Jeter climbing hits charts on farewell tour
Yankees captain proving 'doubters' wrong in 20th and final season
NEW YORK -- The recent resurgence of Derek Jeter proves once again that no one should ever count out the nearly 40-year-old Yankees captain and leader among American League shortstops in fan voting for the July 15 All-Star Game at Target Field in Minneapolis.
It will be Jeter's 14th and last Midsummer Classic.
Jeter is looking stronger and stronger as the season is growing long. And once again, he is proving his resilience to those he calls "the doubters." That's anyone who believes Jeter is done because of age or the aftermath of a very serious left ankle injury that caused him to miss all except 17 games of the 2013 season.
"I don't think anything he does surprises me just because of his determination," said Joe Girardi, the former catcher who has played with and managed Jeter during the course of his 20-year career. "My biggest concern was, would he be healthy? And when I saw him run during Spring Training and it wasn't necessarily guarded or difficult for him to run, I felt pretty good about what he could do."
Jeter went 2-for-5 with an RBI on Thursday night as the Yankees finished off a sweep of the Blue Jays with a 6-4 victory, and with 533 doubles, he is one behind the club record held by the great Lou Gehrig. Every time Jeter does something these days, another pinstripe mark seems to fall. Jeter already holds Yanks records for most seasons, games played and hits.
"Anytime you talk about Lou Gehrig, regarding anything, it's pretty special to be mentioned in the same sentence," Jeter said. "It would be an honor if that were to happen."
One can project a few generations ahead when some future Yankees great might be saying the same thing about Jeter.
Just as many observers began to wonder whether missing a season because of the broken ankle was too much for even Jeter to overcome, he has stepped it up a gear. He's had six multiple-hit games -- four in a row at one point -- in his last nine and is batting .405 (15-for-37) over that span.
"I feel good," Jeter said. "I told you guys that before, if I feel good, the results will be there. Sometimes they're not there, but you keep working. It's not an easy game to play. I just want to feel good. That's it."
Jeter is an essential cog in this club's apparatus, just as he has been on five World Series champions, seven AL pennant winners and 17 teams that went to the postseason during his tenure.
"He's a driven individual. That's the way the great ones are," said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons. "He's one of those guys, too, he's going to go out in style. He's not going to fade away. He's going to do it right."
Only days after the passing of Padres icon Tony Gwynn at 54, it is germane to compare how the careers of these two great players ended. Both played 20 years. Both played for one team. Gwynn, with eight National League batting titles, had the personal hardware. Jeter has the team rings. Gwynn is in the Hall of Fame, and in five years, Jeter will be there.
Their careers overlapped for five full seasons, and as Gwynn's tapered off in 2001, Jeter and the Yankees headed to the World Series for the fifth time in six postseasons. That year, Gwynn, then 41, was so hobbled by knee injuries, he did fade away, only taking 102 at-bats in 71 games.
On Aug. 11 that season, Gwynn started against the Pirates at new PNC Park and had a double, two hits, two runs scored and a pair of RBIs in three at-bats. He was replaced late in that game by Mike Darr, his heir apparent, who was killed the following Spring Training in a car crash. Gwynn, a five-time Gold Glove Award winner, would never play right field again. It was his last multihit game.
The next day, Gwynn told manager Bruce Bochy not to start him anymore. He pinch-hit for the rest of the season, and upon reaching base, he was immediately replaced by a runner. Gwynn batted .324, but he had only 33 hits that season, finishing with 3,141.
Jeter has 69 hits already this season, and at 3,385, he is quickly closing the gap between himself and seventh-place finisher Carl Yastrzemski at 3,419. Honus Wagner, who Gwynn matched with the eight silver bats, is also within reach at 3,430. But Tris Speaker at 3,514 seems unapproachable.
If Jeter remains healthy, he will finish with the most hits of anyone since 1986, when Pete Rose ended his career with a record 4,256.
None of these players, not even Gwynn, missed just about an entire season because of injury. That could explain Jeter's stops, starts and .137 batting average during the past Spring Training. Jeter's average dipped as low as .254 on June 8. But the next day, all the hitting started. He's at .276 now, 36 points below his lifetime mark of .312.
It would seem that Jeter, after missing all that time, is just getting his legs back, so to speak.
"I think it had a lot to do with it," Girardi said. "Baseball players are meant to have three or four months off, not a year. It's strange when you don't see live pitching. You have to get used to the speed of the game and playing every day. That takes time. I think he has enough at-bats under his belt now, he's obviously more comfortable playing every day."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.