09/10/09 12:22 PM ET
Jeter able to step back, savor moment
Off-day gives star chance to breathe before passing Gehrig
By Anthony DiComo / MLB.com
First, though, Jeter must pass the Iron Horse, and MLB.com will carry Jeter's at-bats live until he does.
"You try to enjoy this," Jeter said after matching Gehrig with his 2,721st career hit on Wednesday, tying a mark that stood for six decades. "Now I wish we were playing [Thursday]."
History, it seems, will have to wait.
As Jeter's career progresses and he continues to rack up legendary numbers, enjoying such personal accolades has not always been easy. Last year, for example, when Jeter passed Babe Ruth for second place on the team's all-time team hit list, the Yankees were sinking out of the playoff race and Jeter could not revel in his accomplishment.
"I've had a tough time in my career enjoying things as they happen, because I'm always trying to look to the next game," Jeter said.
This time, though, is different. The Yankees, thanks in large part to Jeter, are soaring, and their off-day Thursday has come at a most opportune time. Jeter, now standing beside Gehrig, can take a quick step back and appreciate what he has done. Then, on Friday evening, it will be back to the history books. No longer chasing Gehrig, Jeter will instead try to surpass him.
His first crack at the record will come in the first inning Friday against Orioles rookie righty Chris Tillman, who in eight big league starts has never faced the Yankees. Opposing Tillman's Orioles teammates this season, Jeter has hit merely .262, his lowest mark against any division opponent.
All-time Yankees hit leaders
|Derek Jeter passed Lou Gehrig and now has the most hits by a Yankee. Here are the top 10 Yankees leaders in hits.|
If Jeter cannot break the record Friday, he will face left-handed rookie Brian Matusz on Saturday afternoon, followed by veteran righty Jeremy Guthrie on Sunday. Though Jeter has never faced Matusz, he is batting an otherworldly .417 against lefties this season.
"He's tied now, so there's only one hit to worry about, and hopefully he'll get that Friday in his first at-bat and put it all behind him," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said, alluding to Jeter's discomfort discussing personal achievements. "He can not have to talk about it too much anymore."
If anyone can appreciate this march toward history, it's the so-called old guard -- Andy Pettitte, Rivera and Posada, the three other remaining links to the dynasty teams of the late 1990s. Perhaps they can appreciate it even more than Jeter, who shies away from attention as much as any multimillion dollar professional athlete possibly can.
Those three teammates were all in the process of breaking into the big leagues when Jeter made his debut in 1995, lashing two singles in his second game for his first two Major League hits. Jeter would amass 10 more that year and another 2,711 over the next 14 seasons, with his three core teammates there to witness almost all of them.
Team-by-team hit leaders
|Here is a look at the hit leaders for all 30 Major League clubs, through games of Sept. 11, 2009:|
|Red Sox||Carl Yastrzemski*||3,419|
|Orioles||Cal Ripken Jr.*||3,184|
|White Sox||Luke Appling*||2,749|
|Blue Jays||Tony Fernandez||1,583|
|* Member of the Hall of Fame|
"We came up from the Minor Leagues [together], and being here for all the good times and the bad times and the tough times, and now to reach that milestone is tremendous," Rivera said. "I can recall the first hit that he has and the first save I have. It's amazing. So if I have to say one thing, thank God for that. Thank God for making us Yankees."
"He's going to be the only Yankee to ever hit 3,000 hits," Posada said. "That tells you right there what kind of player [he is]. All the players that came through here, and he's going to be the only one with 3,000 hits. He's a special guy. A really special guy."
And perhaps that's what's most unfathomable. On a franchise that has won 26 World Series titles, that has seen 20 percent of the members of the 500-home run club wear pinstripes and that has permitted such Hall of Famers as Gehrig, Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle to walk through the doors of Yankee Stadium, no player has recorded 3,000 hits. No one has even come particularly close.
Jeter, though, seems primed not just to reach that vaunted milestone, but to shoot past the mark. Assuming health, at his current pace, Jeter will reach 3,000 hits sometime in 2011, around his 37th birthday. Then there's the matter of climbing up the all-time list. Though Pete Rose and Ty Cobb may be out of reach, Jeter could conceivably crack the Top 10 by the time he turns 40.
The thousands who saluted Jeter with an extended standing ovation Wednesday know what's possible. And the thousands who will be at Yankee Stadium on Friday, when Jeter attempts to shoulder past Gehrig once and for all, are prepared for history as well.
"I can't comprehend it, I can't understand it," Rivera said. "It's amazing."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.