Commentary

Jeter provides another magical moment

The Captain's 3,000th hit, and his 5-for-5 game, will become a part of Yankees lore

Updated: July 10, 2011, 12:59 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- All morning long, they were playing the Jeter Memorable Moments tape on the big screen at Yankee Stadium.

[+] EnlargeDerek Jeter
AP Photo/Kathy KmonicekJeter couldn't help but smile as he rounded the bases after No. 3,000.

There was the first base hit, the Jeffrey Maier home run, the two dives into the stands -- the one against Oakland in the ALCS that left him banged up for the 2001 World Series, and the other, a face-first plunge in 2004 that left him stunned and bloodied -- and of course, the Mr. November home run against the Diamondbacks.

Not only did it remind you of how great Derek Jeter was in his prime, and why you were still here watching his every at-bat in 2011, it also reminded you of something a lot more poignant: How long ago most of those moments happened.

After all, not one of those memorable moments took place in this incarnation of Yankee Stadium, YS3.0, the sterile, corporate monument to excess that opened three seasons ago.

Every one of those great Derek Jeter moments -- the ones that happened in New York, anyway -- took place across the street in a ballpark that no longer exists, and were accomplished by a player who at times has seemed long gone as well.

And then came the third inning, and a flat curveball from David Price, and Derek Jeter gave us the first highlight clip for the new ballpark, a line drive that everyone in the place knew was coming down somewhere outside the confines of the playing field.

Finally, Derek Jeter had given us a moment never to be forgotten in Randy Levine's and Lonn Trost's exclusive and pricey new playground.

"This one definitely ranks up there, No. 1 for me,'' Mariano Rivera said. "I don't expect nothing less than that from him. He takes the challenge.''

At 37, and at times this season looking every minute of it, you wonder how many more of those there will be -- or if, in fact, this will wind up being the only one.

But that is a discussion for another day. This day was Derek Jeter Day at the new Yankee Stadium, and if his career ends tomorrow or 10 years from now he will be hard-pressed to even approach it, let alone surpass it.

"If I would have tried to have written it and given it to someone, I wouldn't have even bought it, to be honest with you,'' Jeter said. "It's just one of those special days."

Jeter's day as a whole was wholly unforgettable. Needing two hits to reach 3,000, he came up with five; needing no more than a drag bunt to join Roberto Clemente and 26 other all-time greats, he blasted the ball out of the park. In the eighth inning, needing to do no more than he had already done to make his day a smashing success, Jeter added the game-winning single as well.

"I don't think you could have scripted it any better,'' Joe Girardi said. "This one is already movie-ready.''

Oh, there's no doubt the 46,000 or so who were in the park on Sept. 11, 2009, the rainy Friday night on which Jeter passed Lou Gehrig for the most hits ever by a Yankee, cherish the memory. But that was not the stuff of which highlight films are made.

That one was what has come to be known as a Jeterian hit, an inside-out swing on a fastball punched between the second baseman and first baseman, a routine single.

This one was a rocket, off an All-Star pitcher who throws 97 mph but on this pitch chose to try to cross Jeter up with a 3-2 curveball that moved slower than most of the cars I saw on the LIE heading to the Bronx on Saturday morning.

That only added to the impressiveness of Jeter's feat, and Jeter's day -- that in the midst of a year in which Jeter has at times showed every one of his 37 years (trying to cheat on fastballs, looking off-balance, taking feeble swings), he was able to stay back on the pitch and drive it with authority into a section of the left-field stands where baseballs rarely venture.

But even more impressive, to me anyway, was the way Jeter reacted to it. Surely, he knew as soon as he made contact that the 3,000th hit was finally his. Quite possibly he knew it was leaving the ballpark, his first home run over the fence at this stadium in more than a year.

But there was no bat-flipping, no jumping up and down, no Cadillac-ing around the bases. Jeter left the batter's box as if he had dribbled one down the third-base line and needed to run like hell to beat it out. And when it was obvious that no one was catching this one, he settled into a respectful trot. He did not leap onto home plate, or pump a fist, or do anything to embarrass the opposing pitcher or himself. He simply continued running into the embrace of the first of 24 teammates rushing out to meet him at home, who happened to be Jorge Posada, perhaps his closest friend on the team.

"He looks forward to that moment,'' Posada, who admitted to tearing up at the plate, said afterward. "You guys have seen it in the postseason. Nobody better in the clutch. It's amazing what he's been able to do. He wants that situation.''

The argument can be made that Jeter's at-bat in the eighth inning, with the game tied at 4, a runner at third and one out, was the most-pressure-filled of all. At that point, the 3,000th hit had been stored away, the 4-for-4 had gotten the Yankees no better than a tie, and again the heat was on Jeter to produce.

Of course, he did, with a grounder up the middle against a drawn-in infield that scored Eduardo Nunez -- his heir apparent -- and made the day a success all the way around. And oh yeah, accounted for the first five-hit day at the new Stadium.

"There was less pressure in the eighth than in those first two at-bats, because I've been in those situations before,'' Jeter said. "But I hadn't been in this situation.''

Jeter conceded that over the past few days, as 3,000 grew nearer, the pressure had mounted, despite his daily denials. "I was lying,'' he said.

And he acknowledged what everyone already knew, that he desperately wanted to get the hit here, a prospect that grew dimmer with Friday's rainout. "After we got rained out, I was like, 'Damn. Now we've only got two games,''' he said.

He said that in his first at-bat, a bouncer through the hole on a 3-2 fastball, he was fixing to swing at anything, so eager was he to get No. 2,999 out of the way. "He could have thrown it in the dugout and I would have swung,'' Jeter said.

But he got that one out of the way, and he knew he had all day long to get the next one. "I just didn't want to hit a slow roller to third base, and have it be replayed forever,'' he said.

Instead, Derek Jeter's 3,000th hit was the kind they play on big-screen highlight reels for years and years.

The kind you might even see when they open Yankee Stadium 4.0.

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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