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Saturday, July 9, 2011

Jeter homers for 3,000th hit, goes 5 for 5 in win

Jeter homers for 3,000th hit, goes 5 for 5 in win

AP Photo
New York Yankees' Derek Jeter follows through on a solo home run for his 3,000 career hit during the third inning of a baseball game against the Tampa Bay Rays Saturday, July 9, 2011 at Yankee Stadium in New York. Rays catcher John Jaso, pitcher David Price, left, and umpire Jim Wolf look on.

NEW YORK (AP) -- This was so Derek Jeter.

Pressure mounting, time running out, all eyes on him at Yankee Stadium.

He delivered - and then some - on a defining day in his championship career.

Jeter homered deep into the left-field bleachers for his 3,000th career hit, making him the first New York Yankees player to reach the mark. He tied a career best by going 5 for 5. And he capped Saturday's show by singling home the go-ahead run in the eighth inning.

"Just one of those special days," Jeter said.

Mobbed by his pinstriped pals after the ball sailed into the seats, showered by ovations from his fans, Jeter stood alone in Yankees lore. A fitting crown for the captain, on a sunny afternoon when it seemed he could do anything he wanted in a 5-4 win over Tampa Bay.

Almost as if he saved his best swing of the season to counter his critics and doubters, to prove that he still was, indeed, Derek Jeter. How else to explain it? His first home run in the Bronx this year, for No. 3,000.

"You want to hit the ball hard," he said. "I didn't want to hit a slow roller to third base and have it be replayed forever."

"It's a number that's meant a lot in baseball," he said. "To be the only Yankee to do anything is special."

Oh, and for good measure: Jeter stole a base, too. For any hitter, a perfect game. Something out of "The Natural," really.

"I don't think you can script it any better," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "This is already movie-ready."

Added the Rays' Johnny Damon, a former teammate: "Hopefully he can act very well and hopefully he can play himself in his own movie, that's the type of day this was."

In fact, HBO will soon show a documentary about Jeter's pursuit.

"Nobody better in the clutch," Yankees star Jorge Posada chimed in. "He looks forward to that moment, and today was a perfect example."

With a swift swing of his shiny black bat, Jeter jolted himself into historic company, hitting a solo home run off All-Star ace David Price in the third inning. He became the 28th major leaguer to hit the mark and joined former teammate Wade Boggs as the only players to do it with a home run.

Jeter watched the ball fly as he left the batter's box and gave a big clap as he rounded first base. Rays first baseman Casey Kotchman was the first to salute Jeter, doffing his cap as Jeter passed by.

"Hitting a home run was the last thing I was thinking about," Jeter said. "I was pretty relieved."

By then, all of Jeter's teammates were already celebrating in the dugout, raising their arms almost in unison. A special time for No. 2 - his second hit of the game, and right at 2 p.m.

He looked every bit like a spry 27-year-old with those bright green eyes and an even brighter future, rather than a 37-year-old shortstop with his best days behind him.

Jeter finished the day with 3,003 hits.

The only thing left, it seemed, was a triple - Jeter has never hit for the cycle. Instead, he singled in the sixth, and bounced a tiebreaking single through a drawn-in infield.

"I was expecting the triple," Yankees closer Mariano Rivera kidded. "That's the way it is."

The prize ball, one of the specially marked ones put in play for the occasion once Jeter got to 2,999 hits, disappeared into a cluster of fans a few rows beyond the wall. Christian Lopez of Highland Mills, N.Y., sitting in Section 236, emerged with the valuable memento after it bounced off his father's hand.

The 23-year-old former football player from St. Lawrence University gladly gave the ball back to Jeter, saying it never occurred to him to keep it. The Yankees rewarded him with four tickets to every game for the rest of the year, and memorabilia autographed by Jeter - three bats, three balls and two jerseys.

"Mr. Jeter deserved it," Lopez said. "It's all his."

Jeter 3K merchandise, meanwhile, began flying off the shelves at the souvenir stands. Hats, pins, shirts and more, all commemorating No. 3,000, hadn't gone on sale until it occurred.

True to his nature of staying focused on the game, Jeter briskly rounded the bases. When Boggs got his 3,000th, he knelt down and kissed home plate.

Not Jeter's style. But there was no way this moment was would pass without plenty of fanfare.

Posada, his good buddy, greeted Jeter with a bear hug after he crossed the plate. Rivera and the rest of the Yankees were right behind, swallowing up Jeter before he could reach the dugout. The bullpen gate swung open, too, as New York's relievers came pouring in.

Jeter, still in the midst of a most difficult season, waved to the crowd several times, then pointed up to the box where his dad and steady girlfriend, actress Minka Kelly, were sitting. His dad was in attendance - his mom and sister were absent, attending a christening.

"It was tremendous," Jeter's father, Charles, told the YES Network. "I can't describe how I was feeling. We need a victory, first of all. ... Very emotional for me, very happy for him."

All the Yankees greats left their distinct marks. Babe Ruth set the home run record, Lou Gehrig became the Iron Horse, Joe DiMaggio hit in 56 straight games, Yogi Berra won the most championships, Mickey Mantle launched the longest drives. They all won World Series rings, certainly, with Jeter owning five.

The 3,000 hits, that will be Jeter's legacy forever.

"I want to give him a big hug. It's an absolute wonderful accomplishment," Berra said in a statement.

Whenever Jeter retires, a plaque in Monument Park is guaranteed to follow. Someday, he'll surely have a monument, too. Because on the list of monumental baseball achievements, this ranks up there.

Along with 28 players with 3,000 hits, there are 25 members of the 500-homer club and 23 pitchers in the 300-win circle. And the Yankees: They've got 27 World Series championships.

Jeter desperately wanted to achieve the mark at home, and the Yankees only had two games left in the Bronx before the All-Star break, with an eight-game road trip looming to start the second half.

"I felt a lot of pressure to do it here," he said, joking that, "I was lyin'" when he said it didn't matter much.

Girardi wasn't worried about Jeter trying too hard.

"He's never had a problem with pressure in his life," Girardi said before the game.

As always, Jeter walked to the plate after a recorded introduction by late, longtime Yankee Stadium public address announcer Bob Sheppard. His intonation of "Deh-rick Jee-tuh" has been imitated over the years by thousands of Yankees fans, if not millions.

Jeter smiled after his first hit as the sellout crowd of 48,103 roared. That singled came on a full count.

"He could've thrown it in the dugout and I would've swung," Jeter said.

The crowd sensed history was on deck when Jeter came up next. There was a buzz when he stepped into the batter's box - Jeter loves to put up his right arm to ask the umpire for time.

As the at-bat built, there was a hush each time Price went into his windup.

After connecting on a 78 mph curveball to tie the score at 1, Jeter remembered to honor his opponents. He pointed at Price while many of the Rays applauded the accomplishment, some of them coming out of the dugout to cheer. Price later took a brief break and went to the bench.

Fans kept chanting and cheering throughout a celebration that lasted 4 minutes, and Jeter montages filled the videoboard for the next couple of innings.

Far away, the tributes began. At the All-Star game festivities in Phoenix, fans crowded around televisions to watch Jeter's postgame interview.

Longtime Yankees great Don Mattingly, now manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, saw Jeter's homer on a TV in the clubhouse at Dodger Stadium.

"Only Jeet. Everything's like that with him," his former teammate said. "He always comes up dramatic, doesn't he? It's awesome."

Tony Gwynn, another member of the 3,000 club, also was at Dodger Stadium when Jeter homered.

"The only time I ever said anything to him about hitting was when he came up to me during Game 1 of the World Series in New York in '98," the former Padres star said. "I was standing on second base and he said: `Man you need to teach me how to hit.' And I said: `Yeah, right. You're kidding me, right?"

Having grounded a leadoff single to left field in the first inning - much like his first career hit on May 30, 1995, against Seattle's Tim Belcher at the old Kingdome - Jeter achieved the milestone in his next at-bat.

Jeter casually chatted with Rays catcher John Jaso when he came to the plate, fouled off a couple of full-count deliveries and homered on Price's eighth pitch. Jeter, in fact, homered when the future All-Star lefty made his major league debut in 2008.

He doubled to left his next time up in the fifth inning for No. 3,001, breaking a tie with Roberto Clemente. He showed off his Jeterian, inside-out swing to right-center for a single in the sixth.

Jeter was the first big leaguer to get 3,000 since Craig Biggio in 2007, who reached it with his third hit in a five-hit effort.

Rafael Palmeiro, Rickey Henderson and Cal Ripken were the previous players to get there.

There was a time when some wondered whether Jeter would have a chance to break Pete Rose's career record of 4,256 hits. Jeter, in fact, was eight days younger than Rose when he got to 3,000.

But Jeter has been slowing down. He came into the game hitting only .257 with just two home runs, and recently pulled out of his 12th All-Star game to rest the strained right calf that recently landed him on the disabled list.

"I really don't worry about my age too much," he said.

Jeter hadn't homered at all since May 8, and this was his first homer at Yankee Stadium since last July 22.

Boggs, Dave Winfield and Rickey Henderson each got plenty of hits with the Yankees on the way to 3,000 and the Hall of Fame, but were gone when the milestone came. Paul Waner got one hit for New York after he passed the mark.

Jeter said it's "mind-boggling" when he first found out no Yankees player had 3,000, a fact he discovered while perusing the team media guide several years ago during spring training.

"Congratulations, first of all, to Derek Jeter on joining the 3,000 hit club. It is an exclusive honor, achieved by only a select group, that not many people can call their own," Boggs said. "I had the opportunity to play with Derek when he was a rookie in 1996, and I had no doubts that Derek would reach this milestone."

Jeter is the 11th player to get all 3,000 with one team, a list by Stan Musial, who had 3,630 hits for the St. Louis Cardinals, Carl Yastrzemski (3,419 for the Red Sox) and Ripken (3,154 for the Orioles).

About the only people disappointed that Jeter hit 3,000 this day were the thousands of fans who lined up trying to get tickets, many of them having paid whopping amounts to get into Friday night's game that was rained out.

John Verbeek made trips on the New Haven rail line for two straight days from his home in Milford, Conn., to see Jeter's chase. He headed back to the train station without seeing a single pitch or at-bat.

"I got the tickets on StubHub for a premium, hoping to see the game last night," Verbeek said. "My daughter is a real Jeter fan and she raced all the way in from Boston to get here on time last night."

"And now we can't get in today. We're very, very disappointed," he said.

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