Derek Jeter’s ability to handle pressure has defined his career. He’s not shaken by the big moments. He’s comfortable with the game on the line.
The pressure of 3,000, though, was something completely different. For this milestone, Jeter was being asked to entertain the crowd. It wasn’t about winning and losing, it was about getting one specific hit at one specific time in one specific place.
“I’ve been lying to you guys for a long time saying I wasn’t nervous and there’s no pressure,” he said. “There was a lot of pressure to do it here. I thought eventually I would get a few hits, but I felt a lot of pressure to do it here while we were at home.”
That’s why today’s first hit was so important. Jeter tried to hide it, but he was legitimately upset about last night’s rain out. Two hits in three games was one thing. Two hits in two games was something completely different. To cut that number in half with a leadoff single was huge.
“It was a 3-2 pitch and he could have thrown it in the dugout and I would have swung,” he said. “I’m telling you, I was not trying to walk. It’s kind of a weird feeling. It’s been like that for a few days. It’s kind of tough to hit when you have that approach, that you’re going to swing no matter what. I tried not to have that approach but it was running through my head.”
Amazing how completely this pursuit took Jeter out of his comfort zone. He said the eighth-inning at-bat — when the score was 4-4 and the game was on the line — felt much more comfortable than his first two at-bats. The uncomfortable, unfamiliar pressure was lifted, and Jeter could be himself again.
“The one thing I talked about when I was originally going to sit him on Wednesday (was that) none of us really understand what it’s like to be on the threshold of 3,000 hits and the feelings that you’re going through and maybe the anxiety that you have,” Joe Girardi said. “After talking to him a little bit it kind of made sense to me that, you know what, it’s probably better if you’re playing. I’ll still never understand what it was like to be him today, but I’m extremely proud of him for what he stands for, the way he’s represented this club and the way he plays.”
Here’s Jeter’s postgame press conference.
And here’s Girardi’s.
• Alex Rodriguez said he’s certain his knee injury happened in Chicago when he was running the bases, a ball got away from the catcher and he felt something while he was running. He’s going to get a second opinion tomorrow and said he’s not leaning one way or another (for or against surgery). “The bottom line is to make sure we address it one way or another and make sure we’re playing our best baseball at the end,” he said.
• Nick Swisher said his left quad is still tight, and he indicated that he might take tomorrow off just be safe. That would give him six days off in a row before the Yankees start playing again in Toronto. “Especially with the all-star break coming up,” he said. “Not really any need to try and push it right now.”
• Swisher’s initial reaction when someone asked about his injury postgame: “Who cares about that, bro? Somebody got 3,000 hits today.”
• A.J. Burnett had a season-high nine strikeouts in his no decision. He allowed one hit to the first 13 batters he faced.
• Dave Robertson allowed a run for the first time since June 9, snapping a streak of 10 straight appearances without a run. Of course, he also got the win, so there’s that.
• Mariano Rivera got his 22nd save and is now 58-for-59 in save opportunities against the Rays. This was the first time he pitched since feeling that triceps soreness after Sunday’s game.
• Nice job by Christian Lopez, the 23-year-old who caught the 3,000th hit and told the Yankees he’d gladly give it to Jeter for the opportunity to shake his hand and maybe a signed ball. “It wasn’t about the money,” Lopez said. “It’s about a milestone. I’m not going to take that away from him.”
• Of course, the Yankees showered Lopez with season tickets, three Jeter-signed bats, three Jeter-signed balls and two Jeter-signed jerseys. “He got his ticket from his girlfriend so he owes her quite a bit,” Jeter said. “He’s going to be paying her back for quite some time.”
• Jeter on the actual baseball: “It feels like all the rest of them.”
• Jeter is the 28th player all-time to reach 3,000. He’s the fourth youngest behind Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron and Robin Yount. He and Craig Biggio are the only players to get there in a five-hit game. He and Wade Boggs are the only players to get there with a home run. He’s the fourth shortstop to get there.
• Jeter had not homered at Yankee Stadium since an inside-the-park homer on July 22, 2010. He hadn’t hit a ball out at Yankee Stadium since June 12, 2010. He’d gone 358 at-bats without the ball leaving the park at this stadium, then he did it for No. 3,000 in at-bat that he said felt more pressure than a game-on-the-line, late-inning at-bat. It was really an amazing moment.
Associated Press photos