Derek Jeter capped his Yankee Stadium farewell with a game-winning single in the bottom of the ninth inning, the latest — and perhaps last — storybook moment of his charmed and illustrious career, to give New York a 6-5 victory Thursday night over the Baltimore Orioles.
Serenaded with adoring chants that echoed through the Bronx night, Jeter tipped his cap several times and drove in three runs. He launched an early RBI double off the left-center wall and saved the best for last, a sharp, opposite-field single to right that knocked in the winner.
“It was above and beyond anything that I’ve ever dreamt of,” Jeter said. “This was a lot of fun.”
During the raucous celebration that followed, Jeter said he’s made his final appearance at shortstop, but he’ll likely play in some capacity this weekend at Boston.
It appeared his tiebreaking grounder in the seventh would be the swing that sent the Yankees to a win when they built a 5-2 cushion against the AL East champions.
Not bad — but not Jeter.
Nope, he’s always had a flair for the most electrifying kind of drama, and this night was destined to be no different.
As if it was planned all along, closer David Robertson (4-5) gave up a two-run homer in the top of the ninth to Adam Jones and a tying shot to Steve Pearce with two outs.
That only set the stage for Jeter one more time.
“It’s like a movie,” teammate Chase Headley said. “You look up there and you see who’s hitting third and you’re like, really? This can’t happen, can it? You’re surprised but you’re not surprised.”
Jose Pirela hit a leadoff single against Evan Meek (0-4) in the bottom of the ninth before Brett Gardner sacrificed. Jeter lined the next pitch through a huge hole on the right side, and pinch-runner Antoan Richardson slid home ahead of Nick Markakis’ throw.
An elated Jeter jumped and raised both arms between first and second. Yankees players rushed out to engulf him as former teammates such as Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, Tino Martinez and Hall of Fame manager Joe Torre lined up near the New York dugout waiting to greet the retiring captain.
“Sort of an out-of-body experience,” Jeter said.
He went back out to shortstop, crouched down at the edge of the outfield grass and bounced on his toes a couple of times before rejoining the group.
Jeter tipped his cap again and was doused over the head with a sports drink by Gardner and CC Sabathia.
“To be honest with you, I don’t know how I played this game,” said Jeter, who acknowledged getting choked up several times throughout the day — usually somewhere he could be alone. “I went up my first at-bat, I forgot my elbow guard. I was throwing balls away. I was giving signs to (Stephen) Drew at second base and there’s no one on base, so I was all messed up.”
The 40-year-old Jeter made a throwing error in the second, then started a difficult double play an inning later. At one point on the basepaths, he appeared to lose track of how many outs there were.
But all that became merely a footnote when Jeter produced another indelible moment to go with his famous dive into the stands and his backhand flip to the plate and his home run for hit No. 3,000.
Mr. November. Subway Series MVP. Jeffrey Maier. The list goes on and on.
“I don’t think there’s a more fitting way to end,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
In one twist that hardly fit, however, Jeter’s home finale was the only game he ever played at Yankee Stadium with his team already knocked out of the playoff race.
Jeter ended last season on the disabled list, so the only other time in his 20-year career (2,745 regular-season games) that he appeared in a game with New York already out of postseason contention was in Boston on Sept. 26, 2008.
“His signature is winning. What other accolade can you pick?” said Orioles skipper Buck Showalter, who was Jeter’s first manager when the youngster broke into the big leagues in May 1995. “Take a good look, because there are not going to be many like this come your way again.”
Heavy rain soaked the city all afternoon, but the sky cleared in the evening and the tarp was removed from the infield an hour before the first pitch. A rainbow, in fact, appeared over the stadium.
The game began right on time, but it didn’t start well for the Yankees.
Roll call by the Bleacher Creatures was interrupted just as they got to a roaring chant of “De-rek Je-ter!” Markakis hit a leadoff homer, awkwardly silencing a sellout crowd of 48,613 that included rap star Jay-Z and other famous faces.
Alejandro De Aza followed with another long ball to right, the first time Baltimore had started a game with consecutive homers since hitting three in a row against Texas on May 10, 2012.
Jeter, however, hit an RBI double in the first against rookie Kevin Gausman, who was 4 years old when Jeter made his major league debut. The ball banged off the left-center wall — just missing a home run by a couple of feet.
“I went behind home plate to cover and I swear I felt the entire place shaking,” Gausman said.
Jeter scored on a grounder, and the fans were back into it.
Hours later, he was asked to reflect on his entire career in pinstripes.
“I can honestly say I don’t think anyone played harder,” he said. “I don’t.”