Maybe there were bruised egos and unfair criticisms. Right now, none of that matters. The union of Derek Jeter and the New York Yankees has produced five World Series rings and 2,997 hits. And now, together, they will have their storybook weekend in the Bronx.
Jeter has his doubters because, at 37, he owns his lowest batting average since becoming an everyday player. But he hasn’t lost the theatrical gene that has made him an American icon for 15 years and counting. The script calls for him to get No. 3,000 before an adoring congregation at Yankee Stadium. He has four games to make it happen.
Does anyone really think he’s going to fail?
No chance. Not even a tiny one. Three hits in 20 plate appearances, with the backing of thousands at the ballpark and millions at home? Come on. That’s a layup for The Captain.
So, hear ye, hear ye: Summon the foreign dignitaries, celebrity fans and well-connected Wall Streeters. Commission the tabloid pull-outs. Print the commemorative T-shirts.
It’s going to happen. And with apologies to the cynics, it’s going to be a sight to behold.
“I’m definitely looking forward to going back to New York,” Jeter said Wednesday night, after a 5-3 loss to Cleveland that included No. 2,997. “Our fans have always been pretty good when they have an opportunity to witness something that hasn’t happened before. They care a lot about the history of the organization.
“I would anticipate them being pretty animated. I don’t know, but I would think it would be kind of fun.”
A safe assumption, I’d say.
The New Yorkers will be at their heartfelt and haughty best, thanks in part to the fact that Jeter, over the past several days, has taken a few whacks at the perception he’s hobbling toward the finish. On Tuesday, he proffered a gentlemanly jab at the "You’re finished" criticism he’s heard during the year. And now he arrives home having collected extra-base hits (two doubles) in consecutive games for only the second time this year. He may not be the Jeter of old, but he’s not an Old Jeter.
Tuesday’s at-bats were better than Monday’s at-bats, and Wednesday’s at-bats were probably the best of all. Jeter was one of only three Yankees who could say they hit safely against Cleveland’s Justin Masterson, who is in the process of earning the team’s “ace” designation. Jeter flew to deep center in the third before doubling to the fringe of the warning track in the eighth. Masterson threw a number of unhittable sinkers Wednesday. Jeter clocked one that wasn’t.
“He squared up two balls on a guy we didn’t square up (a lot),” manager Joe Girardi said.
The milestone is close enough now that a unique scene unfolded after Cleveland right fielder Austin Kearns retrieved Jeter’s double. Kearns threw No. 2,997 to second baseman Orlando Cabrera. Time was called. Cabrera lobbed the ball toward the visiting dugout. A batboy scooped it up and flipped it to Girardi in the dugout.
Once there, it was relayed to Yankees equipment manager Rob Cucuzza. At last, it arrived on the desk of Willie Jenks, the visiting clubhouse manager at Progressive Field. An authenticator from Major League Baseball was waiting to give the official stamp.
At this point, every hit matters. But really, this is practice for The Big One, which is closer than ever before. After Wednesday’s game, Edward Fastook, the Yankees’ executive director of team security, talked about the plan he will implement when Jeter is sitting on 2,999. Fastook’s team will fan around the outfield stands — in case the next hit is a home run.
However it happens, Fastook expects the team will first offer the ball to Jeter, if he wants to keep it.
“To me,” said Fastook, now in his 24th year with the organization, “this will be one of the coolest things we’ve ever had.”
No player has reached 3,000 hits in a Yankees uniform, and Girardi, to his credit, is letting Jeter pursue the mark on his terms. Initially, Girardi planned to give Jeter the night off on Wednesday. Jeter is, after all, just three days removed from a three-week stay on the disabled list because of a strained right calf. But Girardi offered him the opportunity to talk his way back into the lineup. He did.
Girardi reasoned that if he were in Jeter’s position he would want to be playing, not pondering.
“Everything he’s done this year is under a microscope,” Girardi observed. “I want him to enjoy this.”
It was the right call, and so the double was Girardi’s reward, too. If no one is more eager than Jeter to see this pursuit come to a close, his manager is a close second.
And their wait will end soon. If anything, Jeter may have an easier time against the Tampa Bay starters than he did against Cleveland’s trio of Josh Tomlin, Carlos Carrasco and Masterson. Jeter has excellent career numbers against Thursday starter Jeff Niemann. The next two pitchers, Jeremy Hellickson and All-Star David Price, have had spells of (relative) ineffectiveness as they near the All-Star break. The stingy James Shields looms on Sunday.
Not that it bothers Jeter.
“I don’t look ahead,” he said. “I know we play Tampa. I’m not exactly sure who we face, in what order. I learned a long time ago that you get in trouble when you look too far ahead.”
The philosophy has worked 2,997 times. Why change now? History is coming. Soon.