Everything about the hit and the moment and the celebration spoke for itself. It was visible. It was tangible. It was perhaps the most memorable thing I’ve ever seen at a baseball game. I didn’t see The Dive or The Flip, but I saw No. 3,000, and this was more incredible.
It was Derek Jeter hitting a walk-off single — first pitch, opposite field, of course — in his final Yankee Stadium at-bat. A moment like that didn’t need much more context. We all understood what it meant.
So of all the things that were said postgame, this is what stood out to me:
“There were a couple of times I almost lost it,” Jeter said. “First inning I was saying, please don’t hit it to me. The last inning I almost lost it. Same thing. I don’t know how many times in my career I’ve said, please don’t hit it to me, but that’s what was going on in my mind. I really thought I was going to break down.”
Jeter’s hard to read. He likes it that way. He intends it to be that way. But as we saw him exhaling heavily throughout this game, especially when the fans would chant his name, it seemed as if the emotion of the moment was finally getting to him. And it was refreshing to find out that was the case.
“I almost started crying driving here today,” Jeter said. “I was by myself, so I could have lost it and no one would have seen it. My teammates presented me with something before the game. I almost lost it and I had to turn around. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of controlling my emotions throughout the course of my career. I have them, I try to hide them, I try to trick myself and convince myself that I’m not feeling those particular emotions whether it’s nerves, whether I’m injured; pain. I just try to trick myself that I don’t have it.
“Today, I wasn’t able to do it. It’s been getting more and more difficult these last few weeks, but today I wasn’t able to do it. I don’t know if the cameras were on me close, but there were a couple times I almost broke down. I was almost thinking to myself, ‘Joe, get me out of here before I do something to cost us this game.’ It’s funny how things change, I guess.”
It was going to be a fitting farewell even before the ninth inning. Jeter had nearly homered in his first at-bat. He’d started a tough double play to end the third inning. He’d driven in the go-ahead run with a broken-bat grounder in the seventh. He had the game-winning RBI locked up, but then Dave Robertson allowed a pair of ninth inning homers, and suddenly everything was in doubt.
“What can you say? It created another Derek Jeter moment,” Robertson said. “As much as I wished I wouldn’t have created it, I’m glad it happened.”
When Jose Pirela singled and Antoan Richardson came off the bench to pinch run, Girardi had plenty of options. He chose to set the stage.
“You can try to steal a base,” Girardi said. “But I said, I’m going to give (Jeter) the opportunity. He’s come through so many times in his career, I’m going to give him the opportunity to get this done. So I bunted (the runner) over, I shut Antoan down when he got to second base, and I said, ‘Go do your thing.’”
Has there ever been a more quintessential Jeter hit?
The celebration was pure emotion. It was incredible with Jeter’s current teammates temporarily hiding the fact his former teammates had walked onto the field. Jeter hugged them all. But as the celebration faded, Jeter walked alone to his familiar shortstop position in the Yankees infield. He crouched down at the edge of the outfield grass and said a prayer, just like he always does before every game when the national anthem ends.
“I basically just said thank you,” Jeter said. “Because this is all I’ve ever wanted to do and not too many people get an opportunity to do it. It was above and beyond anything I’d ever dreamt of. I mean, I don’t even know what to say. I’ve lived a dream. This is (my dream) since I was 4 or 5 years old, and part of that dream is over now.”
Turns out, Girardi was lying when he said he didn’t have a plan for Jeter’s final moments here at Yankee Stadium. He had a script alright, and it was pure Hollywood with an actual cast and a final scene meant to usher Jeter into retirement.
What Jeter came up with instead was pure fairy tale.
“I knew the whole time (what the plan would be),” Girardi said. “But I didn’t want to let on that we had something scripted, because I didn’t want him to know anything. What was supposed to happen was we were going to make him walk around the whole field. And then when he got to the left field corner, that group was going to walk out — the Posada’s, the Torre’s, the Mo’s. They were going to wait for him at home plate, let him walk off into the tunnel, basically saying, it’s time to join us. But this worked better.”
• Jeter on his decision not to play shortstop this weekend: “I’ve played my last game at short. Today was my last game playing shortstop. I wanted to take something special from Yankee Stadium. And the view from shortstop here, tonight, is what I want to take from it. Out of respect for the Red Sox, their fans and the rivalry, I’m going to DH. I don’t know about tomorrow. I’m not sure. I will play, but I hope that people can respect my decision or that. I’ve only played shortstop for my entire career, and the last time I want to play it is tonight.”
• Jeter said it wasn’t until today that he came up with the decision about this weekend. “As of yesterday we were still in a playoff race,” he said. “Even though our chances were slim, we were still there. Today I decided that I want to take something special from Yankee Stadium and New York it would be playing short.”
• When did Jeter realize his former teammates were on the field? “Not for a while because I was hugging a lot of teammates,” Jeter said. “I saw Andy before the game. I knew Jorge was coming but I hadn’t seen him. So I didn’t know they were coming on the field. But it took a while because I was hugging all my teammates so it was pretty much towards the end.”
• Robertson on his ninth inning: “From pretty much the all-time low to all-time high. I think back to when Derek got his 3,000th hit, I came in in the eighth inning and gave up the lead and then he came up in the eighth inning and drove in a run to take the lead and [Mariano Rivera] closed it out. So jokingly, Mo slaps me on the back and says, ‘Hey, you’re the best setup man in the league, you set him up again.’ That’s what kind of guy he is. But it was a really hard outing to take at first and then, all in all, we won the game.”
• Might have noticed Robertson disappeared into the dugout as soon as the top of the ninth ended. “I just had to come down and unleash a little bit of anger and then come right back because I didn’t want it to get on camera,” Robertson said. “I didn’t know what to do after that. I just needed a few seconds.”
• Started out really badly, but Hiroki Kuroda wound up delivering an incredible start in what could be the final outing of his career. “I always tell myself that any outing can be my last outing,” Kuroda said. “Today was my last outing of the season so I was thinking about that.”
• Kuroda has a 3.44 career ERA in his three seasons with the Yankees. Among pitchers with at least 50 career starts with the team, that’s the lowest Yankees ERA since Ron Guidry had a 3.32 in 323 starts from 1975 to 1988.
• This was the seventh walk-off hit of Jeter’s career. It was his first since June 8, 2007. Also had one in Game 4 of the 2001 World Series, but you probably already knew that.
• Tonight was predictably the highest paid attendance of the year at Yankee Stadium: 48,613.
• Final word has to go to Jeter: “I know that there’s a lot of people that have much more talent than I do, throughout the course of my career, not just now. I can honestly say I don’t think anyone played harder. I don’t. Maybe just as hard, but I don’t think anyone had more of an effort. Every single day I went out there and tried to have respect for the game, play as hard as I possibly could. I did it here in New York, which I think is much more difficult to do. I’m happy for that.”
Associated Press photos