Derek Jeter tried to approach each at-bat as if it were business as usual Saturday -- and wound up treating the sellout crowd of 48,103 not just to a historic afternoon but to a reminder of just how clutch a captain he really is.
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Yes, people will remember that Jeter became the 28th player to join the 3,000-hit club by hitting a solo homer off Tampa Bay lefthander David Price in the third inning. But he wasn't done rising to the occasion.
Jeter went 5-for-5, doubled and scored the tying run in the fifth and singled home what proved to be the winning run in the eighth in the Yankees' 5-4 victory. It was his third five-hit game and first since 2005.
The storybook day was almost too perfect, even for Jeter. "If I would have written and given it to someone, I wouldn't even have bought it, to be quite honest with you," he said.
A.J. Burnett was solid despite allowing a solo homer by Matt Joyce in the second and a two-run shot by B.J. Upton in the fourth that gave the Rays a 3-2 lead. He struck out nine in 52/3 innings, allowing three hits and three walks, and was in line to get the victory until David Robertson allowed Johnny Damon's leadoff triple and Ben Zobrist's tying single in the eighth.
But after Eduardo Nunez doubled to lead off the bottom of the inning and moved to third on Brett Gardner's sacrifice bunt, Jeter singled up the middle through a drawn-in infield. Mariano Rivera earned his 22nd save as the Yankees won for only the second time in six games.
Had the Yankees not won, the milestone wouldn't have been as sweet, Jeter said. "It would have been really, really awkward to be out there doing interviews and waving to the crowd after the game if we would have lost,'' Jeter said. "So that was going through my head in my last at-bat there."
Jeter joined former Kings Park High star Craig Biggio as the only players to record at least five hits in the same game in which they picked up No. 3,000. Jeter and former teammate Wade Boggs are the only players to reach 3,000 with a home run.
Jeter got to within 2,998 Thursday, but at that point, he was 4-for-18 since returning from a calf strain. Now he's 9-for-23 and his average is up to .270.
He led off Saturday's game with a single through the left side to cap an eight-pitch at-bat. "It was huge," Jeter said. "He could have thrown it in the dugout and I would have swung. I was not trying to walk. It's kind of a weird feeling. It's been like that for a few days . . . So definitely after getting the first hit, I was able to relax."
The fans shook the Stadium, raising their voices to near-deafening levels. That clamor intensified when Jeter stepped to the plate in the third. Amid "De-rek Je-ter!'' chants, at 2 p.m. on the dot, he scorched a drive well over the leftfield wall to tie the score at 1. It snapped a homerless streak of 286 home at-bats for Jeter, who hadn't homered in the Bronx since July 22, 2010.
As the ball headed for the bleachers, Yankees first-base coach Mick Kelleher, miked for sound by the YES Network, shouted: "That ball's out of here! That ball's out of here! Attaway, Jeet! Way to go! Love it! Love it!''
As Jeter reached first base and clapped his hands, Rays first baseman Casey Kotchman doffed his cap, then took a step back to make room for the shortstop as he headed toward second. Jorge Posada was the first to greet Jeter with a bear hug before he was enveloped by his teammates. The ovation and two curtain calls lasted about five minutes.
"I actually felt bad that the game had to stop, because you understand that [Price is] trying to win a game, they're trying to win a game," Jeter said.
Rays manager Joe Maddon likened Jeter to Cal Ripken Jr., whom he watched hit a home run when he broke the record for consecutive games played in 1995. "That's why they're so good. They rise to the occasion," Maddon said.
Now Jeter will be happy to see the spotlight shine on someone else. "It's been difficult," he said of the constant talk about his personal achievements. "You guys know I'd rather the focus be on our team. But it's great that our team's been winning. It's even better that we won today, and now we can move on."