It’s the kind of play Derek Jeter has been making since he came into the Show in the first place. The kind of play he has made often enough that you would not be surprised to learn he could have been blind and still made it.
Nothing more dangerous than a middling little ground ball up the pipe in the top of the twelfth, courtesy of Jhonny Peralta, and nothing more strenous for the Yankee captain than ranging to his left, reaching for it, and, if he was going to tumble, as he must have known he would, shoveling the ball to second baseman Robinson Cano for a relay to first to get rid of Peralta.
Jeter bent to get a glove on the ball and, apparently, tripped on his left foot, sprawling in a forward motion, and rolling over right side first, before turning upward, his mouth open in an apparent scream, as he reached into his glove for the ball and tried a shovel pass to Cano, who wasn’t anywhere close to the pad just yet.
Jeter lay straight over the infield dirt when his tumble finished. Then, he moved onto his left side and pointed sharply toward his feet. Finally, he rolled back onto his stomach in obvious agony.
Bothered since early 12 September, when he sprained the ankle and played as the Yankee DH while waiting for it to heal, Jeter had already hurt his left foot during the division series against Baltimore. Now, he couldn’t bring himself to try getting off the ground until manager Joe Girardi and trainer Steve Donahue lifted him and helped him off the field, Donahue on his right, Girardi on his left, letting Jeter put no weight whatsoever on that left ankle.
When he rolled over, it was possible to see Jeter’s spikes clogged almost completely with infield dirt. It isn’t impossible that that contributed to tripping him on that testy ankle and rolling him over, though it’s also impossible to know for certain.
For Girardi it was a sickeningly familiar scene, remembering only too vividly when The Mariano—who’s missed the rest of the season thanks to a torn knee ligament he suffered shagging flies before a game in May—couldn’t get up once he hit the deck, either. “It is kind of a flashback to when Mo didn’t get up,” the manager told reporters after the game—which, by the way, the Tigers managed to win in twelve innings.
”Oh, boy, if he is not getting up, something’s wrong,” Girardi continued. “We have seen what he played through in the last month and a half, and the pain he has been in, and how he found a way to get (through) it. So it brought back a flashback for me.”
All of a sudden, though, as the Yankee Stadium crowd applauded and chanted Jeter’s full name in tribute as he was helped off the field, it seemed as though the game itself didn’t matter. If you keep watch on statistics such as this, it hit you that the Yankees have played 158 postseason games since 1996, and Jeter has started every one of them.
Put it into perspective: From 1926 through 1938, the Yankees played 34 World Series games (they had no division or league championship series in those years, of course) and Lou Gehrig started in every one of those. By dint of administrative changes in the game and the Yankees’ success over Jeter’s major league career, he’s played the equivalent of one regular season in those postseasons.
The recovery time for an ankle fracture may be three to four months, but it could take longer, depending on whether ligament, tendon, or soft tissue damage—such as the damage that sent San Francisco catcher Buster Posey down for most of 2011 and six months total. (Posey since returning? He’s only the likely National League Most Valuable Player this year.)
The recovery time for the Yankees’ chances in this postseason may or may not be somewhere between slim and none. We’re about to discover just how much more compensatory mettle these Yankees have to draw upon for the rest of the League Championship Series at least.
They’d already surrendered a tiebreaking top of the twelfth run to the Tigers before Jeter hit the deck screaming, which ruined the extra innings into which Ichiro Suzuki’s two-run, deficit-shaving homer and—stop me if you’ve heard this one in the past few days—Raul Ibanez’s game-tying two-run homer sent the game in the first place.
Unfortunately, though, Delmon Young in the twelfth ripped a one-out double deep to right field to send home Miguel Cabrera, who’d opened working Yankee reliever David Phelps for a leadoff walk. After Jeter went down, Detroit left fielder Andy Dirks beat out a bouncer back to the box for a single and Don Kelly, pinch running for Young and advancing to third on Peralta’s fateful up-the-pipe grounder, crossed the plate with the final Tiger run.
Leaving Detroit reliever Drew Smyly to finish what he started an inning earlier, when he shook off Ichiro’s leadoff line single into center field to retire the next three, and put the Yankees to bed 1-2-3 in the bottom of the twelfth.
Doug Fister and Andy Pettitte, the starting pitchers, had dueled magnificently enough until the seventh inning, even if the Tigers managed to pry a 2-0 lead out of Pettitte.
Until the top of the sixth, Pettitte pitched like his brainy old self for the most part. That’s when Austin Jackson—who’d gone to the Tigers with Phil Coke in the deal making a Yankee out of Curtis Granderson—greeted him with a leadoff triple. One out later, Pettitte put Miguel Cabrera on to take his chances with lefthanded Prince Fielder, not that either Tiger had done all that much postseason damage to date.
This time, though, Fielder dumped one into center field to send Jackson home, Young ripped a liner to right to single home Cabrera, and Pettite would get a taste of what Fister had done for half his six innings’ work—squirm out of ducks on the pond, after walking Peralta unintentionally, by getting Andy Dirks to pop out to Jeter and Avisail Garcia to pop out to Cano.
Fister fought the Yankees off with the bases loaded and nothing to show for it in three out of the first six innings. With Jeter, Mark Teixiera, and Ibanez aboard in the first, Fister lured Alex Rodriguez into forcing Ibanez for the side. With two out in the second, Russell Martin, Jeter, and Ichiro singled back-to-back-to-back, but Cano hit one off Fister’s wrist that Peralta was able to spear swiftly and throw to get Cano by about a half step for the side. And, in the bottom of the sixth, Teixiera reached on an infield error, Ibanez doubled him to third, Nick Swisher walked an out later, but Fister swished out both Granderson (a three-pitch job) and Martin on big breaking balls to escape unscathed yet again.
Garcia would get even with the Yankees in the top of the eighth. Young lined a Derek Lowe service twelve seats left of the left field foul pole, after Lowe had spelled Pettitte in the seventh and pounded Cabrera with a three-pitch punchout to end the inning, and Peralta knocked Lowe out of the box with a long double. Boone Logan came in to dispatch Dirks on a first-pitch grounder to first but Garcia smacked a two-strike single up the pipe to score Peralta.
Then Coke and Joaquin Benoit kept the Yankees quiet in the bottom. It would be Detroit closer Jose Valverde, alas, who’d leave the ninth inning china closet to be ruined to be crashed by the Yankees. He fed Martin a fat enough pitch to dump into center for a leadoff single and, after getting Jeter on a swinging strikeout, fed Ichiro a pitch with just enough hit-me on it to drive just inside the right field foul pole.
One out later, Valverde fought Mark Teixiera to a walk after starting him with two neat called strikes. After Teixiera helped himself to second base on the house, Ibanez hit one into the right field bleachers to tie it up at four. It should have been a classic Yankee comeback after they’d gone into the record books against Fister—until Saturday night, the Yankees had never stranded the bases loaded that often in any single postseason game.
Jayson Nix took over for Jeter for the rest of the twelfth. Girardi says it will be either Nix or Eduardo Nunez, reinstated to the Yankee postseason roster in Jeter’s place, who’ll cover shortstop. A-Rod, who earned a closet full of Gold Gloves playing the position until he moved to third base upon becoming a Yankee, wasn’t even a topic in that regard.
“I wouldn’t do that,” Girardi told reporters. “It’s just been too long.”
It’s going to seem like a too-long haul for the Yankees without their mainstay at shortstop the rest of this postseason, however long they’re in it. And all of a sudden, enough analysts are shifting from the only-too-obvious—losing Jeter to a season-ending injury adding injury to the insult of a Game One ALCS loss—to the only too easily concluded: the Yankees aren’t anyone’s favourite to go all the way this year.
“That’s kind of been the theme all year,” Teixiera said of the Yankee injury bug that finally bit down hard on Jeter. “If one team is used to having guys step in to take someone’s place, it’s us . . . Unfortunately in sports guys go down all the time. Mo had a freak injury early in the season, that’s the greatest pitcher of all-time. He went down and we moved past it. You feel more sorry for the guys that get hurt, not yourselves. You don’t feel sorry for the team, for yourself. You feel sorry for Derek and Mo when they go down and cant contribute.”
Easy for him to say. This is Jeter, after all. This has been The Face of the Yankees since about the end of the first Clinton Administration, the late George Steinbrenner notwithstanding. Like the New York subways, Jeter is something New York, if not baseball, has taken for granted for about the same length of time. Even if he’s not half as cacophonous playing baseball, standing ovations to one side, as the IRT train that rattles behind Yankee Stadium.
All of a sudden Jeter no longer looks ageless, or invincible. And, all of a sudden, even Yankeeville can’t take him or, really, anything for granted any longer.