- Mike Mazzeo, ESPN Staff Writer
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NEW YORK -- Seven hundred feet of outs later, Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter was still stuck on 2,991 hits.
But with another one of his classic Jeterian swings, Jeter moved closer to baseball immortality.
The 36-year-old Captain, who will turn 37 exactly two weeks from now (June 26), inside-outed a 2-1 fastball from Cleveland Indians starter Josh Tomlin into right field in the bottom of the fifth inning, driving in Brett Gardner from second and giving the Yankees a 2-0 lead. He later delivered a seeing-eye RBI single up the middle past a drawn-in infield off reliever Chad Durbin in the eighth to make it 7-1, and now stands just seven hits away from becoming the 28th player in baseball history to reach the illustrious 3,000-hit club.
"It's impossible for it not be in your head, because I get asked that question all the time," said Jeter, who recorded his 2,992nd and 2,993rd hits in the Yankees' 9-1 rout of the Indians on Sunday afternoon in front of 46,791 onlookers at Yankee Stadium. "I'd love to do it here (at home), but all I can control is having good at-bats and trying to hit the ball hard and find some holes. We have a few more games left, so we'll see what happens."
Jeter, who is batting just .259 and in the midst of the worst offensive season of his 16-year career, has four games left on the Yankees' homestand to make it happen, and according to baseball-reference.com, he's only had as many as seven hits over a four-game stretch eight times this season. But based on how impeccable his timing has been throughout his future Hall of Fame career, it wouldn't surprise anyone if "Captain Clutch" is able to pull it off.
"Derek's meant championships to this organization and he's meant professionalism," manager Joe Girardi said before Sunday's game. "He plays the game the right way. He's meant a lot to this franchise. ... Derek's got a lot of heart and plays the game to win. I think it comes down to his heart, the way he plays the game. Derek's got a lot of heart and he plays the game to win."
Jeter has five championship rings and a World Series MVP award to show for it. But he's just as well-known for his intangibles, the little things he does that don't show up in the box score. And his afternoon at the plate on Sunday was just the latest example of that.
After driving a ball to deep center that Michael Brantley caught just in front of the warning track to lead off the game, Jeter advanced Gardner to third with a line drive to right in his second at-bat. Gardner later scored.
The Yankees were leading just 1-0 when Jeter stepped in against Tomlin in the fifth with Gardner at second. Jeter's goal in his third at-bat was just to hit the ball to the right side and get Gardner over -- another productive out.
Instead, he managed to dunk the ball in front of right fielder Shin-Soo Choo to plate Gardner and give his team a two-run edge.
"My second and third at-bats my job was to move the guy over, so I was just trying to get a pitch that I could hit the other way," said Jeter, who has a chance to become one of the fastest to ever reach the 3,000-hit club. Ty Cobb was the youngest (34 years, 244 days), while Hank Aaron (36 years, 101 days) and Robin Yount (36 years, 359 days) also reached the milestone before their 37th birthdays. "We're still trying to win games here, that's first and foremost."
Still, his teammates want to see him accomplish the feat -- and become just the 11th player in history to get all 3,000 of his career hits with the same team -- at home.
"I hope he gets on a roll and gets it at home. I really want him to do it here," said designated hitter Jorge Posada, who has been Jeter's Yankee teammate since 1995 when they came up from the minors together.
Added first baseman Mark Teixeira: "We'd love to have him get it done here, and I know the fans would love it as well. But Derek's not going to put too much pressure on himself. He knows exactly what he's doing."
Jeter is already the franchise's all-time hits leader. He broke Lou Gehrig's record of 2,771 hits when he drilled his 2,772 career hit on Sept. 11, 2009.
But this -- becoming the first Yankee to ever reach 3,000 -- is a different animal.
"Everyone's talking about it when I'm on deck," Jeter, who went 2-for-5 on Sunday afternoon with two RBIs and a run scored, said. "So I'd be lying to you if I said I wasn't thinking about it."
Mike Mazzeo is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.
2hTony Lee, Special to ESPN.com