Last night was almost too good to be true. It was the kind of ending that would be totally cheesy if I saw it in a movie, but I saw it with my own eyes in real life and it was amazing. Derek Jeter inside-outing a walk-off single to right field in his final game at Yankee Stadium is just perfect. Too perfect. It’s magic. There’s no other way to describe it. Pure baseball magic.
Like you, I’m going to remember that game for the rest of my life, but not just for the ending. I mentioned this in the game recap last night — I’m also going to remember seeing Jeter show more emotion than I can ever remember. He literally jumped for joy following the walk-off single and the only other time I can remember him doing that was when the Yankees won the World Series. Cameras caught Jeter fighting back tears as fans chanted his name in the ninth inning:
That is not the Derek Jeter face we’re used to seeing. We’re used to stone-faced, all business, we’ve got a job to do Derek Jeter. The YES Network broadcast showed both Joe Girardi and Mark Teixeira with tears in their eyes that inning, but I guess being on the verge of tears is the most we’ll get out of Derek. Jeter spoke about fighting back the tears following the game and I thought his quotes were interesting, so I want to pass them along. Courtesy of Chad Jennings:
“There were a couple of times I almost lost it,” Jeter said. “First inning I was saying, please don’t hit it to me. The last inning I almost lost it. Same thing. I don’t know how many times in my career I’ve said, please don’t hit it to me, but that’s what was going on in my mind. I really thought I was going to break down.”
“I almost started crying driving here today,” Jeter said. “I was by myself, so I could have lost it and no one would have seen it. My teammates presented me with something before the game. I almost lost it and I had to turn around. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of controlling my emotions throughout the course of my career. I have them, I try to hide them, I try to trick myself and convince myself that I’m not feeling those particular emotions whether it’s nerves, whether I’m injured; pain. I just try to trick myself that I don’t have it.
“Today, I wasn’t able to do it. It’s been getting more and more difficult these last few weeks, but today I wasn’t able to do it. I don’t know if the cameras were on me close, but there were a couple times I almost broke down. I was almost thinking to myself, ‘Joe, get me out of here before I do something to cost us this game.’ It’s funny how things change, I guess.”
I can’t imagine what last night — and these last few weeks, really — felt like for Jeter. Outside of a little fist pump following the final out of every win, he rarely showed emotion on the field, so being on the verge of tears on the field in front of a nationally televised audience means he was playing with a very heavy heart. Jeter even said these last few weeks were like “watching your own funeral.” That’s some heavy stuff.
I could be wrong, but it appeared to me Jeter was a little more laid back on the field this year. More smiles, more joking around with teammates and opponents who happened to make their way to second base. It seemed like he was more relaxed in his final season, like he decided to enjoy this year a little more and cherish the comradery. Almost every retired player says they miss the comradery more than anything once their playing days are over. It seems like Jeter went out of his way to enjoy being around his peers this year.
Last night was on the other end of the emotional spectrum. There weren’t any smiles or jokes exchanged, it was raw emotion on an iconic stage. It was a side of Jeter we never got to see these last 20 years and that’s part of reason it will be so memorable. We have a tendency to see athletes as invincible and Jeter has been the model of the invincible athlete throughout his career. Last night was our first and only real look behind the curtain, to the human side of Derek Jeter.
Seven questions and six answers this week, the final mailbag of the 2014 regular season. Don’t worry, the mailbag continues in the offseason. This is a year ’round feature. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week.
Dustin asks: If the Yankees prefer a long-term solution at shortstop to a free agent, what would it take to pry either Starlin Castro or Addison Russell from the Cubs?
Even though there are a ton of quality shortstops set to hit free agency this winter, I think trading for a younger, more long-term solution at the position is something the Yankees should pursue. The Diamondbacks and Cubs have a stockpile of young shortstops but Chicago’s group is better, mostly because they’re more high-ceiling players. I like Chris Owings a lot, but he’s no Castro or Russell. Or even Javier Baez, who’s been awful so far in his MLB career (51 wRC+ and 41.9 K%) and has always had very high bust potential because of his plate indiscipline.
Castro, who is still only 24, rebounded nicely from his down 2013 season to hit .292/.339/.438 (115 wRC+) with 14 homers this year. He’s played in 740 of 778 possible games since making his debut — most of his missed games have come this month due to an ankle sprain — and while he’s not a great defender, he isn’t as bad as his reputation either. Plus he’s under contract through 2019 for a total of $44M. Castro is young, he’s productive, he’s durable, and he’s signed cheaply for another half-decade. He’s someone the Yankees should be very interested in if he’s made available.
Russell is just the prospect, on the other hand. A great prospect, but a prospect nonetheless. He is a riskier of the two shortstops. The price for Russell has already been established, right? Basically a Jeff Samardzija caliber pitcher. It’s worth noting the Cubs balked when the Phillies asked for Russell in Cole Hamels trade talks last month, according to Gordon Wittenmyer. (Hamels’ salary came into play there.) Castro should be similarly expensive. The Yankees aren’t getting these guys with David Phelps and a prospect. Michael Pineda would have to be on the table and you know what? I’m not against that given his shoulder history. I’d prefer Castro to Russell ever so slightly but would be thrilled with either.
nycsportzfan asks: I was wondering if you thought we should trade Shane Greene while his value could be at his greatest this offseason? He could be almost a centerpiece for a mid-rotation guy (Matt Latos, Mike Leake, Tyson Ross, etc.), really.
Mark asks: Would you rather see the Yankees sign a big free agent starter this offseason or acquire a starter in a trade. Some of the Reds’ starters could be interesting targets.
Gonna lump these two together. Greene was very good this season up until his disaster final starter earlier this week. I wouldn’t be opposed to trading him at all but the Yankees can’t afford to give him away either. Their 2015 rotation options are risky and they’ll need the depth. I also don’t think his trade value is high enough to be the centerpiece of a package for a guy like Latos or Ross either. Greene is only one year younger than Latos and two years younger than Ross, remember. We’re not talking about a 22 or 23-year-old here. I’m not sure his trade value is all that high on his own. Definitely not high enough to land a real difference maker.
Four of the Reds’ five starting pitchers are due to be free agents after next season — Latos, Leake, Johnny Cueto, and Alfredo Simon. They do have Homer Bailey signed long-term and Tony Cingrani under team control, but still, losing four starters is tough. Cincinnati is a medium payroll team ($114M in 2014) that already has $70M on the books for just four players in 2016 (Bailey, Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips), so re-signing all four of those starters will be impossible. Heck, re-signing just one of Latos or Cueto will be tough. Speculation is they will trade at least one of those two to clear payroll and fill other roster holes this winter and obviously either would make sense for the Yankees. Expect a lot of trade chatter about the Reds’ starters this winter and expect the Bombers to be involved.
Yeah, that rotation would be pretty dynamite in a short series, at least on paper. Who knows what would happen in the actual games. I’d use Kuroda as the fourth starter and put Greene in the bullpen as a multi-inning guy. Joe Girardi would be able to lean heavily on David Robertson, Dellin Betances, and Adam Warren in a short postseason series with built in off-days, so the pitching staff could have been excellent. Too bad the Yankees couldn’t hit at all this year. Thinking about what could have been with this pitching staff is a bummer.
Kevin asks: I have forever been against the idea of a 6-man rotation, however going to next year I don’t think it could make much more sense. CC Sabathia, Pineda, Tanaka and Kuroda (aqssuming return) would all benefit greatly from the extra day for one reason or another. What are your thoughts and do you see the Yankees pursuing this?
There have already been reports indicating the Yankees are considering a six-man rotation for next season as way to give their starters extra rest. Tanaka (elbow), Pineda (shoulder), Phelps (elbow), Sabathia (knee), and Ivan Nova (elbow) all have injury concerns and could benefit from working in a six-man rotation. How much would the extra day of rest help keep them healthy? Who knows. It’s worth noting pitchers across the league this year have actually performed slightly worst with an extra day of rest than on normal rest.
The Yankees would have to use a three-man bench to make a six-man rotation happen — nothing they’ve done in recent years makes me think they would go with a four-man bench and a six-man bullpen — and that’s doable because players like Martin Prado provide some versatility. They’d have to come up with a similarly versatile backup infielder and have a backup catcher who could maybe play a little first base and left field. I don’t love the idea of taking starts away from Tanaka and Pineda — the difference between a five-man rotation and a six-man rotation is about five starts across the 162-game season — but if it helps keep them healthy, it might be the best course of action. I don’t think there’s a clear right answer here. This is a very debatable topic.
Stephen asks: Now that we know how many we’ll have this season, I’m curious what the percentage is for how many of Jeter’s games played were “meaningless games” — those in which the Yankees were already eliminated from postseason contention. I’d bet it’s probably close to 1%, right?
The Yankees were eliminated from postseason contention in Game 157 back in 2008 and in Game 158 this year, so that’s nine meaningless games between those two seasons. Jeter was injured last year when the Yankees were eliminated and didn’t play in any of those meaningless games. He’s played 2,745 total regular season games in his career, so less than 1% have been meaningless — 0.0033% of his games have come with the Yankees mathematically eliminated from postseason contention. That is: crazy.
Randy asks: Do you think Jeter will get a monument? Do you think he deserves one?
I was thinking about this yesterday and decided against including it in the thoughts post. Right now there are monuments for Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Miller Huggins, and George Steinbrenner in Monument Park. All of them were dedicated posthumously. If the Yankees decide to add a monument for Jeter after he retires, he’ll be the first person to have one dedicated in his honor while still alive. So, really, this question is asking whether he will be worthy of a monument in 40, 50, 60 something years. My answer is yes. Jeter is the greatest Yankee since Mantle and he was at the core of their most recent dynasty. If he isn’t worthy of a monument, I’m not sure how anyone else would be.
For one night, Yankee magic returned to the Bronx. Derek Jeter ended his final game at Yankee Stadium with one of his trademark inside-out singles to right field for a walk-off win over the Orioles. The final score was 6-5.
What an awkward start to the game. Yankee Stadium was rocking, the Bleacher Creatures were giving the Roll Call of a lifetime, and then Nick Markakis launched a monster solo homer into the second deck in right field to lead off the first inning. Then, four pitches later, Alejandro De Aza gave the Orioles a 2-0 lead with another long solo homer, this one longer than Markakis’ according to the official measurements (390 vs. 383 feet). The ballpark in the Bronx was electric and then all the air was let out of the balloon with two swings. Yeah.
Thankfully, those back-to-back homers were quickly erased from memory. The Yankees rallied to tie the game in the bottom of the first and Jeter was right smack in the middle of the rally. He doubled in Brett Gardner for the team’s first run — I thought it was gone off the bat, he missed a homer by about two feet when it clanked off the left-center field wall — then scored the game-tying run later in the inning, after moving to third on a wild pitch and coming home on Brian McCann‘s ground ball to second. This seemed like that would be Jeter’s big hit for the night, but lol to that.
Hiroki Kuroda‘s likely final start as a Yankee went the way so many of his other starts have gone these last few years. He gave up the two runs in the first, then settled right down and took the ball deep into the game. Kuroda allowed just two base-runners after the first inning — Kelly Johnson reached on a Jeter’s throwing error in the second and De Aza singled in the third — and retired the final 16 men he faced. After those two first inning homers, he turned into vintage Kuroda, mowing down hitters and looking like he could pitch another five years if he wanted.
By Game Score (77), this was Kuroda’s best start of the season and best since last August (box score). His nine strikeouts were not just a season high, they were more than he had in any start last year as well. The last time Kuroda struck out 9+ came in September 2012, when he struck out ten Rays (box score). The final pitching line was two runs on three hits and no walks in eight innings with nine strikeouts and nine ground ball outs. Kuroda never did get any kind of big ovation. He was lifted from the game after the eighth inning and that was that. Unless Kuroda surprisingly returns in 2015, it was a fittingly unceremonious end to a marvelous three-year career in pinstripes.
Signature Moment, Part I
The score remained 2-2 until the seventh inning — the Yankees did not have a hit and only put two men on base in the second through sixth innings — when Jeter gave the Yankees the lead in what everyone thought was his final Yankee Stadium at-bat. The inning started with Stephen Drew striking out and reaching first base on a wild pitch, capping off an awful defensive night for the O’s. Ichiro Suzuki followed that with a walk, then Jose Pirela reached when pitcher T.J. McFarland pulled first baseman Steve Pearce off the bag with a throw on his bunt attempt. The Yankees loaded the bases with no outs while hitting the ball maybe 20 feet total.
That brought Gardner to the plate with a chance to give the Yankees the lead, but, with Jeter looming in the on deck circle, I got the sense no out would have cared if Brett struck out. Well, he didn’t strike out, he just grounded into a 3-1 put-out. The bases remained loaded for Jeter, who hit a weak tapper to J.J. Hardy at short. Too weak to turn two, I thought. Hardy flipped to second for the force out, but the throw was wide of the bag and the ball sailed into right field, scoring two runs. Was it the classic Jeter moment we all expected? Nope. Did it get the job done? Hell yes. McCann plated the third run of the inning with a sacrifice fly as the next batter, giving the Yankees a 5-2 lead. That was the first ball to leave the infield in the inning.
David Robertson will forever be remembered for the best blown save in baseball history. Like many other people, I watched the ninth inning wondering when Brendan Ryan would trot out of the dugout to replace Jeter so the Cap’n could get one last grand send-off in his final game. That never happened, and while we waited the Orioles scored three runs to tie the game. Adam Jones hit a two-run homer to bring Baltimore to within a run, then Pearce hit a solo homer to knot things up. I mean, what? How did that happen? Ultimately, the baseball gods had another, much cooler ending planned for this game.
Signature Moment, Part II
As soon as Pirela singled leading off the bottom of the ninth, the script wrote itself. Gardner would bunt pinch-runner Antoan Richardson up to second and Jeter would drive him in for the game winning run. Right? Right. Sometimes you can predict baseball, Suzyn. Gardner did indeed bunt Richardson to second, and Jeter did indeed drive him in with a walk-off single. He jumped all over Evan Meek’s first pitch middle-middle fastball and laced it to right field for a classic Jeterian hit. We’ve seen that same hit about 3,000 times now. Richardson chugged around third and slid into home plate safely to score the team’s most memorable run in a long, long time.
Something weird happened following the walk-off hit: Jeter showed some emotion. And I don’t mean his little fist pump that usually follows wins either. Jeter literally jumped for joy after seeing Richardson score the game winning run. Derek’s face showed relief as much as it did excitement. He said following the game that his main thought all night was “don’t cry” — cameras showed him struggling to fight back tears a few times, especially when the “Der-Ek Je-Ter!” chants got louder in the late innings — and that hit allowed him to finally relax. His perpetual all business stare had finally been erased. Outside of winning the World Series, I can’t ever remember seeing Jeter that happy on a baseball field. I will always remember this walk-off hit for Jeter’s rarely seen sense of pure joy as I will the outcome of the game.
All told, Jeter went 2-for-5 with a run scored and three runs driven in on the night. He went 12-for-34 (.353) during the eight-game homestand. Jeter said after the game he will play this weekend out of respect for the fans, but he will not play shortstop. He will pinch-hit or DH only. It would be amazing if the walk-off hit was his final act on a baseball field, but I get it. Not playing this weekend never seemed all that realistic.
Pirela had two hits and both Gardner and Chris Young had one each. Chase Headley, Young, and Ichiro drew walks. That’s it for the offense. The Yankees went 2-for-7 (.286) with runners in scoring position and one of those two hits didn’t even score a run. It was Pirela’s sac bunt attempt in the seventh. Whatever. They scored enough runs to win. That’s all I care about.
Robertson’s blown save was his fifth of the season. He said after the game that “it created another Derek Jeter moment. As much as I wished I wouldn’t have created it, I’m glad it happened.” It’s easy to forget this might have been Robertson’s last game in the Bronx as a Yankee as well.
Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs has some other game stats, and ESPN has the updated standings. At +.602 WPA, Jeter had the team’s third “biggest” game of the season. Only Carlos Beltran‘s walk-off homer against the Orioles (+.930) and Young’s walk-off homer against the Rays (+.671) were bigger.
Only one series left in the season. The Yankee are off to Boston for three totally meaningless games against the Red Sox this weekend. Both teams have already been eliminated from postseason contention, so the only thing on the line is bragging rights. Chris Capuano and knuckleballer Steve Wright will be on the mound Friday night.
Baseball is just the best.