Wednesday, June 8, 2011 Updated: June 14, 8:15 AM ET
Where have you gone, Captain Clutch?
By Andrew Marchand ESPNNewYork.com
NEW YORK -- No. 2 was at the plate, and the 47,863 were the loudest they had been all night, maybe all season. After A.J. Burnett had melted in the June heat, flattened again by the Red Sox, the Yankees had crawled back from seven runs down, and with the bases loaded in the sixth, the tying run was just 270 feet away at first.
Derek Jeter's fifth-inning double was his 2,989th hit. But it was his inning-ending double play in the sixth that defined his night.
With his DJ3K bracelet on his wrist, Derek Jeter stood in the batter's box, another Yankee Classic moment just a swing away. He had a chance to continue this chase-for-3,000 homestand with another piece of history.
In the sixth, the fans couldn't be thinking about 3,000 hits; they just wanted one.
In the fans' collective memory, the Jeter of old would drop a single into right or at least hit a sacrifice fly. For sure, during Jeter's peak, the rally wouldn't end with him.
But now, with his 37th birthday less than three weeks away, the fans would have gladly settled for a productive out, let alone a big hit in the clutch.
So Alfredo Aceves, his former teammate, threw a 3-2 changeup, and Jeter swung.
"I hit it good," Jeter said. "I hit it to [Kevin Youkilis], though. If you hit it hard right to him, [it's] a double play."
It was 5-4-3. Youkilis to Dustin Pedroia to Adrian Gonzalez, and the moment was dead.
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The fans were on the verge of getting a Jeter moment, and it vanished as quickly as his bat speed has dissipated this season.
By the time Jeter would bat again in the ninth, the place had lost its air. The Yankees would be on their way to an 11-6 loss. Half the fans would be trying to beat traffic or hop on the subway as quickly as they could.
Yes, Brett Gardner could have saved Jeter. During Jeter's at-bat, Gardner should have sprinted home on a passed ball, but he thought Jeter was hit by the pitch. Gardner paused and never scored.
However, Jeter could have washed away Gardner's mistake. Instead, Gardner was one of the main focuses of the postgame.
These days, Jeter hits a lot of grounders and isn't very productive at the plate. He is hitting . 261 with two homers, 17 RBIs, a .326 on-base percentage and a .328 slugging percentage.
On Wednesday, he did have a double -- a fifth-inning RBI that was one of the hardest balls he has hit all year at home -- moving him 11 hits from the magic 3,000 mark.
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But the classic Jeter is gone. This is not to diminish all that he has been, but after last season's .270 year and this season's punchless .261, it's the truth. It is a scary truth when you consider he has two years and a player option for a third left on his contract.
That is for another day. The focus right now is whether he can become DJ3K before the Yankees leave for Chicago a week from Friday.
"It would be nice," Yankees GM Brian Cashman said. "It would be special for our fans and all that stuff, so, yeah, the hope would be that he could do it at home, but you play half your games on the road. That's just kind of the way the ball bounces."
Cashman played the heavy this offseason, daring Jeter to test the free-agent market. Jeter stayed and the Yankees cut his pay significantly (to $17 million per year), but it still looks as if they got crushed in the negotiation.
Jeter's inning-ending double play in the sixth was his fifth of the season, tied for the team lead in that category with Alex Rodriguez.
The fans were on their feet and Jeter was trying to finally put the Yankees back on equal footing with the Red Sox. It was his moment. Well, it used to be.
On Wednesday night, it was again just a memory.