Derek Jeter 1-for-2 in 1st rehab game
He's won five World Series championships, been selected as an All-Star 11 times and garnered both the 2000 World Series MVP award and the 1996 American League Rookie of the Year Award.
Yet, despite all of that, Jeter went to bed on Friday feeling very nervous -- the night before he was supposed to play a minor league rehab game.
"You know, I haven't played in three weeks," Jeter said after playing five innings, while going 1-for-2 with a single, walk and run scored out of the leadoff spot and making five flawless plays in the field at short for Double-A Trenton on Saturday night in front of 9,002 at Waterfront Park, the second-largest crowd in Thunder history. "So there was some nerves. I didn't sleep much (Friday night). It feels good to get going because you can't simulate anything you do in a game. You can try to do it on the field, but until you get in a game and you actually have to move, you won't know until then."
It didn't take long for Jeter, who hasn't played since straining his right calf on June 13, to be tested -- and he passed with flying colors.
Just as at Yankee Stadium, Jeter was introduced for his at-bats with a recording of longtime PA announcer, the late Bob Sheppard. Jeter led off the bottom of the first by grounding a 2-2 pitch through the left side of the infield for a base hit. He went first to third on a double, before tagging up and scoring on a sacrifice fly to center. In the top of the fourth, he made all three putouts, including one in which he ranged to his left, spun and fired a perfect throw to retire an Altoona Curve hitter.
"I felt good," said Jeter, who is tentatively scheduled to play all nine innings for Trenton on Sunday night before likely returning to the Yankees on Monday night in Cleveland, where he can resume his pursuit of 3,000 hits. "I did a lot of things, going first to third, tagging up. Getting balls to the right and left. I moved around quite a bit. I'm happy how everything went.
"I was (tentative) when I first started in Tampa when I first started to run, but I think it's like that anytime you're injured. I dislocated my shoulder (in 2003) and a lot of things, and initially you're kind of hesitant."
General manager Brian Cashman, who was among a contingent from the Yankees' brass in attendance, said the key for Jeter on Saturday night was just emerging from the game healthy.
"He looked really good," Cashman said. "He did better at the plate than I expected, and that play defensively (in the fourth) was pretty darn good. This day couldn't have gone any better."
The Yankees have gone 14-3 in their 17 games without Jeter in the lineup, and his replacement, 24-year-old rookie Eduardo Nunez, has flourished in his absence. Nunez, who went 3-for-4 with two doubles and a home run in the Yankees' 5-2 win over the New York Mets at Citi Field on Saturday afternoon, has seven hits in his past eight at-bats and is currently batting .278 with 14 RBIs, six less than Jeter. But according to Cashman, there's not going to be a shortstop controversy.
"When Derek comes back he's gonna be in the leadoff spot," said Cashman, who praised the way Nunez has played in Jeter's place. "Nunez is gonna get more playing time, but it's not gonna come at the expense of Derek, I can tell you that."
Jeter said it shouldn't be a "difficult" decision for manager Joe Girardi to pull Nunez from the lineup and put him back in.
"It wouldn't be difficult at all, because I'm not bad luck, I don't think," joked Jeter, who is hitting just .260 and has just 12 extra-base hits in 262 at-bats in 2011. "But I think we have a good team, and we're winning because we're pitching and everybody's hitting. And when you have a good team and you're hot you hope it lasts for a long time."
Jeter is six hits away from becoming the 28th player in baseball history to reach the 3,000-hit plateau, but he said it's not on his mind.
"It's not hard right now, because I'm trying to get back," Jeter said. "As much I'd like (Saturday) to count, it doesn't, so right now I just want to get back."
He downplayed a report that said the Yankees may sit him on Wednesday in Cleveland so that he'd have the opportunity to reach 3,000 hits at home. New York plays the Tampa Bay Rays four times at Yankee Stadium right before the All-Star Break.
"That's just speculation," Cashman said. "We're trying to win games."
Jeter was robbed of a hit in his second at-bat. He lined a pitch that appeared to be ticketed for right field, but Curve first baseman Matt Curry made a diving catch. Jeter walked in his third and final at-bat before being lifted for a pinch runner.
"I wish I wasn't here, if you know what I mean," said Jeter, who hadn't played for the Thunder since May 7-11, 2003. "It's nice. I was here for five days back in 2003 and I enjoyed myself. There was a lot of Yankee fans here. The atmosphere is fun."
The Thunder issued 70 media credentials to Saturday's game, second only to the 150 needed during Roger Clemens' rehab start on May 23, 2007, according to Thunder spokesperson Bill Cook.
The crowd of 9,002 at Waterfront Park was the second-biggest in franchise history, trailing only the 9,134 who watched Clemens.
Jeter arrived in a silver Cadillac at 3:10 p.m. He took the field a little more than an hour later to the delight of the hundreds of screaming fans squeezing as close as possible to the field for batting practice.
Before the game, fans clamored for Jeter's autograph. He signed balls, bats and baseball cards for about 15 minutes. A pair of policemen accompanied Jeter to keep the crowds around him from getting too rowdy.
Overall, Jeter says he's enjoyed his time in the minors -- even though he'd rather be back in the big leagues.
"The young guys ask a lot of good questions," Jeter said. "I just want to do anything I can to help. A lot of guys I know from spring training. I have a good relationship with a lot of the guys."
Cashman said Jeter won't need any more than two games to rehab.
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"We'd like for him to get his timing back," Cashman said. "But if he still has kinks, we'd rather him work them out in the majors because we need him."
Jeter said he accomplished all the goals he wanted to on Saturday night.
"We play this game every day for a reason," Jeter said. "You have to get into a rhythm. And when you take three weeks off, it's tough. I wanted to see pitches and get back my timing, but you gotta get back in game shape."
Jeter said he didn't want to go on the disabled list. He tried to persuade Cashman to keep him off the 15-day DL, but Cashman wouldn't have any of it.
On June 2, 1925, a Yankees first baseman by the name of Wally Pipp was removed from a game.
A kid by the name of Lou Gehrig replaced him. Gehrig played 2,130 consecutive games after that.
But Jeter isn't concerned.
"I know who Wally Pipp is," Jeter said with a laugh. "I'll be back Monday."
Mike Mazzeo is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.