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NEW YORK -- In Comeback No. 2, Derek Jeter swatted the first pitch he saw into the right-field seats and onto the highlight shows. But his career, his life, is bigger than televsion.
"He's a movie," manager Joe Girardi said, perfectly summing up his team captain after the New York Yankees defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 6-5 on Alfonso Soriano's game-winning single in the ninth.
It was the biggest victory the season, giving a heartbeat to what often has been a lifeless Yankees Stadium. The struggling Yankees (55-50) avoided a sweep by an AL East rival before heading west to face Los Angeles Dodgers stalwarts Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw in Hollywood.
Jeter, 39, went 2-for-4 with two runs scored after being activated from the disabled list Sunday morning. It was just his second game of an injury-plagued season, and it started with that first-inning homer.
|Derek Jeter received a curtain call after his first-inning homer.|
"It is like, waive the magic wand," teammate Andy Pettitte said.
There is no sabermetric for giving other players confidence, but his manager believes Jeter does more than just collect hits.
"I talked about his presence," Girardi said. "His presence just makes it different. It is hard to put your finger on how exactly why, but he is a winner, which is the bottom line to me."
At his locker before the game, Jeter was self-assured, as always, basically saying he did not need Saturday's simulated game that the Yankees' kept a state secret. He joked around about former teammate Hideki Matsui, who signed a one-day contract on Sunday so he could retire with the Yankees. Jeter broke out a little Japanese, calling Matsui "old man," and then doted on him for being such a professional and one of his favorite teammates.
During the postgame, when questions from reporters ranged from, "Why are you so great?" to "Why are you so clutch?" Jeter tried to take the focus off himself and onto Matsui.
It is why so many are so quick to praise Jeter and Mariano Rivera -- they don't look for the attention, it just finds them.
Before the first swing, Jeter looked like he never left as he prepared for his initial at-bat. He waited in the on-deck circle, rubbed some pine tar on the handle of his bat before Bob Sheppard's famous recording played: "Now batting for the Yankees ... No. 2 ... Derek Jeter."
A standing ovation ensued. It was polite, but not excessive.
Jeter casually stepped to the plate, looked over to Rays manager Joe Maddon, as he usually does to show respect, and then appeared as if he were the happiest man on the planet, standing in that batter's box.
Lefty Matt Moore immediately challenged him with a 92-mph fastball that Jeter swatted to right. His classic swing brought the stadium alive for what felt like the first time this season. The ball just cleared the wall in right.
Jeter casually trotted around the bases, a man in his park. While he received his fist bumps in the dugout, Robinson Cano stepped out of the batter's box as fans grew louder and louder, demanding Jeter acknowledge them. He did, with a quick wave from the top step.
Jeter would add a soft line single in the third. In the ninth, after Brett Gardner walked and moved to second on a wild pitch, Maddon wasn't going to let Jeter have another magical moment. Maddon saw first-hand as Jeter homered for his 3,000 hit a couple of summers ago and, like most everyone else, knows Jeter's history.
Plus, Maddon had lefty Jake McGee on the mound and Jeter owns lefties. So Maddon ordered Jeter walked to face Cano with runners on first and second and no outs. Cano struck out looking before Soriano's game-winning single ended it.
"I said, 'Thank God,' because I didn't want to go out there and play in extra innings, because I was tired," Jeter said.
It was just another day in a legendary career that includes five World Series championships. While Girardi found the precise description, Pettitte put it very simply -- and very well.
"He does cool stuff," Pettitte said.