Daily Archives: October 14, 2012
Yesterday afternoon I went to New York City’s Comic-Con event for the very first time. A bigger fan of the movie adaptions instead of the comics themselves, I didn’t really enjoy myself as the thousands of others did. Also, I couldn’t help but check my phone every couple minutes, making sure I’d be able to get home in time for the 8:07 first pitch of ALCS Game 1.
Being bored out of my mind and having no where to go, I figured I might as well look through some comics that were on display and on sale to the public. Some were cool, like finding one of the first Superman comic books from the 1940s. But most were from the past 10 years, and clearly had little to no value at all.
But I kid you not, I did stop at one comic in particular as the date intrigued me – October, 1996. It was a Spider-Man comic, but with the Yankees on my mind I just stood there and thought “what a month that was.”
That month, the Yankees led by 22 year-old Derek Jeter defeated the Atlanta Braves in the World Series to win their first championship since 1978, their 23rd in franchise history. Of course guys like Paul O’Neill, Andy Pettitte, Jim Leyrtiz and David Cone played an arguably even bigger role, but New Yorkers were captivated by the play of this young adult from Kalamazoo, Michigan.
He went on to win Rookie of the Year that season, and five years later he was a 4-time World Series champion and the face of the New York Yankees. Giving it his all day in and day out, Jeter piled up multiple seasons of 200-plus hits and a .300 batting average, quickly solidifying himself as a true superstar.
Statistics of course can’t measure the other, over-powering elements of Derek’s game. His hard work, dedication, leadership and professionalism could not be matched by anyone in this day in age. The Yankees’ owner George Steinbrenner realized this and made him their team captain in 2003.
Following the multiple championships, October baseball was still common, but playing in the final weeks of the month was not. Just two pennants and four early-round (ALDS, ALCS) playoff exits occurred from 2001-2007, but Jeter kept on fighting and searching for that elusive fifth ring.
New York missed the postseason all together in 2008, and Derek had an off year for his standards at age 34 (.300 batting average, 179 hits – yeah, what a horrible year!). People doubted him, and some even said he was finished being the Yankees’ everyday shortstop. But that year was just a reminder he was human, but still god-like.
He finished third in MVP voting in 2009, as well as becoming the Yankees’ all-time hits leader passing Lou Gehrig. Most importantly, he led the rejuvenated Yanks straight through October and into early November with a World Series win over the Phillies, the 27th for the team and the fifth for him, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Jorge Posada. The Core Four was re-united and it never felt better, as in what you’d call the “twilight” of their careers, they were on top of the baseball world.
Following a 16-month period where he hit just .270 in 2010, had an ugly negotiating period with the Yankees on a new contract, and got injured in mid June, the second half of 2011 proved to be the Derek Jeter revival show. He returned off the disabled list and recorded his 3,000th career hit in the most dramatic way possible – a home run, and went 5-5 that day. For the rest of the year he’d bat .327 and truly hit like the Derek Jeter of old [and thankfully not an old Derek Jeter] at age 37.
The retirement of long-time teammate and friend Jorge Posada put a damper on Jeter’s thoughts as spring training began this year. But with a couple of key pitching acquisitions in Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda, as well as the surprise return of Andy Pettitte, it looked like the Yanks had a shot at #28.
That shot heightened even more when Jeter had one of the best seasons of his career. The 38 year-old racked up 216 hits with a .316 batting average and 15 home runs. With many tough injuries and moments for the team throughout the year, Jeter was their old reliable and truly led the team to just barely winning the division over the Orioles and just as barely defeating them in five games in the recently concluded ALDS.
Therefore, all seemed right as today began. The Yankees in the ALCS, just four wins from the World Series with Jeter leading the way. 16 years after this same situation first occurred.
I returned home just in time to catch Andy Pettitte deliver the first pitch to Austin Jackson for strike one. There you go. Another postseason series for the Yankees with Andy on the hill and Jeter at short. Nothing seemed more usual.
Well, maybe yet another game of failing to drive in runners in scoring position was more usual. That’s sort of become Yankee culture the past three Octobers. But nevertheless, the Yankees overcame a 4-0 deficit in the bottom of the 9th, thanks to who else but Raul Ibanez. The game was tied.
In the 10th inning, with the winning run on third in Brett Gardner, Jeter had a tough at-bat before he popped out to right to end the threat. In the 11th, a single by Ichiro would be all for the Yankees as well. All the momentum from that 9th inning was gone, and it was just a matter of time before the Tigers struck.
A hit by Miguel Cabrera, a strikeout of Prince Fielder and a mis-played line drive by Nick Swisher [hit by Delmon Young] put Detroit up 5-4. If that wasn’t deflating enough, nothing prepared us for what happened next.
Down went the Captain. A fairly routine ground ball was fielded cleanly, but Jeter’s momentum going to his left caused him to put too much pressure on his left ankle, and it twisted the wrong way and he tumbled to the ground. I hate to do a play-by-play, as I’m sure you’ll all watched it a thousand times already, but that’s what happened.
He lay on the field in tremendous pain, not being able to stand as the Tigers tacked on another run, but at that point the game was second in the Yankees’ priorities – Derek Jeter was #1. He was no doubt coming out of the game, and as Joe Girardi and trainer Steve Donohue helped him off the field, the fans rose and cheered “DER-EK JE-TER – *CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP*”, as they had so many times before following a hit or during the Bleacher Creatures’ roll call. Tears were in mine and as I’m sure many of Yankee fans’ eyes as we watched it all unfold.
Joe Girardi said following the loss that it was what we feared the most – broken. Well, fractured, but the point being he was done for the remainder of the playoffs. In a matter of literally minutes, the Yankees went from being tied in extra innings, to down by 2 and their most important player in the past 50 years out of the game, and done for the year. Wow.
There are really no words to describe how much he has meant and means to the Yankees’ organization, and how devastating a loss this is. For the first time since 1995, the Bombers will try and win a World Series now not only without Mariano Rivera, but Derek Jeter as well.
I don’t know if any playoff loss in Yankees history will be as impacting and depressing as last night’s. That injury could be many things. It certainly could be the dagger in this Yankees team for 2012. But even that aside, it could be the dagger in Jeter being the Yankees’ shortstop, and also being as consistent and clutch a player as he’s been all of these years. A broken ankle is never good, but turning 39 as Derek will be doing next June, it’s even worse.
We always say how much we love and appreciate Derek Jeter. We stop whatever we’re doing to watch his at-bats, and even go to games just to see him play. But now that he’s hurt and can’t do anything but watch the Yankees try and win the World Series, it’ll be very different over at least the next three games as it will make us all realize as we did when Mo went down, that we never know what we have until it’s gone.
Here’s to a quick and successful recovery for Derek, and for this current team who will try and win #28 for him over these next couple of weeks. Cliques are aplenty in these situations, but all I can say is – don’t stop believing. I know Derek Jeter won’t. That’s just who the man is.