A full house came to remember the past — but not the recent past.
What has generally been unforgivable in The Bronx — official elimination — was just 24 hours old and the home crowd would have one last chance to tell the Yankees what they thought about that condition.
But 48,613 came to praise Derek Jeter, not bury the 2014 Yankees. This celebration, two decades in the making, would not be deterred. Jeter is so beloved that arguably the most demanding fans in baseball were willing to suffer short-term amnesia, reduce a second straight season of playoff-less baseball as trivial — for one more night anyway. We are coming up to forever on the clock for Yankee fans to commiserate the post-Jeter era.
So for one last chance they all partied like it was 1999 — when Jeter was young, the Yankees were great and the good pinstriped times seemed as if they would go on forever.
Even Jeter was in that mood, admitting, “Today when I came in, I was reflecting on my career rather than this particular season.”
Welcome to Bizarro Jeter World.
The ultimate team player of this generation was a one-man show on Thursday night. He was the star of the most meaningful meaningless game in Yankee history. He got to play hero one last time because of a blown save by David Robertson that, of all things, will be remembered fondly in these parts.
It was that kind of night in that kind of Yankee season.
The coolest, never-let-them-see-you sweat athlete conceded he almost couldn’t play, so overcome was he by all the happy/sad emotions tied to his last game in The Bronx.
In the seventh, the fans groaned when Brett Gardner bounced into a force out at the plate that kept the tie-breaking run from scoring with no outs. But that disenchantment lasted one or two beats before the crowd erupted in recognition that meant Jeter would bat. He hit a grounder that Baltimore mishandled into an error that netted two runs.
That would have been Jeter’s last at-bat in the Bronx, had Robertson not surrendered two homers in the ninth inning that enabled Baltimore to tie the score 5-5. Again, the crowd was momentarily Yankees fans. But then it dawned on them that Jeter was due third in the bottom of the ninth.
He came up with a runner on second, one out and as if feeling his anthology needed one more greatest hit, one of the most aggressive, opposite-field hitters in major league history lashed a first-pitch, opposite-field single to score the winning run. Yep, same as ever for the very last time. To unleash one more — and final — sustained love-fest moment between fans and player. Elimination was not on their minds, Adulation was.
“I lived a dream since I was 4-5 years old,” Jeter said. “And part of that dream is over now.”
He will never play shortstop again, saying that he did not want to man the position for a last time outside of New York. He likely will DH some in Boston. And exhale after this. After a night when the Amnesia Express could make itself believe, what with October in the weather, passion in the crowd, and Derek Jeter as leading man.
This was probably not the night to think too deeply that a player who insisted that he be judged by winning was being feted in just the second game he was ever active with the Yankees eliminated. Or how different things have been for the Yankees and Jeter since Oct. 3, 2012 — Game 2 of the ALCS — when Jeter fractured his ankle.
Before that Jeter had a movie script as much as a career. It was borderline magical that he was even available for the Yankees to pick him sixth overall in 1992 or that Jeffrey Maier was in right field or that the clock moved from Oct. 31 to Mr. November or that Art Howe didn’t pinch run for Jeremy Giambi or …
Jeter was what happens when exquisite talent meets perfect timing.
And then, after his ankle snapped, it was as if the magic spell snapped with it — as if he had used up the good of five careers and there was little to nothing left. The past two years his durability, excellence and winning ways all crumbled.
But at Jeter’s final home game ever, none of that mattered. Not the .250-ish average. The funereal No. 2 arm patch. The partnership with a memorabilia schlock-meister. The elimination.
The stands stayed full and loud to the end. Like the good old days. The fans stood and chanted the shortstop’s name. Got one more chance to see Jeter turn back the clock, do something heroic, party and play like it was 1999.
“It was an out-of-body experience,” he said.
Reality will soon set in. For now, though, the Magic Number was, as always, 2.