Derek Jeter has driven in 100 runs once, and topped the 20-homer plateau three times.
Not overly impressive, but in the eyes of rabid New York Yankees’ fans, there’s no player they’d want at the plate with the game on the line than Jeter, whose dramatic, game-winning homer in Game 4 of the 2001 World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks earned him the nickname, “Mr. November.”
The Yanks lost that Series in seven chilling games. No matter, Jeter remains a hero because he’s been an integral part of four World Series-winning teams.
If being clutch when it counts speaks volumes, then Jeter’s legacy is an encyclopedia. In 123 playoff games, Jeter has batted .309 with a .377 on-base percentage, and a .469 slugging percentage.
Of his 153 hits, 42 have been for extra-bases and 17 have been home runs. Jeter has knocked in 49 runs, scored 85, and played stellar shortstop.
All of this is nice, but it’s the regular season that dictates whether a club makes the playoffs. Now in his 15th big-league season, Jeter entered last Sunday’s game against host Seattle hitting .320, and set the all-time hit mark for shortstops in a 10-3 loss.
After a sluggish start, the Bombers are steam-rolling, have the best record in baseball (74-44), and are perched atop the American League East, 7 1/2 games ahead of Boston.
“It’s kind of hard to believe,’’ said Jeter, who surpassed Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio, and is shooting for his seventh 200-hit season. “I just try to be consistent year in and year out. I think if you’re consistent, then good things happen.”
Jeter added: “I think being consistent is something that gets overlooked at times, but I think every player strives to be consistent. That’s all you can do.”
A right-handed hitter, Jeter has the perfect inside-out swing, and can bat anywhere in the lineup. That’s a luxury that Manager Joe Girardi and former skipper Joe Torre relish.
“It’s amazing what he’s been able to accomplish, and he’s still got a lot of baseball left,” said Girardi. “A lot of guys, when they try to get that record, it takes them a while. It didn’t take him long today.”
Jeter singled in the first inning, then took over first place with a run-scoring double. He added a single in the seventh. Jeter wants to continue playing shortstop, even though he turned 35 in June.
Big things were projected early for the 10-time All-Star, and sixth overall pick in 1992. Jeter had Gene Michael and Torre in his corner, but it was Michael, a one-time Yankees player, scout, manager, and general manager, who saw something special during spring training in 1996.
Michael was proven a sage, as Jeter, a .316 career hitter, became Rookie of the Year. The Yankees were back in prominence, but few tabbed them to advance far in the playoffs.
After getting past Texas in the AL Division Series and Baltimore in the AL Championship Series, the Yanks lost the first two games of the World Series at home to the defending champion Atlanta Braves.
They would hit the road for two or perhaps three games, and then return to Yankee Stadium. New York would do just that, and hoist their 23rd banner with Jeter a rising superstar.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a contributor to trufanboxing.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.