Commentary

Yanks' captain can't stop seeing double

Like jump throw and shovel pass, DPs in danger of becoming a Jeter trademark

Updated: August 17, 2010, 11:45 PM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- Derek Jeter can never hope to spend all the capital he has earned being the best all-around baseball player in New York over the past 15 seasons.

Nothing he does this season, next season, or for as many more seasons as he hoped to play could possibly fritter away the equity he has accrued with the baseball fans of this town, and with good reason.

Rarely in the history of any sport has any player been as consistently good as Jeter, as reliable a winner or as admirable a person.

He got most of that the old-fashioned way, through the virtues of hard work, self-belief and innate decency. He has never embarrassed his team, his family or his town.

But Derek Jeter is also very lucky that he is Derek Jeter, because it is tough to imagine any other player in this town cashing the kind of paychecks he cashes twice a month while having a night like he had Monday night.

[+] EnlargeDerek Jeter
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesDerek Jeter has hit into 230 double plays for his career -- a New York Yankees franchise record.

Or, sitting down at a negotiating table with the Yankees this winter and asking for the kind of contract he is sure to ask for after the kind of season he's had thus far.

Or leaving the field at Yankee Stadium after having single-handedly killed what was shaping up as a dramatic, game-winning rally without being buried under a blanket of boos.

Derek Jeter deserves better than that, because over the past 16 years, he has given this franchise and this fan base more than either could ever hope to repay.

But the hard truth is Derek Jeter is no longer the player he once was, which is perfectly understandable at 36. And sometimes, Derek Jeter actually hurts the Yankees -- something that a year ago would have seemed perfectly unthinkable.

Derek Jeter was not the only reason the Yankees lost to the Detroit Tigers on Monday night -- a 3-1 defeat that came within two outs of being the second night in a row they were shut out by an inferior team -- he was only the most obvious, being responsible as he was for those final two outs nipping a burgeoning rally right in the bud.

And he did it on a play that threatens to become one of his trademarks -- as much as the jump throw, the shovel pass or the face-plant into the front row seats.

He did it with a double play -- an ignominious accomplishment that is rapidly becoming his alone, the way Reggie Jackson owns the strikeout and Vinny Testaverde the pick.

Monday night, he rapped into two of them, including the one that ended the game.

And just like that, a night that looked as though it might have climaxed with a pie in some Yankees' face instead ended with egg all over Jeter's.

Anyone can hit into a double play at any time, but few hit into as many as Jeter does. In fact, only two players currently active in the American League -- Pudge Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez -- have hit into more of them in their careers than Jeter as of August 16.

And with two on Monday night, Jeter has pulled within two of Ordonez, who has 232 for his career. (He still trails Pudge by a healthy 45, but Pudge is in his 20th season).

And it's not just double play balls that are killing Jeter and the Yankees, it is ground balls. Jeter hits more of them, far more, than any hitter in baseball. Two-thirds of his contacts this season have been on the ground. His next nearest competitor, Juan Pierre, hits more than half his balls on the ground.

Jeter is certainly not trying to, but he hits the ball to the shortstop so often you sometimes think his jersey number should be 63.

And with ground balls to the shortstop come, inevitably, double plays. The two he hit into Monday ran his season total to 17, just one fewer than he hit into all of last season. And it moved him up the list to where just three players in the AL -- Billy Butler, Adrian Beltre and Michael Cuddyer -- have hit into more.

But worst of all, he ran his record with the bases loaded to 1-for-12 (.083), the second-worst success rate with the sacks juiced in the league.

This, of course, was a situation in which he could always be depended upon to excel. After all, in any bases-loaded situation, all the pressure is on the pitcher and all the advantages are with the hitter. The pitcher has nowhere to put the batter, and that batter can depend on something good to hit.

Tigers closer Jose Valverde was feeling the pressure more than most, even before Jeter came to the plate. He walked Robinson Cano on four pitches to start the inning. He gave up a ringing single to center to Curtis Granderson. Then, facing Francisco Cervelli, the weakest hitter even in an injury-depleted Yankee lineup, Valverde couldn't find the plate.

And with the bases loaded, his first pitch to Brett Gardner was so wild it reached the backstop on a fly and caromed back, the only thing that prevented the Yankees from scoring a run. Valverde wound up walking Gardner to force in the Yankees' only run of the game and the first they had scored in 17 innings.

Valverde seemed ready to walk Jeter, too. He went to 2-0, then seemingly decided to challenge him. Valverde threw fastball after fastball, six in a row, but Jeter could never manage to square one up. Two of them he fouled off. Two were balls. One was a called strike.

And one was rapped on the ground, not too hard, not too soft, but right at Jhonny Peralta, the Tigers shortstop. And that was the ballgame.

There were certainly other reasons the Yankees lost, starting with Javier Vazquez, who gave up two runs on a second-inning home run to Ryan Raburn and pitched himself out after just four innings.

Then there was the injury bug, which bit Lance Berkman on the right ankle Sunday and returned to take nips out of Alex Rodriguez's left calf in the fourth inning and Nick Swisher (right forearm) in the sixth. Things got so bad that the final Yankees lineup included Cervelli at third and Joba Chamberlain in the cleanup spot.

But Jeter's failure was the worst because it was the most visible, and the most dismaying. A situation in which he used to thrive became a moment of embarrassment.

Jeter is a great ballplayer, one of the 10 greatest ever to wear the Yankees uniform, and probably no lower than No. 7 -- after Ruth and Gehrig and DiMaggio and Mantle and Berra and Ford. Of that, there is no doubt.

And when he sits down to discuss a new contract with the Yankees this winter, you can't imagine it going anything but smoothly, because the Yankees certainly will treat Jeter with the same dignity and respect with which he has treated them all these years.

But there may come a point, as there does in all negotiations, when one side says something the other side does not want to hear.

In Jeter's case, he has given the Yankees all the ammunition they will need.

To all the great records he has amassed in his career -- he has more hits than Ruth, has played in more games than Gehrig, scored more runs than DiMaggio and hit for a higher career average than either Mantle or Berra -- add one more.

No Yankee in history has hit into more double plays than Derek Jeter.

But not many of them hurt as much as the one he hit into Monday night.

Game notes: Granderson had three more hits, which means he is now 7-for-19 (.368) since returning to the lineup in Kansas City following a few days of "swing modification" with hitting coach Kevin Long. ... Can't say the same for the rest of the lineup, which managed only three other hits, which means the Yankees not named Granderson managed just five hits -- and one measly run -- over the past two games. ... Tampa Bay beat Texas, 6-4, to pull into a tie for first in the AL East, the third time this month they have pulled even with the Yankees, who are 6-9 in August. ... The bullpen was excellent again, neither Sergio Mitre (2-2/3 IP) and Kerry Wood (1-1/3) allowing a run, although Joba Chamberlain did surrender a ninth-inning home run to Miguel Cabrera. ... Tuesday's pitching matchup: LHP CC Sabathia (15-5, 3.14) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (13-7, 3.72).

Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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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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