in the first year of what will certainly be his final contract as a player, it is fair to say that he is beloved by those who at every home game cross Babe Ruth Plaza and pass through the entry turnstiles into the Stadium’s Great Hall.

With everyone standing and thousands of cameras clicking on every pitch, Jeter again worked the count to full. Just as in his first at bat, he then fouled off two offerings from Price. As he did so the fans could no longer contain themselves. The familiar sing-song chant began cascading down from every deck, “De-rek Je-ter, De-rek Je-ter.” In the midst of that barely contained bedlam, David Price released his 55th pitch of the game.

It was an off speed offering, low in the strike zone and over the heart of the plate. Jeter went down to get it, and his black P72 Louisville Slugger met the pitch. In the instant after contact, as the ball headed undeniably for the left field seats, more than 48,000 erupted in joy. Teammates sprang over the dugout railing and headed for home plate even as Jeter began a triumphant jog around the bases. In the left field box seats, a lucky fan snared the ball and was whisked away by security. Rays’ first baseman Casey Kotchman tipped his cap as Jeter rounded the bag. It was exactly 2 p.m. when, with his second hit of the day in his second at bat, the last Yankee who will ever wear jersey number 2 joined the 3,000 hit club with a home run.

Even as the celebration began, New York Times sportswriter Tyler Kepner tweeted “I can’t believe what I just saw.” The astonishment was understandable. It was just the third home run of the season for Jeter, and his first at Yankee Stadium in nearly a year. Yet at another level fans have spent more than a decade and a half expecting their shortstop to face a moment of high drama and find a way to make it even more memorable.

After some semblance of order was restored the game resumed, now tied 1-1. Had Joe Girardi pulled Jeter from the game at that point, and the Yankees gone on to lose 10-1, no one would have gone home disappointed. No one that is, except for Derek Jeter. For as much as he knows that he plays a game that is largely about failure, Jeter plays every moment of every game to succeed, and to win. Saturday afternoon was no different, and so after the fans saw what they had come to see, Jeter showed them even more. In doing so, boy did he ever make the day more memorable.

Jeter led off the fifth by lacing a double to left to begin a two-run rally that put the Yankees ahead 4-3. In the sixth he singled for his fourth hit of the day. Then he came to the plate for the fifth time in the bottom of the eighth. Tampa had tied the game in the top of the frame, pushing a run across against the usually reliable David Robertson. Eduardo Nunez led off the Yankees’ eighth by doubling to left. Brett Gardner laid a sacrifice bunt down the third base line, moving Nunez to third. Jeter stepped in against reliever Joel Peralta. With the count at a ball and two strikes, Jeter swung at a splitter from Peralta and sent the ball back up the middle and into center field for his fifth hit of the afternoon, scoring Nunez. When Mariano Rivera set the Rays down in order in the top of the ninth, Jeter had ended his magical day at the plate by knocking in the winning run.

Derek Jeter is 37, and every available metric indicates that he is starting to decline. But on a sunny Saturday afternoon in the Bronx, he turned back the clock. The second player to make his 3,000th hit a home run. The second to garner 5 hits on the day of his 3,000th, and the first to go 5 for 5. The 4th youngest player to reach 3,000 hits. The first to do it in pinstripes. As he has so many times over the seasons, Derek Jeter seized the moment and made it his own, writing himself ever more indelibly into the history of the Great Game. For each of us who identifies as such, both those at the Stadium on Saturday and the many more of us watching from afar on television, it was a glorious day to be a Yankees fan.

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Responses

  1. And even for non-Yankee fans like myself, it was a great day for baseball. Jeter always has had a talent for rising to the occasion.
    Nicely written post,
    Bill


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