Pena error highlights what Jeter brings

NEW YORK -- On the eve of Derek Jeter's return to pursue DJ3K, Ramiro Pena offered a little dose of what the New York Yankees don't have when No. 2 is not their No. 1 shortstop.

For all that is seemingly wrong with Jeter's aged game these days he still is reliable when it comes to the routine play, a quality that should not be taken for granted with the lack of quality shortstops in baseball.

"It has taken on an increased premium," a scout said.

On Sunday, Pena made an error in the ninth inning that nearly cost the Yankees' the game. In the 10th, he made another that ended up leading to the Yankees' first loss in eight games.

"It is weird for me to make two errors," Pena said after the 3-2 defeat to the New York Mets.

A little more than a week ago, Pena made three errors in Cincinnati, but it did not compare to his horror on Sunday.

In the ninth, Mariano Rivera had already blown the save when Ruben Tejada hit what looked to be an inning-ending grounder at him. Pena "Bucknered" it, and that would have been the final image of the day if not for a tremendous throw from Brett Gardner to nail Lucas Duda at the plate.

"As soon as the ball passed me, I was like, 'Oh my God,' then I saw Gardy made a great throw," Pena said.

In the 10th, Boone Logan appeared to have escaped trouble, coming in with one out and two men on. Logan struck out Carlos Beltran before Daniel Murphy hit a grounder to Pena. It appeared to be a pretty routine play.

"I think I got a bad read," Pena said. "I tried to make a play, but as soon as I got close to the ball, I'm like, 'Oh no, oh my god, I got a bad read on it.'"

Next thing he knew, Jason Bay nailed a single off Hector Noesi and the Mets were celebrating, while Pena likely prepares for a trip back to Triple-A Scranton.

On Sunday, Pena played only because Eduardo Nunez's right hamstring tightened up. Pena is a superior defender to Nunez, which is not saying much. Then again, Nunez might have 10 errors, but he never had a day like Pena suffered Sunday.

For the Yankees, Pena's gaffe ruined what could have been a sweep of the Mets, and it wasted another excellent start by Freddy Garcia.

Garcia pitched seven innings of one-run ball as he lowered his ERA to 3.13. Garcia is involved in a game of survivor now as Ivan Nova is now waiting at Triple-A Scranton, despite an 8-4 record, a 4.12 ERA and a 5-1 record in his past six starts.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that Nova will be back, and it would come as no surprise to have another injury or subpar performance lead to Nova getting a second chance in the rotation. In the meantime, Garcia, Bartolo Colon and Phil Hughes -- who returns Wednesday after two-and-a-half months out -- must continue to pitch well to keep Nova in Triple-A.

As the Yankees went 14-3 with Nunez as the team's shortstop in Jeter's absence, the one part that felt as if it could be exposed over 162 games is his defense.

Nunez's erratic throws never cost the Yankees a game, but eventually they probably would. He is a more explosive hitter than Jeter and has raised the debate on Jeter's play to a higher level.

But Jeter will make the plays that are at him. He never has a Ramiro Pena game. That is what Sunday turned out be. When you talk about the Subway Series, there is always a short-hand -- the Dave Mlicki game, the Matt Franco game, the Luis Castillo game and now the Ramiro Pena game.

"Physical errors happen," Girardi said.

Time has gotten to Jeter, but he doesn't often make these types of "physical errors." And on the eve of Jeter's return, Pena served as a reminder of what the 37-year-old Jeter still brings.