‘Hart of the Order’
By Sean Hartnett
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Derek Jeter doesn’t do normal. He doesn’t know the meaning of the word ordinary.
With Eminem’s “Square Dance” shouting the lyrics “It’s so good to be back” over the public-address system on Sunday, Jeter stepped to the plate amid a rousing standing ovation from the Yankee Stadium crowd.
The cheers grew louder when Jeter connected on the first pitch he saw from Tampa starter Matt Moore. Via his trademark “inside-out” swing, Jeter delivered an opposite-field home run.
Despite missing 103 regular-season games, Jeter’s bat appeared to be in midseason form. In his second at-bat, Jeter scorched a line-drive off the glove of Rays second baseman Kelly Johnson.
He later grounded out in two consecutive at-bats, one of which he probably would have reached on had the Yankees allowed him to run at full speed. Jeter had been instructed by manager Joe Girardi to protect his leg by dialing back his baserunning speed.
That’s something completely new to Jeter, who is renowned for his mental toughness. We’ve seen Jeter knowingly dive into the stands, play on a hobbled leg and give every fiber of his being for the Yankee cause.
Jeter always busts it out of the box. It was unusual and uncomfortable for him not to be giving it 100 percent down the first-base line.
“I don’t want to learn how to do it,” he explained. “I understand I have to do it, especially the first week or two. I feel awful doing it. I don’t like doing it. I hope nobody watches me do it.”
The Yankees’ captain lives by Joe DiMaggio’s famous words: “Because there is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first time, I owe him my best.”
There’s always been this intangible quality about Jeter. You can’t quite put your finger on it. It’s hard to quantify what gives Jeter the supernatural ability not to feel pressure and rise whenever the Yankees desperately need a spark.
That’s exactly what Jeter did on Sunday. He breathed life back into a Yankees team that has struggled to score runs in the month of July. Before Sunday’s victory, the Yankees were mired in nine-game homerless drought.
Suddenly, the Yankees became a run-scoring force by charging a talented lefty in Moore with five earned runs in five innings.
With the score tied, 5-5, in the bottom of the ninth, Rays manager Joe Maddon intelligently intentionally walked Jeter after Jake McGee’s wild pitch allowed Brett Gardner to advance to second base. Robinson Cano watched a third strike.
Recently-acquired Yankee Alfonso Soriano capped a 4-for-5 day by driving in Gardner with a walk-off infield single.
“It was almost like old times,” Jeter stated after the game.
Soriano was the hero on Sunday, but the reintroduction of Jeter has given the Yankees and their fans genuine belief. It did feel like old times for Yankee fans, and it was all started by Jeter’s magic spark.
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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