In second game with club, Yankees captain quickly makes presence felt
NEW YORK -- July 11 was something of a tease for Derek Jeter and his legion of fans who crowd the stands at Yankee Stadium. After missing the first two months of the season with an ankle injury, the captain was back -- for all of four at-bats.
The shortstop left New York's win over the Royals that day after straining his quad trying to beat out a ground ball in his fourth at-bat.
When he finally returned to face the Rays on Sunday, an almost fictional scenario played out at Yankee Stadium. On the first pitch of his first at-bat back from the disabled list, Jeter lifted a home run just into the right-field bleachers to give New York an early one-run lead.
"He's a movie is what he is," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said after Sunday's 6-5 victory.
Jeter, who played shortstop for the first time this season, went 2-for-4 with an intentional walk and was on base as the Yankees scored the walk-off run.
"It feels good to contribute," Jeter said. "The first of anything is difficult to get -- first hit, first home run, first RBI, first game is difficult for me to get. It feels great to contribute, but more importantly we won. I wouldn't feel good if we lost this game."
He helped lift a New York lineup that has quite simply struggled to score runs. Entering Sunday's action, the Yankees' 401 runs were fourth fewest in the American League, their .310 on-base percentage was third worst, their .242 batting average second worst and their .369 slugging percentage ranked dead last.
"It changes our lineup, there's no doubt about that, and just his presence is important to this club," Girardi said before the game. "It's been important for such a long time. My hope is I get to do it today and I get to do it again on Tuesday because we weren't so lucky the last time."
Jeter replaced Travis Hafner on the Yankees roster. The struggling DH -- he's batting just .215 this season after a .318 April -- was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a right rotator cuff strain.
The newest addition to New York's active roster deflected questions about his concern in typical Jeter fashion before Sunday's game. He was asked about "running under control" after injuring himself while running the bases on July 11.
"Was I out of control that day?" he shot back.
He did say he would try, and on a groundout in the seventh inning he was noticeably slower in running to first base. Still, he said it's something that he doesn't like doing and doesn't want to learn how to do.
"I feel awkward doing it," Jeter said. "I don't like doing it."
Girardi said that the extra bit of caution on the basepaths will only be temporary. So much of what he brings to the lineup is through his hustle -- even in his one other game this year, his lone hit was an infield single.
There's only so much Girardi can do to urge Jeter's carefulness.
"Last time I checked, they don't give me a bungee cord that I can attach to him when he's hitting," he said, so all he can do is continue to preach it to him and hope he heeds the advice.
With five road games coming up against National League teams, New York needs Jeter to be capable of playing shortstop. The built-in days off -- the Yankees are off on both Monday and Thursday -- will also help him remain an everyday player. Girardi's hope is that Jeter can play shortstop for the Interleague road trip, then take a DH day or two when the club returns to AL play.
But of course, Jeter was never concerned about his return to the lineup. He played in a simulated game in Staten Island on Saturday, but said he felt ready to play in a real tilt. It was the team's decision to play the sim game, and "evidently they saw what they needed to see," Jeter said.
He treated this game just like any other -- he didn't view his homer as some sort of special moment and said that the only special moment on Sunday was for Hideki Matsui, who officially retired as a Yankee in a pregame ceremony. That's what the Yankees need, though. His calm demeanor has been a staple of the clubhouse for more than a decade. Now they have it back.
"I've been here a long time," Jeter said. "I've been in a lot of these moments."
David Wilson is an associate reporter for MLB.com.