The New York Yankees had a slightly altered lineup for the last game of their series against Tampa Bay on Sunday afternoon. Coming back from a fractured ankle that took him out of the playoffs last October and a strained quad that put him back on the DL in his return on July 11, Derek Jeter jogged out onto the field at Yankee Stadium and dug into position at shortstop.
The New York Yankees had a slightly altered lineup for the last game of their series against Tampa Bay on Sunday afternoon. Coming back from a fractured ankle that took him out of the playoffs last October and a strained quad that put him back on the DL in his return on July 11, Derek Jeter jogged out onto the field at Yankee Stadium and dug into position at shortstop. He warmed up in the same way he has since making his major league debut with the Yankees in 1995, as if there was nothing particularly noteworthy about the occasion, stretching his limbs and fielding ground balls and blocking out the urgent yelps from the stands that accompanied his every move.
The noise continued to build even as the top of the first inning played out uneventfully. Phil Hughes took 14 pitches to retire the first three Tampa hitters, then the Rays came onto the field and Matt Moore settled in to face the Yankee batting order. An anxious hum rose in the stadium when leadoff hitter Brett Gardner came to the plate, and almost nobody noticed when he struck out swinging as Jeter took languid practice cuts in the on-deck circle. The congregation on hand in the Bronx was ready to burst by the time Jeter walked over to replace Gardner in the batter’s box, whistling and barking nervous encouragement to the 39-year-old Cooperstown formality.
Moore eased into his windup and delivered a 92-mile-an-hour pitch high and just a little outside, and Jeter, an aggressive hitter throughout his career, liked what he saw and committed to an inside-out swing that sent the ball 380 feet in the opposite direction for a home run to right center. The Yankees took a 1-0 lead and Jeter trotted calmly around the bases while the television announcer did his best to scream over the crowd of 47,000.
Jeter touched home and returned to the dugout, where his teammates and the coaching staff waited to greet him. He moved through a methodical procession of congratulations and then back up the dugout steps to peek out and acknowledge the crowd before quickly ducking back down again. The YES Network camera zoomed in close, Jeter glanced over, and a smile finally cracked through the just-another-day-at-the-office facade.
New York and Tampa Bay were tied 5-5 going into the ninth, so Mariano Rivera was brought in to shut down the side and give the Yankee hitters one more shot at the go-ahead run. Rivera obliged, coaxing the Rays into three groundouts with the same split fastball he’s used for two decades. Tampa Bay took the field and Gardner worked through eight pitches to earn a walk, moving on to second when the first pitch to Jeter came in wild. Jeter was intentionally walked, Robinson Cano struck out on three pitches, and then Alfonso Soriano’s single to center brought Gardner around for a 6-5 Yankees victory.
It was a thrilling end to a close game, but Soriano’s game-winner never had a chance to be anything but a postscript, a necessary item in the day’s box score. After 19 seasons, 3,300 hits, five World Series championships and a first-inning home run in late July, Jeter remains the headliner in New York.