Apparently, Derek Jeter got the memo about my dad’s birthday, he just got the details wrong.
You see, my father and I (along with my brother and his son Owen–three generations of Tans at one ballgame!) went to the game on Monday at 1pm, Labor Day, to celebrate my dad’s 74th birthday, and also in hopes of seeing Jeter climb another rung or two on the ladder toward Lou Gehrig’s all time Yankee hits record.
As has now been chronicled in minute detail in the mass media, Jeter got three hits the day before in Toronto, and had been on a torrid pace for several weeks, hitting something like .425 in the previous 10 days and so on. That day they started a home stand at Yankee Stadium, though, and the hype was so heavy I thought the ginormous video screen in center was going to fall down.
Jeter went hitless that day, though the Yankees won a thriller, a pitchers duel between CC Sabathia and Matt Garza. A lot of guys did not get hits off Garza. That night we were back at the Jersey shore, and in the nightcap the Yankees teed off on Andy Sonnenstine, but although Jeter stung the ball a few times, and got an RBI force-out, he again went hitless. Then came Tuesday night’s game, and again not only hitless but he struck out three times in a row against another very tough pitcher, David Price. In his final at bat he lined a shot into right, but right into a fielder’s glove. That put him at 0-for-12 for the first time all season!
“This is my fault,” I said to corwin as we watched the game on MLB.TV, “because I said after the three-hit game in Toronto that he wasn’t going to be like A-Rod, who had that big homer drought when he was approaching #500. I jinxed him.” Indeed, Jeter did not look like he was in a slump, but he definitely was being stopped cold by good pitching and then the victim of some bad luck as well. (I’ll note that while all the hoopla was landing on Jeter, A-Rod had the key RBIs in the two pitcher’s duels and was quite clutch.)
Maybe the ghosts still aren’t happy at the new stadium or they would have helped some of those balls to fall in.
Or maybe he was just waiting for it to be my dad’s actual birthday. Tonight my dad turned 74 and Jeter got off the schneid by bunting for a hit in the first, then whacking a ground rule double into Monument Park, then lacing a Jeterian single to right past a diving first baseman… three hits in three tries and all of a sudden Gehrig was tied. And these were all against another tough cookie, Jeff Niemann, a 6’9″ hurler with a very bright future, who otherwise was holding the Yankees scoreless.
Jeter got a fourth at bat in the eighth and a chance to pass Gehrig thanks to a Yankee rally that would be the difference in the game. Jorge Posada pinch hit a three-run homer to give the Yankees a 4-2 lead, and when Jeter got to the plate the crowd went nuts. They had already given him a very sustained ovation, requiring not one but two tips of the helmet, back when he’d notched hit #2721, but at the time the Yankees were losing the game and Jeter, as always, wanted to focus on trying to win. Now they were up, and the Bronx crowd was jubilant. Grant Balfour went to a full count on Jeter. Then threw ball four.
It was the loudest boo I have ever heard for a walk. Michael Kay described it as “the most under-appreciated walk in history.”
Ultimately, the walk is a footnote in the grander story not only of Jeter’s rise up the all-time hit chart, but of the fact that the Yankees right now are clicking on all cylinders. They rested Mariano Rivera and Phil Hughes despite having only a 4-2 lead, and Brian Bruney and Phil Coke combined to get the last three outs of the game. They have just won another 8 out of 10, are nine games up on the Red Sox, and have the best record in baseball by a good margin (they have won 91 games; the next closest is the Cardinals at 84, with the Dodgers and Angels right around there, too).
And there’s a different hero every night. 13 walk-off wins on the season, and I don’t even have a stat on how many they have taken the lead in the 8th and then handed the ball to Mo. A lot. Plus they’ve lost only one game all season when leading after 7 innings, I think? I heard a broadcaster say that, but I can’t find the actual stat now.
It’s a much better feeling than this time last year, when Jeter passed Babe Ruth on the Yankees hit list, but they were out of playoff contention and saying goodbye to the old Stadium. October is looking exciting again.
P. S. I did a little numerical research for Wednesday’s Baseball Early Bird as well, looking at where Jeter is on that all-time major league hits list. He began this season at #82 on the list, with five active players ahead of him on the list. Now he’s at #54, and has leapfrogged over Luis Gonzalez (retired), Ivan Rodriguez, Omar Vizquel, and Gary Sheffield. The only active player above him now is Ken Griffey, Jr, who moved from #58 to #47. Meanwhile, A-Rod (at #88), Manny Ramirez and Garrett Anderson (tied for #92), Johnny Damon (#113), and Chipper Jones (#110) are all creeping up the list, too. See the handy chart I made here. Check out the up-to-date all time list at baseball-reference.com.
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