Tigers pitchers discuss facing Jeter one last time

The kid who first captured attention while playing for Kalamazoo Central High and becoming a first-round pick of the New York Yankees will visit town one last time before retiring after 20 glorious seasons.

The Yankees will play the first of three games at Comerica Park at 7 Tuesday night.

Noah K. Murray

DETROIT -- Derek Jeter has played for so long that nearly one-third of his games in Detroit have been at Tiger Stadium. The kid who first captured attention while playing for Kalamazoo Central High and becoming a first-round pick of the New York Yankees will visit town one last time before retiring after 20 glorious seasons.

The Yankees will play the first of three games at Comerica Park at 7 Tuesday night, with FOX Sports Detroit beginning its coverage with Tigers Live at 6. Jeter will be honored on the field at 6:45 p.m., before Wednesday night's game, and tickets remain for the contest.

Jeter's 3,439 hits rank No. 6 all-time, placing him ahead of every other middle infielder and all but one right-handed hitter, Hank Aaron, in the history of the game. He's won five World Series, been the "face of baseball" and some speculate that he could become the first unanimous pick in Hall of Fame voting when eligible five years from now.

He already has the vote of Rick Porcello's mother.

"Jeter is my mother's favorite player," said Porcello, who grew up in New Jersey rooting for the Mets over the Yankees. "Is she going to root for me if I face him? Yeah, I would hope so."

Porcello chuckled and added, "I once said in an interview that I wasn't sure if she would root for me or Jeter, and she didn't like that."

While Jeter has had pretty good success against the three Cy Young Award winners in the Detroit rotation, Porcello is the only starter who's had his number.

Jeter has batted .362 against Justin Verlander, .302 against David Price and .300 against Max Scherzer.

Porcello has allowed Jeter only two hits in 18 at-bats (.111) and hasn't walked him once. He's struck out Jeter once and given up two RBI to him.

"Yeah," said Porcello, who will start Tuesday night's game, "hopefully I can do well against him one more time around."

Tigers closer Joe Nathan also has held Jeter to a .111 batting average (1-for-9) but has walked him three times.

Asked to explain his success against a career .311 hitter, Nathan smiled, shrugged his shoulders and said, "I have no idea. I don't know why. I've also had good success against Miggy (Miguel Cabrera), and I don't know why I had that either. But I do know your level of focus definitely increases against great hitters like Jeter. You have to mix up your approach each time and change speed on your pitches."

Nathan was asked to describe the essence of Jeter, known as both "The Captain" and "Captain Clutch."

"Jeter has basically been the face of the game," Nathan said. "You hear that he has been the face of the Yankees' organization, but he's been the face for Major League Baseball. He's the biggest name we have in our sport, and we will miss his name. We will miss his face.

"There will be others like (Mike) Trout and Miggy. But Jeter has that aura that everyone has respected for so long both on and off the field. He's done it the right way every step of the way."

Porcello said, "Jeter's a complete professional. He's got that inner confidence. He definitely knows who he is and what he's capable of."

Porcello met Jeter briefly with two of his high school teammates while being honored at Yankee Stadium as a teenager.

"Jeter walked past us and it was only 10 to 15 seconds," Porcello said. "It was pretty much, 'Hey, how are you doing?' But I'll always remember it."

So will his mother.

And that is why Jeter is not only a player for his generation, but also those older and younger than him. He has been around long enough to play in 42 different major league stadiums.

He actually hit far better in 22 games at Tiger Stadium (.360 with 19 runs, two homers and 11 RBI) than he has in 46 games at Comerica Park (.260, 26 runs, four homers and 23 RBI).

Jeter did well against Price, who faces him in Wednesday night's game, when Price pitched for the Tampa Bay Rays.

"We've got enough history together for sure," said Price, shaking his head. "He got his 2,999th, 3,000th and 3,001st hits against me all on the same day."

That day was July 9, 2011 at Yankee Stadium. Jeter singled off Price in the first inning, and homered in the third inning to become only the second player after Wade Boggs to clear the bases with a 3,000th hit. Jeter then doubled off Price in the fifth, nearly hitting for the cycle on his historic day and ending up with two more singles against Rays relievers.

Jeter has a flair for drama as well as a steady consistency few have equaled.

“He's the biggest name we have in our sport, and we will miss his name. We will miss his face.”

Joe Nathan

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, when Jeter turned 40 on June 26, he joined George Brett, Cal Ripken, Jr., Brooks Robinson, Ted Williams and Musial as the only major leaguers to play for the same teams for their entire careers both before turning 21 and after turning 40.

Al Kaline was two months away from 40 when he retired after the 1974 season, after 22 seasons with the Tigers. Alan Trammell, who made his debut at 19 in 1977, was 38 when he hung it up after 20 seasons in 1996, when Jeter was the American League Rookie of the Year.

Jeter signed a national letter of intent to attend the University of Michigan and remains a dedicated Wolverines fan. But had he played in Ann Arbor, his major league career would've been delayed by at least one or two years. And some of his overwhelming career statistics would've been shaved down a bit.

Jeter has played what amounted to one full season in the playoffs. He has 200 hits in 650 at-bats for a .308 average, 20 homers and 61 RBI in the postseason.

The glory has faded for Jeter, who is batting .265 with three homers and 32 RBI in his final season. And his Yankees likely will miss the playoffs for only the third time in his career.

But he's still a competitor, and still the face of baseball. That much hasn't changed in years.

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