Monday, July 29, 2013

Dramatic return: Derek Jeter launches HR on the first pitch he sees following injury

By Mike Vaccaro
July 29, 2013
Joe Girardi was on the field Opening Day in Cleveland in 1996, Derek Jeter’s first workday as the everyday shortstop for the Yankees, when Jeter clobbered a home run off Dennis Martinez, and then saved the game for David Cone with an over-the-shoulder catch.
Girardi was in the dugout two years ago when Jeter launched one off David Price that landed in the left-field bleachers, a forever way to collect hit No. 3,000. He has seen so many other moments from afar: the home run leading off Game 3 of the Subway Series in 2000, The Flip a year later, the Mr. November home run.
On and on and on, a Hollywood highlight reel.
“He’s a movie,” Girardi said.
This was after the Yankees had salvaged the final game of a series with the Rays, 6-5, Alfonso Soriano completing his own stylish script by driving in the game-winning run with a walk-off single after hitting a critical homer of his own earlier in the game.
If you can call any game in July critical, this felt critical, the Rays looking primed to lap the AL East and leave everyone tasting tire tracks, the Yankees trying to hang around the playoff picture.
So of course it would coincide with Jeter’s second return of the season, 17 days after the first one, and of course Jeter would be the one presenting the team gift to the guest of honor on Hideki Matsui Day (and getting the bigger ovation when he popped out of the dugout to do so).
And, of course …
“What was I thinking? Just swing,” he would say later, “and fortunately it was a fastball up.”
It was a fastball up from Matt Moore, who only has been one of the two or three best pitchers in the American League this year, and soon it was a moonball out toward the gap in right-center, bisecting Desmond Jennings and Wil Myers, looking like a sure double off the wall until — of course — it wound up clearing the wall.
Jeter has never needed a ghostwriter. He gets it right all by himself, his whole career, a scrapbook of moments and memories deeper and thicker than any 50 careers you can conjure that keeps growing and expanding and bursting.
“You think about how he got his 3,000th hit,” Girardi said. “And we haven’t hit a right-handed home run in months [actually a month and three days, though for Girardi it probably seemed like a lot longer since Jayson Nix took Texas’ Yu Darvish deep 434 at-bats previously] … and then he comes back and does it the first game back.”
His first at-bat back. On the first pitch he saw.
Only one word applied, and Girardi used it again.
“A movie,” the manager said.
There have been hundreds of chapters and thousands of verses written about the indescribable but inescapable jolt Jeter has given the Yankees going back to the beginning, back to Jacobs Field and 1996, and all of them are true. You could see all of them at the Stadium yesterday, from the extra hop in Robinson Cano’s step to the child-like way Soriano sought out Jeter at game’s end to enjoy their first win together since Game 3 of the 2003 World Series.
“Like old time’s sake,” Jeter said.
But it has always been Jeter’s tangibles that have been more useful to the Yankees than his intangibles, and not just when he decides to slip into Roy Hobbs’ spikes for extra dramatic effect.
“He changes our lineup,” Girardi said, and that’s certainly one huge impact his addition will make.
But he changes something else, too.
“People get used to seeing me,” Jeter said, shrugging his shoulders. “I’ve been fortunate. I’ve been here for a lot of moments. I enjoy playing regardless of if it’s April, October, November … I like to play, and I like to help us win.”
The Yankees need to do some winning, and a lot of it, in the days and weeks ahead, out on the West Coast this week and then back home later on, with a schedule that isn’t exactly forgiving, 57 games to leap over a couple of teams and elbow their way into October. One game doesn’t solve everything. They are still only 55-50.
But they are 2-0 with Jeter in the lineup as they head for Los Angeles, head for Hollywood, and could there possibly be a better immediate destination than that for The Captain and his crew?

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