Captain Clutch! Jeter scripts walk-off in home finale
Emotional star drives in three runs; Kuroda's gem overshadowed
NEW YORK -- There had been a healthy amount of discussion about orchestrating Derek Jeter's exit from the field, how best to provide that chance to say goodbye after this final game in the Bronx. The Yankees should have known that no one was going to script it better than he would.
After choking back tears for nine innings on his last night wearing pinstripes, Jeter stamped an exclamation point on the end of his New York career, slashing an opposite-field walk-off single in the ninth that lifted the Yankees to a 6-5 victory over the Orioles on Thursday at Yankee Stadium.
"This is all I've ever wanted to do, and not too many people get an opportunity to do it," Jeter said. "It was above and beyond anything I'd ever dreamt of. I've lived a dream."
Accompanied to the plate by the last in-game use of Bob Sheppard's voice, Jeter jumped on the first pitch he saw from Evan Meek, sending pinch-runner Antoan Richardson diving home safely from second base. Jeter watched the play and bounced near first base, pumping both fists in the air before being mobbed by his teammates in an ecstatic celebration.
"You think about all the big hits that he's had in his career, and all the things that he's done to help this club win championships and divisions," manager Joe Girardi said. "He's been here since the run that started in '96. I don't think there's a more fitting way for it to end."
The sellout crowd of 48,613, the largest to pass through Yankee Stadium's gates this year, serenaded Jeter with a deafening roar as the captain embraced his family members, former teammates and others before taking a slow walk to his shortstop position.
He crouched on the grass, said a silent prayer and tried to absorb the moment. Jeter said that he wanted to take that snapshot with him; Thursday marked his last game playing shortstop, though he plans to bat this weekend as a designated hitter or pinch-hitter out of respect to the Red Sox and their fans.
"I wanted to take something special from Yankee Stadium," Jeter said. "And the view from shortstop here, tonight, is what I want to take from it."
The Yankees held a three-run lead heading into the ninth inning, but long home runs by Adam Jones and Steve Pearce off David Robertson shredded that, forcing the scramble to complete Jeter's home story.
"What can you say? It created another Derek Jeter moment," Robertson said. "As much as I wished I wouldn't have created it, I'm glad it happened."
Meek didn't exactly want to be part of that either, but he also recognized the magnitude of the moment.
"You just can't be upset about that kind of thing," Meek said. "It's bigger than all of us."
Despite threatening forecasts, the weather never proved to be an issue on a crisp and clear evening. It felt and sounded a lot like like October in the Bronx, and not surprisingly, that was an atmosphere in which Jeter seemed right at home.
Perhaps fueled by the positive energy from the crowd, Jeter's bat sprang to life on a last homestand in which he batted .353, including a first-inning blast off Kevin Gausman that pelted the left-field wall. Jeter advanced on a wild pitch, then tied the game on a fielding error.
In the seventh, Jeter strode to the plate with the bases loaded and one out. Ryan Webb entered and induced Jeter to ground to shortstop J.J. Hardy, who threw wildly to second base as Ichiro Suzuki and Pirela scored. It wasn't pretty, but the Yankees had a lead.
"Broken-bat, I got a run in, you know what I mean?" Jeter said. "But I've done that time and time again. We had the lead. I was happy if we won the game right there."
The top of the eighth produced another chant from the bleachers: this one, 'Thank you, Jeter," which was acknowledged with a wave of the shortstop's glove. The cheering quickly spread, Jeter's eyes moistening while fielding his position.
"I was almost thinking to myself, 'Joe, get me out of here before I do something to cost us this game,'" Jeter said. "It's funny how things change, I guess."
Even before Robertson's missteps, not everything went Jeter's way. The Bleacher Creatures had just landed upon his name in their 'roll call' when Nick Markakis launched a Hiroki Kuroda sinker into the second deck, providing an unwanted souvenir that was swiftly returned to the playing field.
Alejandro De Aza followed with another homer off Kuroda, who quickly settled in and held the Orioles to three hits in a nine-strikeout performance. It also may have been his final outing; Kuroda has not tipped his plans for 2015, but he has pondered retirement in the past.
"I always tell myself that any outing can be my last outing," Kuroda said through an interpreter. "Today was my last outing of the season, so I was thinking about that."
Jeter committed a second-inning throwing error on a slow Kelly Johnson grounder, but Kuroda pitched around that. He atoned with defensive sparkle in the fourth, ranging to his left to flag a Jones grounder that was scored as an inning-ending double play after review.
Only the out-of-town scoreboard argued with the festive nature of the evening. With the Yankees having been officially eliminated from contention on Wednesday, this marked only the second time in Jeter's 2,745 career games that he has taken the field with his club mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.
"He played the game because he wanted to win and he loved it," Girardi said. "But he affected a lot of people's lives."
From the February morning that Jeter clicked the "Post" button on his Facebook announcement, having spent the previous evening personally crafting his words, there have been chapters of this final season that Jeter wished would have gone differently.
He detested the term "farewell tour," believing that it implied that his appearances were more important than the idea of winning games, and Jeter's eyes flashed their usual pain when it became clear that another trip to the postseason was not in the cards.
But when Jeter zips his equipment bag in three days, he will carry with him the residue of a season-long outpouring of affection. Nowhere was that love more concentrated than here at home, on this perfectly scripted and ultimately fitting evening in the Bronx.
"I'm thinking to myself, 'What are you thanking me for? I was just trying to do my job,'" Jeter said. "Really, they're the ones I want to thank. They're the ones that have made this special."