How appropriate; Jeter wins his last Stadium game
So it turned out what Derek Jeter needed most in his final game at Yankee Stadium was Mariano Rivera. Then again, if Mo had been available to close out Thursday night’s game, it might not have had the dramatic finish it did.
Appropriate is the key word to describe the finish of the Yankees’ 6-5 victory over the Orioles in the Captain’s last appearance in the home pinstripes. All week long Yankees manager Joe Girardi was asked what gesture he was contemplating for Jeter’s farewell. The skipper kept saying he would consult with Jeter, who did the one thing he has always done over 20 seasons in the major leagues — play the game until the last out.
Who else was better to win Jeter’s Stadium finale than Jeter? He fought back emotion in the last two innings after the Yankees had grabbed a three-run lead but reverted to the cool demeanor that has defined him to be in place to get the game-winning hit in the bottom of the ninth inning. It was achieved with his familiar inside-out swing, a single to right field that delivered pinch runner Antoan Richardson to the plate to end as astonishing an evening as there ever has been at either Yankee Stadium.
David Robertson, who succeeded Rivera as the Yankees’ closer, had a nightmare of a ninth inning by giving up a two-run home run to Adam Jones and a solo shot with two out to Steve Pearce that tied the score and threatened to ruin the night for Jeter. Rivera as well as other old teammates Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, Tino Martinez and Gerald Williams and former manager Joe Torre were in attendance as well as Derek’s parents and his sister and nephew among a crowd of 48,613, the largest this year at the Stadium.
The blown save actually created the possibility that Jeter could be the hero. He had already contributed to the Yankees’ attack with a run-scoring double in the first inning and an RBI fielder’s choice in the seventh when the Yankees went up by a 5-2 score.
Imagine if Girardi had sent Brendan Ryan out to play shortstop in the top of the ninth to let Jeter get a standing ovation leaving the field? What a revolting development that would have been.
Two minor-league call-ups helped frame the bottom of the ninth for the Yankees. Jose Pirela led off with a single past third base. Richardson ran for Pirela and was sacrificed to second by Brett Gardner. I will not use the phrase “those remaining in the crowd” because I doubt anyone left the game before it ended. Up came Jeter to another crescendo of cheers. That was nothing compared to what came next. Jeter’s single was worth the price of every expensive ticket, the hottest one all year in New York.
His current teammates mobbed Jeter on the base path between first while his former comrades looked on approvingly. Hugs and high fives abounded. Jeter walked around the infield waving his cap in acknowledging the fans in every section of the Stadium.
He then walked slowly to the shortstop position, the only one he has ever played on a major-league diamond, and squatted in an almost religious gesture. He said afterward that he will not play shortstop again. He will go to Boston for the Yankees’ final three games of the season and out of respect for Red Sox fans plans to play but as a designated hitter only.
Jeter’s last season was nowhere near his best, but at 40 playing one of the game’s most demanding positions he stayed healthy and made it through 143 of the team’s 159 games. His hit gave the Yankees victory No. 82, guaranteeing them a winning season for the 22nd consecutive year. Jeter never had a losing season in the majors. The Captain also saved his best for last. In his final home stand, Jeter batted .353 with five runs, four doubles, one home run and nine RBI in 34 at-bats.
His Stadium numbers are also impressive. Jeter played in 1,390 regular-season games in the Bronx — 1,004 at the old Stadium and 386 at the current Stadium. He combined to hit .313 with 1,012 runs, 273 doubles, 30 triples, 138 home runs, 666 RBI and 193 stolen bases in 5,514 at-bats.
It is hard to believe that this tremendous career has come to an end. I was able to get a quiet moment with DJ before the game. I am not going to Boston and wanted to say my goodbyes and tell him how much I enjoyed watching him play and thank him for his cooperation over the years.
It was also the end of an era. Jeter, Posada, Pettite, Rivera and Bernie Williams are the only players I have covered in a 40-year career as a baseball writer from their first day of spring training to their last game at Yankee Stadium. They are the Core Four Plus One. Jeter’s retirement ends all that. But what an ending!