Friday, September 26, 2014

Yankee Captain Derek Jeter does it the old fashioned way

Finally Jeter was back at shortstop, crouching down out there, after what he announced after the game was the last time he would ever play shortstop in the big leagues. He was out there at shortstop at Yankee Stadium for the last time.

September 26, 2014

Derek Jeter's last home game at Yankee Stadium is capped with his walkoff homer

So this was the way it had to end for Derek Jeter at Yankee Stadium, with him turning a lost season for the Yankees and a lost September into a great October night out of the past, even the World Series night once when he won a game for the Yankees and they called him Mr. November. It was a single this time past first base against the Orioles in the bottom of the ninth, and it won the last game of baseball he will ever play at Yankee Stadium, and in that moment he gave them what they wanted in the Stadium, so loud with memory and love and even loss on this night:
He made himself young and, even more importantly, he made things the way they used to be for himself and these fans and this place.
The Orioles had given him one last at-bat, one last bottom of the ninth, in the top of the ninth, with a couple of home runs. Now a kid named Antoan Richardson was on second and Evan Meek was pitching and Jeter hit the first pitch he saw from Meek into right field and the Yankees had won, 6-5.
Then Jeter was a kid again, not 40 now, not at the end of a lost season, but the kid who had always found a way to make this kind of magic on the other side of 161st St., in the old Stadium. His arms were in the air and the Yankees were coming for him the way they used to come for him after they’d won another Series.
“Goose bumps,” Joe Torre had said earlier in the game, when Jeter nearly hit one over the left-field wall in the bottom of the first, a ball that turned out to be a rousing RBI double.
This was different now. Only when the Yankees won their last Series five years ago had there ever been a scene or a moment like this at the new place. Because as Jeter celebrated between first and second, you looked down near the Yankee dugout and somehow Torre was there, and Bernie Williams, and Andy Pettitte and Tino Martinez, and Jorge Posada and the great Mariano Rivera. In formation. The last great Yankee band of brothers. Waiting for the Captain of the Yankees one more time. While the place continued to go mad with chants and cheers for Derek Jeter.
“They’re like my brothers,” Jeter would say of his old teammates when interviewed on the field a few minutes later. “And Mr. T. was like a father.”
The night they closed down the old Stadium, it was Jeter was spoke for all of them, who spoke for the Yankees and what he helped them become again after he ran out to shortstop for good in April of 1996. He spoke about ghosts that night, the long line of Yankees who had made them the most famous sports team in this world.
These weren’t ghosts now. These were the old Yankees, these were Torre’s Yankees and Jeter’s Yankees, on this field, because Derek Jeter had won the last game he would ever play in that uniform, in that place, in the bottom of the ninth. It wasn’t Ted Williams hitting a home run in his last at-bat at Fenway Park once, against an old Orioles pitcher named Jack Fisher, on the last swing he would ever take. But it was enough in the bottom of the ninth at Yankee Stadium. It would do. As the people kept chanting his name, and chanting thanks, and making the night impossibly loud on the night when Derek Jeter said goodbye to Yankee fans and they said goodbye to them.
So he hugged all of his teammates and his manager, Joe Girardi, and then he was with Bernie, and Pettitte, and then Torre was hugging him, and so was Rivera. And the cheers kept hitting him from everywhere, on this night that was as much about these fans as it was about Jeter.
Sinatra was singing “New York, New York,” and then they were playing “My Way.” Jeter was back on the field, waving to all corners of the place, acknowledging the Orioles players and coaches and their manager, Buck Showalter, standing on the top step of their dugout.
Finally Jeter was back at shortstop, crouching down out there, after what he announced after the game was the last time he would ever play shortstop in the big leagues — he said he will be a DH when the Yankees play the Red Sox in Fenway Park to finish out this season. He was out there at shortstop at Yankee Stadium for the last time. It had all started for him in that spring in 1996 before all the winning started again. Now, in the midst of all this noise, on this night when the people did not want to leave the Stadium, when they did not want to say goodbye even though they had come to say goodbye, he was still the shortstop for the Yankees.
“I almost started crying driving here today,” he would say in the interview room later.
“I think I’ve done a pretty good job of controlling my emotions throughout my career,” he said.
But he had such flair to go with his great class and his great style, in a career when his “signature was winning,” as Showalter said before the game. He was Mr. November. He led with his chin one night against the Red Sox when he dove into the stands for a foul ball. He made that flip to beat the A’s in the playoffs. And when he got his 3,000th hit he did it with a home run off David Price, and no one who saw it and no one at the Stadium was remotely surprised.
So he gave them one more moment late Thursday night, when they said goodbye to him and he said goodbye to them, and he said he didn’t know why the fans kept chanting thank you because he’d only ever tried to do his job.
He did it again against the Orioles, in a bottom of the ninth that really felt like the bottom of his career. He won the game, he won the night, somehow it felt as if he won a lost season. Then Torre was there, and Mo, and the rest of them.
Things were the way they used to be for the Yankees. And Derek Jeter was young.

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