Jeter shows lighter side after final home opener as a Yankee
NEW YORK — The best part of Derek Jeter’s farewell tour is that he’s finally revealing his sense of humor.
His teammates see it daily, the public only rarely. But compared to the old Jeter, this one is a laugh riot.
Jeter, 39, again put his dry wit on display Monday after the Yankees’ 4-2 victory over the Orioles in his final home opener.
He had been the subject of barbs from teammates when he was uncharacteristically slow out of the box on a drive to left leading off the fifth inning, thinking it was a home run.
"The wind played some tricks on it. . . . I had to pick up the pace a little bit," said Jeter, who barely beat the throw to second for a double. "There were some guys laughing — until a couple of them hit some balls and the wind got them, too."
When another reporter asked about the play, Jeter deadpanned, "I decided to test (it), make sure that my legs were still good. I waited a little bit and picked up the speed. . . . It’s almost like it was an audition."
But wait, isn’t Jeter known for running hard out of the box and not admiring potential home runs?
"You probably haven’t seen it. You probably won’t see it again. But I was safe," Jeter said, drawing laughter. "It would be a lot more embarrassing if I was out and didn’t make it. I’m fine with it."
Another reporter asked Jeter if it was odd to hear cheers for grounding into a double play in the third inning; a run scored on the play, giving the Yankees a 1-0 lead.
Jeter jokingly theorized that maybe the fans cheered because he was hustling, then said to the reporter, "Let ’em do it. Don’t write for them to start booing, please. Let me enjoy it. Can I enjoy it? . . . We also scored a run, which was good. Turn it into a positive."
Some other highlights:
* On whether Jeter would throw out the first pitch on Opening Day next season, the way his former teammates Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera did Monday:
"There’s no telling where I’ll be next year at this time — and I probably will not tell you," Jeter said, smiling.
* On what his parents told him before his final home opener: "Dad said have fun. Mom said get a couple of hits. It was a short conversation."
* On whether the standing ovation before his first at-bat affected him: "Not really. I’ve got some pretty good ovations throughout the years. I don’t think about these things when I’m playing. I’m trying to think about what my job is."
The old Jeter would have stopped there.
The retiring version quipped, "But that affected me. That’s why I struck out."
HERE THEY GO AGAIN?
At this rate, Jeter might be the last Yankee standing. Closer David Robertson joined first baseman Mark Teixeira on the 15-day disabled list Monday, creating a major void in a bullpen that already is without the retired Rivera.
The Yankees expect that void, like the one at first base, to be only temporary. Robertson (left groin) and Teixeira (right hamstring) are suffering from Grade 1 strains, the mildest form of such injuries.
Right-hander Shawn Kelley likely will close in Robertson’s absence — he earned the save Monday, combining with lefty Matt Thornton and converted right-handed starters David Phelps and Adam Warren for 2 2/3 hitless innings of relief.
"It’s not what you want, but you’ve got to figure it out," Girardi said. "Other guys will get a chance to step up. We expect them to step up and get the job done. We’ve dealt with things like this before."
The Yankees are unlikely to pursue free-agent alternatives such as Joel Hanrahan and Ryan Madson, figuring such pitchers would need time to get ready and that Robertson might miss only 15 days.
Likewise, don’t look for the Yankees to trade for a first baseman (that means you, Ike Davis). Once Teixeira returns, he will play. He had only three singles in 12 at-bats before he got hurt, but Yankees officials noted that he was hitting the ball hard.
THE GREAT SOLARTE
Six games into the season, rookie infielder Yangervis Solarte is emerging as the Yankees’ newest folk hero. He has started one game at second and four at third, and is now 9 for 20 with two walks, four doubles and six RBI.
Solarte, 26, was a popular minor-league free agent, and did not sign with the Yankees until Jan. 16. For a few weeks the Yankees actually dropped out of the bidding, according to one of Solarte’s agents, Chris Leible of the Legacy Sports Group. And for a while, Solarte wasn’t so sure about the Yankees, either.
"A lot of players are afraid of the Yankees — afraid they’ll bring in someone making a lot of money and then (the player) won’t have a chance," Leible said.
But the Yankees, after losing second baseman Robinson Cano as a free agent, did not spend big money at Solarte’s main positions, second base and third.
"I told him that in my opinion, his ticket to the big leagues was a utility guy," Leible said. "He reminded all of us a lot of one of our ex-clients, Melvin Mora. No one ever had (Mora) as a top prospect. But he just kept working hard, playing hard, playing different positions."
And how did that turn out for Mora?
He made his major league debut at 27 with the Mets, played 13 seasons and earned more than $40 million.
Solarte signed with the Twins out of Venezuela at 18. Leible said that he and his partner, Peter Greenberg, began representing him only as a favor to one of their clients, former major-league outfielder Roger Cedeno. Solarte is Cedeno’s nephew.
In 2011, Solarte finished second to future Pirates outfielder Starling Marte for the Eastern League batting title. He then spent the next two seasons at Triple-A with the Rangers but never reached the majors.
The Yankees liked Solarte’s switch-hitting, versatility and ability to make contact. Three of their scouts endorsed him — Jay Darnell, David Keith and Don Wakamatsu (who has since become Royals bench coach). So did Michael Fishman, the team’s director of quantitative analysis.
Pretty good story. Pretty good signing.
AND LET’S NOT FORGET MEEK
The return of right-hander Evan Meek to the majors might be even more unlikely than Solarte’s sudden ascent; the reliever was scrambling for a job at the end of the offseason and did not sign a minor league deal with the Orioles until Feb. 5.
Meek, who turns 31 on May 12, was an All-Star in 2010, but shoulder trouble derailed his career. He made only 12 major league appearances in 2012 and none in ’13, and generated hardly any interest during the offseason.
Finally, Meek called his former manager with the Pirates, Orioles bench coach John Russell, asking for a look. Russell arranged for Meek to throw for new Orioles pitching coach Dave Wallace in the visiting batting cage at Camden Yards. A few days after that, Meek auditioned for seven or eight other clubs in Florida. But ultimately, the Orioles were his choice.
Meek regained his velocity and command using the same weighted-ball program that helped revive the careers of Blue Jays relievers Steve Delabar and Brett Cecil. And on Opening Day, he found himself protecting a one-run lead in the eighth inning against the Red Sox.
"I hadn’t seen that in a while," Meek said, laughing. "Talk about . . ."
Meek didn’t finish the thought. He just started pounding on his chest, as if his heart was beating rapidly.
RAYS’ ESCOBAR GOES FOR SECURITY
Shortstop Yunel Escobar didn’t gain all that much in his recent two-year, $13 million extension with the Rays; the team essentially guaranteed his $5 million option for 2015, added a $7 million guarantee for ’16 and a $7 million club option or $1 million buyout for ’17.
If Escobar had waited, he would have become a free agent at 33 and possibly landed a deal similar to the four-year, $30.25 million contract that the Royals awarded second baseman Omar Infante at 32 last offseason.
Escobar, though, is a Cuban defector who apparently places great value on even a minimal amount of security. His deal with the Rays almost certainly was his call; his agents at Miami Sports Management did not publicize it.
Escobar also gave the Blue Jays a bargain in his previous contract, signing a two-year, $10 million deal with two $5 million club options in June 2011.
AND FINALLY . . .
Right-hander Preston Guilmet isn’t exactly a prospect — he turns 27 on July 7, and on Monday the Orioles acquired him from the Indians for Class-A infielder Torsten Boss.
Still, Guilmet boasts one very impressive stat — a strikeout-to-walk ratio of better than 5-to-1 in 297 2/3 minor-league innings.
It isn’t often that a team trades for a pitcher with that kind of ratio, especially when he averages more than a strikeout per inning.
"Only once for me . . . PJM," Orioles general manager Dan Duquette said.
That would be Pedro Jaime Martinez, whom Duquette actually acquired twice, first for the Expos in 1993, then for the Red Sox in ’97.
Martinez actually didn’t have a strikeout-to-walk ratio of better than 5-to-1 at either juncture, and no one would suggest that Guilmet will turn out to be the better pitcher.
Just having some fun with numbers.