Yanks’ elimination leaves Jeter in odd spotlight

For a while there Wednesday, it appeared as if Derek Jeter’s teammates would get him to the last game of his career at Yankee Stadium Thursday night being meaningful. Sure, the Yankees were on a death watch regarding post-season play, but so long as they were not eliminated mathematically Jeter could come to the Stadium knowing he was in a game that counted.

That had been the case for all but one game in his career, back in September 2008 when the Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. Every year since his call-up from the minors in 1995, Jeter played in games for the Yankees when they contended for the post-season. They did not make it last year, either, but he missed most of the season because of injuries.

An RBI double in the first inning by Mark Teixeira and solo home runs by Stephen Drew in the second and Shane Headley in the third had the Yankees out to a 3-0 lead before a frenzied crowd of 46,056. A victory would give the Yanks hope for a continuation of their goal unless, of course, the Royals or the Athletics won later in the day.

Then came the six-run Baltimore fourth. That hope began to fade. The Orioles pushed their lead to 9-3 in the eighth. The Yankees could only retaliate with a two-run homer by Teixeira. A three-homer game by the Yanks could not prevent a 9-5 loss that eliminated them from contention. That marks two straight years of no October baseball for the Yankees, a first since 1992 and ’93 — two years before Jeter arrived on the scene and settled into the center of a new era of pinstriped success.

In the end, it did not matter what Kansas City or Oakland did. The Yanks fell on their own swords. Thursday night’s season finale, weather permitting, will be all about Jeter now, although it is hard to describe a meaningless game in such a manner.

“Right now, I feel sad,” the Captain said after the game. “We didn’t play well enough. It’s tough. We had stretches where we played great and stretches where we didn’t.”

Questions came his way about Thursday, to which he answered repeatedly, “I don’t know; I’ll let you know tomorrow.”

Of course he does not know. Jeter has so scant experience in playing a game when the Yankees are out of contention that he cannot be sure where his emotions will take him Thursday night when the Stadium will be jammed with people bearing cameras and cell phones directed at his every move.

After his final at-bat, in the eighth inning Wednesday in a 0-for-4 game, following a feeble groundout to first base, Jeter was urged by the crowd to make a curtain call. They kept it up after Headley singled and were still imploring DJ after Teixeira’s homer. But he remained in his seat, a blank stare saying it all.

“It wasn’t the time for that; we were trying to get back into the game,” he said later.

Thursday night will be the time for that. It is just tough for Jeter to think of any one game that actually could mean something for him yet not for his team. His desire to win never permitted him to think that way. Now he has no other choice but to absorb that fact and embrace the adulation Yankees fans will send his way one last time in the Bronx.

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