10/24/2003 1:48 AM ET
Mr. October Jr. can't do it alone
Jeter on having back against the wall
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
MIAMI -- Call him Mr. October Jr., that guy in the No. 2 Yankee uniform who has made an art form out of playing shortstop and acting as the offensive catalyst wherever manager Joe Torre puts in him in the lineup.
"This is his month," Torre said about Derek Jeter. "No question about it, he's something special."
Reggie Jackson, the original Mr. October, put the Yankees on his back and carried them to World Series titles in 1977 and 1978, his signature performance being the three-homer explosion on three successive pitches in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series that eliminated the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Mr. October Jr. was in the leadoff spot Thursday night in the Yankees' 6-4, Game 5 loss to the Marlins at Pro Player Stadium because Torre decided to sit the slumping Alfonso Soriano. It didn't matter.
"I really don't care where I hit," Jeter said. "They've mixed up the lineup all year. Mr. T's done it my whole career so it pretty much doesn't make a difference to me."
Jeter was simply in the mix all night. He had three singles and a walk in five plate appearances, scored two runs and knocked in another. He's hitting .409 (9-for-22) with two doubles, five runs scored and two RBIs in the series, which makes him an odds-on-favorite to win Most Valuable Player honors if the Yankees come back from a 3-2 deficit to win the World Series at Yankee Stadium in the final two games on Saturday and Sunday.
"Right now he's locked in. He's in one of those grooves," said Bernie Williams, who has played with Jeter on four World Series champions and six American League pennant winners since 1996. "He's in a pretty good zone right now."
Batting second behind Soriano in a 6-1 Yankees' Game 3 victory on Tuesday night, Jeter had the only three hits against Marlins starter Josh Beckett in 7 2/3 innings and scored after doubles in the fourth and eighth innings.
Thursday night, when the Yankees lost starter David Wells to back spasms after one inning, Jeter tried to take the team on his back and carry it to victory.
"It was a tough break, but this is a team," Jeter said. "You have 25 guys so you've got to be able to bounce back regardless of what happens. So that's not an excuse."
Jeter led off the game against Brad Penny with a single and eventually scored on Williams' sacrifice fly. In the bottom of the inning with Wells still on the mound, he made a neat pirouette after lunging for Luis Castillo's grounder and threw the speedy Marlins second baseman out with ease. In the seventh, with two out and runners on the corners, he singled off Penny again to knock in Nick Johnson with the Yankees' second run.
And in the ninth, when the Yankees scored twice and refused to die, Jeter singled off reliever Braden Looper after Jason Giambi hit a pinch-hit homer. Jeter scored a moment later on Enrique Wilson's double down the right field. And suddenly a five-run Marlins lead had been sliced to two with Williams coming to the plate.
Ugueth Urbina replaced Looper and Williams hit a long drive that Juan Encarnacion hauled down at the right-center field fence. For a moment suspended in time the crowd of 65,975 held its collective breath.
"He got the pitch a little bit in on me so it wasn't off the fat of the bat," Williams said. "I hit it good and gave it a good ride."
"I knew he hit it well," Jeter said. "I thought he might have gotten all of it, but unfortunately it stayed in the park."
The game ended when Hideki Matsui hit a sharp one-hopper. First baseman Derrek Lee one-handed it, then raced to the bag for the final out.
The Yankees had 12 hits in the game, but Wilson was stranded on second base in the first inning with less than two out and Williams left the bases loaded when he flied out to end the seventh. Jeter couldn't bat in more than one position.
"We've been getting guys on base, but we haven't gotten the big hit when we've needed it," Jeter said. "We're not coming up with the two-out hit. If you're going to win, you're going to have to come up with those big hits. That's the bottom line. We have to figure out a way get it done."
That's Mr. October Jr. speaking. The Yankees are listening.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.