With one emphatic shot that landed in the leftfield bleachers, Derek Jeter landed all by himself in the long and storied history of the Yankees.
When he hit a home run in the third inning Saturday , he became the first player to reach 3,000 hits -- a milestone considered the gold standard for major-league batters -- as a Yankee.
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The ball went into the seats not more than 100 feet from Yankee Stadium's Monument Park, where Jeter is sure to be honored someday alongside the greatest Yankees of the past.
Jeter's day could not have been more perfect. In addition to reaching 3,000 hits, he finished 5-for-5 and drove in the go-ahead run with an eighth-inning single that gave the Yankees a 5-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.
"It's a number that has meant a lot to the history of the game," Jeter said of 3,000. "To be the only Yankee to do anything is pretty special.
"This is the only team I ever wanted to play for," he added, "and to be the only one to do something like this, I don't really know if I can describe it."
Fans at Yankee Stadium cheered for five minutes for Jeter, who long has played at the intersection of the franchise's past and present. After he drove a 3-and-2 pitch from lefthander David Price deep into the stands, he rounded the bases and was greeted at the plate by the entire Yankees team. Each one hugged the captain, whose career records and popularity put him in the company of Yankees greats.
Jeter is only the 28th player to record 3,000 hits, a plateau that always has been synonymous with election to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The distinction was one of the few that had until Saturday been beyond the reach of the most successful team ever in the sport.
"You're talking about Babe Ruth to Yogi Berra to [Joe] DiMaggio to Mickey Mantle, all of those guys," said pitcher Mariano Rivera, who came up through the minors with Jeter and has been his teammate for five World Series championships with the Yankees. "None of those has 3,000."
Entering Saturday, Jeter had 2,998 hits and had only two games to attain the milestone at Yankee Stadium -- something Jeter, the team and the fans all dearly wanted -- before the team begins an eight-game road trip after the All-Star Break. Jeter, smiling, admitted yesterday evening that he had been lying when he had told the media he was not concerned about doing it at home.
In the first inning, he grounded a single to leftfield, which set up his at-bat in the third. It appeared that everyone in the sellout crowd of 48,103 was standing as he approached the plate. There were roars when the count reached three balls, two strikes and he hit two foul balls. The noise was piercing as he blasted a 78-mph curveball from Price well into the seats.
Before his two curtain calls, Jeter gestured to his parents, who were watching from a luxury suite.
Their son became only the second player to hit a home run for his 3,000th hit (former teammate Wade Boggs, who did it for the Rays in 1999, was the other). He also became only the second player to reach 3,000 during a five-hit game (former Kings Park High School star Craig Biggio was the other, in 2007).
At 37 years, 13 days, Jeter was the fourth youngest to reach 3,000 (behind Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron and Robin Yount). He is the 11th to have had all 3,000 hits with one team.
That he did it with a home run -- his third of the season and 237th of his career -- in front of the home fans was almost beyond belief.
"If I would have tried to write it," Jeter said, "I wouldn't have even bought it, to be quite honest with you. It was just one of those special days."