As soon as Sean Rodriguez's throw across the diamond one-hopped into his first baseman's glove, resulting in the game-ending ground out from the bat of Derek Jeter, the Rays third baseman realized he had delayed history.
"I turned around and said, man he could have been at 3,000 right there," Rodriguez said. "Kind of told myself, not today though."
While Rodriguez grew up wanting to emulate Jeter, the Rays' utility player who started at third Thursday night kept Jeter from hit No. 3,000 with two great plays in the field in the Rays' 5-1 win against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.
"I watched him a lot. You always tell yourself that you want to be that guy and then sure enough you end up taking hits away from that guy," Rodriguez said. "So it's pretty cool."
Rodriguez, who plays various positions for the Rays, started at third base while third baseman Evan Longoria served as the designated hitter with the usual designated hitter Johnny Damon out with an injury.
In the third inning, with Jeter just two hits away from 3,000 hits as he had doubled in the first, the Yankees shortstop hit a hard grounder down the third base line. Rodriguez dove to his left and snagged the ball, before getting up and firing first to retire Jeter.
Earlier in the at-bat, Jeter had flashed bunt, bringing Rodriguez a little closer to the plate. He ended up positioned off the line and it required the dive to stop Jeter from getting hit No. 2,999. Rodriguez said he didn't look at Jeter running and just got up and threw.
"It's just one of the many great plays we had tonight," Tampa Bay pitcher Jeff Niemann said. "It was an awesome play, full layout, he hops up and makes the throw, it's always nice to have that behind you."
In the ninth, with runners on the corners and Jeter still stuck at 2,998 hits, Jeter hit a soft chopper to third. Rodriguez came in, fielded the ball smoothly but he didn't get the best grip, which led to a one-hopper to first base where Casey Kotchman scooped the ball for the last out to secure the Rays' 5-1 win. Jeter finished the night 1-for-5.
"He had a great game at third base. He had a really good game at third base. Great play and on the other side, what about Kotch? My God. Kotch continually makes that play on the other side," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. "What can I say? (Kotchman) has been amazing for us this year."
As much as Rodriguez said he would like to see Jeter get his 3,000th hit, becoming just one of 28 players in MLB history to do so, as an opponent, he'd prefer if Jeter saved it for another team, perhaps when the Yankees head to Toronto after the All-Star Break.
For at least one night, Rodriguez kept his pitcher from becoming the answer to a future trivia question of who yielded Jeter's 3000th hit.
"If he gets it, obviously it will be exciting. I'm going to do everything I can obviously to not let him get it, but that's just like I will with anybody else. I don't want anybody to get hits," Rodriguez said. "He's definitely going to get it eventually and it's going to be something that's well deserved, a guy like him, the way he's always played the game. Just great example, a great role model for a lot of young kids that watch him and try and emulate him."