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09/12/09 3:12 AM ET

Forget about loss, it was all about Jeter

O's rally late vs. Yanks to somewhat spoil Captain's night

NEW YORK -- By game's end, the rains had ceased, but an eerie pall had settled over Yankee Stadium. A few hundred fans remained in the stands, cheering on a group of nine players who hardly resembled the Yankees. There would be no comeback on this night. Yankee Stadium had already seen its share of glory.

Derek Jeter

And so the Yankees went quietly, losing, 10-4, to the Orioles on a night when Derek Jeter became their all-time hit king with his 2,722nd knock in the third inning on Friday. They never enjoy losing. And yet on this night, it almost seemed acceptable.

"It's too bad this game had to end like this," said Mariano Rivera, who had no opportunity to close. "I know everybody's tired and we lost the game, but the most important thing here is Derek. His record and past record has been great. I've been a teammate of his for so many years. I have a great amount of satisfaction seeing how he overcomes. To me, this was precious."

In total, there were two rain delays, lasting a combined two hours and 34 minutes. Nearly everyone stuck around through the first one, waiting for the chance to witness history. Yet the stands emptied during the second delay, which spanned midnight ET on the East Coast, with history already attained.

The game, by that point, was no longer in doubt. The Orioles took their lead in the sixth inning, when Damaso Marte allowed the first five men he faced to reach base, and the Yankees -- playing after the rain delay without Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher -- were in no position to mount a comeback.

Still on pace for 103 wins and the best record in the Majors, there was hardly a need to. This night was just fine as is.

Jeter's record-breaking hit came in the third inning on a single down the right-field line, with the Yankees still enjoying a lead thanks to Rodriguez's towering three-run homer in the first. Jeter's second hit in the fourth inning drove in Cano to pad the margin.

Yet Andy Pettitte, so sharp over the first four innings and over the past two months, fell apart in the fifth. A leadoff walk, two hits and a hit batsman resulted in two Orioles runs, driving up Pettitte's pitch count and effectively knocking him out of the game. At 103 pitches after the rally, Pettitte gave way to Marte to open the sixth.

Orioles starter Chris Tillman, who struck out eight and pitched admirably outside of A-Rod's homer, wound up with the win. Marte, who gave up his first runs since returning from the disabled list in late August, took the loss. Twenty-one players took the field in all for the Yankees, many of whom will not be around in October.

Years from now, though, such details will hardly matter. The Yankees and Orioles are streaming in opposite directions, making it an appropriate time to focus on individual achievements.

Jeter's was one of the most significant the Yankees have seen in some time, and the 46,771 fans who showed up were sure to recognize that.

"People love what he's done here," manager Joe Girardi said. "And I think people came out tonight and stayed out tonight to celebrate the moment with Derek. There's been a lot of anticipation from the fans. There are so many Yankee fans, and I'm sure there were a lot of people hoping that it would be the night that they were at the game. It happened to be tonight."

On Saturday, the Yankees will resume their march to the playoffs. They will face the Orioles again, and they will do so with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs on their agenda.

Such are the luxuries of a first-place team, cruising through the midsection of September. The Bombers can take time to rest players, to set their rotation and to reflect. And Friday gave them plenty of opportunity for that.

"We've been playing so well lately, so we felt we could all really enjoy his moment," Rodriguez said. "It was really about [Jeter]. The fans were really excited, and I think every player was more about his hit than anything else the last few days, which has been great."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.