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Jeter sparks Yanks, but exits with tight quad

Designated hitter goes 1-for-4 vs. Royals in first game of season

NEW YORK -- Derek Jeter beamed his thousand-watt smile as he crossed home plate at Yankee Stadium for the first time in nearly nine months, scoring his team's first run of the afternoon and gleefully accepting a flurry of congratulatory fist-bumps and high-fives.

By the end of the day, Jeter's tone was more muted, as he and the Yankees both await the results of a trip into the MRI tube. With Jeter's help, the Yankees rallied for an 8-4 victory over the Royals in the Bronx, but the 39-year-old was unable to finish the game because of a tight right quadriceps.

"It's not frustrating yet. We'll see," Jeter said. "They MRI everything around here. I'm going to get an MRI and we'll find out, but I hope it's not a big deal. I don't ever think anything is a big deal, so I'm hoping for the best."

That sober assessment soured what should have been a sugary afternoon for the Yankees, slipping their captain back into his pinstriped No. 2 jersey and performing in game action for the first time since his left ankle shattered in Game 1 of last year's American League Championship Series against the Tigers.

"I couldn't wait. Ever since I got hurt in October, I was thinking about the first at-bat," Jeter said. "I wanted to get back on the field. That's what I worked extremely hard for and [why I] did all the rehab."

The Yankees' initial plan was to have Jeter spend Thursday afternoon serving as the designated hitter at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, but general manager Brian Cashman summoned Jeter to New York following injuries to Brett Gardner and Travis Hafner in Wednesday's 8-1 win over Kansas City.

Now, they will cross their fingers and hope that legging out four ground balls didn't force Jeter back onto the list of the walking wounded.

"His right quad tightened up a little bit," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He said something, and I said, 'You're done. We're going to take you out.' We hope it's not much, but we won't really know until [Friday]."

Well before his quad grabbed him in the fifth inning, Jeter's presence added a healthy dose of interest to the matinee. A paid crowd of 40,381 rose by the thousands to cheer as Jeter discarded the weight hugging his Louisville Slugger, digging in for his first big league at-bat of the season.

Jeter said that he had made up his mind to swing at the first pitch and followed through, rolling a slow grounder that third baseman Miguel Tejada fumbled as Jeter reached on an infield hit. Serving as New York's designated hitter, Jeter finished the afternoon 1-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI.

"Just having him back is great," said Yankees starter Andy Pettitte, who allowed four runs (three earned) in 5 2/3 innings for his seventh win. "I'm not too sentimental or nostalgic, but it's great to have Derek Jeter back in the lineup; great to see him in the dugout. I just love having him back out there."

Pettitte needed help from Jeter and the rest of the lineup as the Yankees fought to take the veteran left-hander off the hook from what was shaping up early to be a rough and labored start.

Royals catcher Salvador Perez raked a two-run double down the third-base line and Lorenzo Cain lifted a sac fly in a three-run first, and Pettitte's fielding error on a second-inning bunt also helped set up an Alcides Escobar RBI single.

"It's the same old story," Pettitte said. "It seems like, for me, every bunt is a perfect bunt."

Pettitte settled in and clamped the damage long enough for the Yankees to erupt, as the Bombers pounded Royals starter Ervin Santana for eight runs on 10 hits in five-plus innings.

Austin Romine and Ichiro Suzuki had run-scoring hits off Santana in the second inning, and the Yankees added four more in the fifth, highlighted by Lyle Overbay's two-run, bases-loaded single.

Zoilo Almonte and Eduardo Nunez also had run-scoring hits to back Pettitte, who picked up his second victory in as many starts.

"Against a guy like that, you try to work the count as much as you can, and I thought we did a good job of that early," Kansas City's David Lough said of Pettitte. "Then he started settling in a little bit, and he just pitched a good game from there on out."

Shawn Kelley pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings of relief before All-Star Game Final Vote runner-up David Robertson made one final pitch for votes with three strikeouts in the eighth. Boone Logan wrapped it up by getting the last three outs in the ninth.

Girardi had wanted to get Jeter back at shortstop on Friday against the Twins, but now Jeter seems more likely to be used as the DH again -- if he plays at all. The Yankees certainly hope that will be the case.

"I think guys are excited he's back. He's been such a big part of this organization for so long," Girardi said. "It's great to see him, and it was nice for me to put his name in the lineup. Hopefully, I'll get to do it [Friday]."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat.
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