Here are two excellent reasons not to arrive late to the ballpark when a beloved player is chasing a milestone. First, you may miss his only hit of the game. Second, you may miss the announcement of the defensive alignments and spend the entire game yelling at the opposing thirdbaseman by the wrong name.
But my companion to last night’s game got snarled on the 6:15 NJ Transit train and delayed our departure from Penn Station by 45 minutes. We arrived as Derek Jeter advanced to third on Curtis Granderson’s ground out. The buzz over hit 2998, a deep liner to left-center which Jeter hustled into a double, was still ringing as we watched the Yankees squander a run-scoring, game-tying opportunity .
We were bummed, but saw the replay a dozen times. So we were more grateful that the remainder of the game would be drenched in possibility than bummed we missed the hit. The Yankees threatened to tie the game again in the second with one-out hits by Posada and Martin, but whereas Alex struck out in the first, Gardner fouled out in the second to miss the chance.
Jeter got his second at bat in the second and topped it weakly to the thridbaseman. This is the defining contact of Jeter’s last season and a half. The barely grazed topper to third. And then I am always surprised how not-close the play is at firstbase. Still two at bats in two innings was exactly what the doctor ordered. I said, “As long as the Yankees don’t collapse offensively, Jeter is going to get six at bats and they’re score enough to win.”
Then they collapsed offensively. Jeff Niemann was masterful. The only Yankee looking comfortable at the plate was Robinson Cano. He looked like a varsity player suiting up with the freshman. His swing was sweet and pure last night, lacing the ball four times and accounting for the Yankees only run with a long homer to right.
The Rays were all over Bartolo Colon from the start. In the games I’ve seen Colon pitch, he had very good control. Tonight, his strike to ball ratio was terrible, only 59 of 92 pitches were strikes, and he struggled through almost every inning. Ben Zobrist would have gone 20-20 if they just kept sending him up there – he was locked in on Colon like Luke locked on the exhaust port. His quest for the cycle was disturbed only by two walks. It made for a nice duel of rival secondbasemen.
By the time Jeter batted for the third time in the fifth, the Yankees were down 5-0 and the road back seemed difficult to fathom. But the crowd was clearly more concerned with Jeter than with the game itself, and though their recent skid has cost them first place to the Red Sox again, maybe that’s appropriate. It was the only game I’ve ever attended where there was something else besides the outcome on everybody’s agenda. I’ve been to plenty of games where nobody cares about anything including the outcome, but this something else was an interesting vibe.
Jeter rolled one down the line and right off the bat, it looked like a hit just past the thirdbase bag. But the thridbaseman was well positioned and made a nifty stop and a strong throw and it wasn’t close. It was nice hitting by Jeter, who made something useful out of a jam-shot, pulling his hands in quickly. But when a righty gets jammed, it costs him a step or two coming out of the box and hence Jeter was nowhere near the bag when throw nailed him.
I was impressed by the play and began from that point on, extolling the defensive prowess of Evan Longoria for pretty much the rest of the game. The thirdbaseman made eight plays in total, so I had plenty of chances to talk about him, to debate the selection of the all-star thirdbaseman this season, and to predict the course of his career. Unfortunately, Sean Rodriguez was playing thirdbase last night and the upper deck in Yankee Stadium is far enough away, and my glasses could stand an updated prescription. It could have been Ken Keltner out there for all I know.
I was very embarrassed.
Nobody in the stands corrected me, though surely they heard my mistake as I made it repeatedly. I think I would have preferred to be corrected rather than to discover it on my own. So if you’re in the stands and you here some blathering idiot saying something like that and you’re wondering whether or not to correct them, here is my suggestion. Look at his hands and feet. If you do not see beer in hand, and you do not see empty beer cups at feet, go ahead and point him in the right direction. I still would have blushed, but not as deeply.
Jeter came to bat twice more and tried his best. But he grounded out routinely to shortstop in the seventh and the crowd let out a huge sigh of disappointment. Barring something crazy, there would be no 3000 this night. Kyle Farnsworth pitched the ninth, and the Yankees brought Derek Jeter to the on-deck circle. Farnsworth looked very hard to hit, and he struck out Gardner to seemingly end the game, but the slider got loose and Jeter got to bat.
The remaining fans came to attention. If Jeter got 2999, it would bring Granderson to the plate as the tying run. And for some reason, a game-tying homerun just seemed like a sure thing. And then extra innings! And just like that, 3000 was alive again. Jeter battled Farnsworth and fouled off several tough pitches. He expanded the strike zone as well, for which I guess I can’t blame him. Jeter lost and hit one of those weak-ass toppers to third. At this point thirdbasemen from Rodriguez to Longoria to Keltner have to be salivating over this play.
The crowd jumped up, imagining younger legs on a younger player. In 1999, this was a hit. In 2006, this was a hit. In 2011, it wasn’t that close.
The Rays won 5-1. The Yanks are looking up at the Red Sox and the winning streak which they blew versus the Mets seems like a distant memory.