Impending trouble was obvious to 25-year-old Tampa Bay Rays lefthander David Price from the moment he arrived at Yankee Stadium early Saturday.
"It was everywhere,'' he said. "I mean, walking out of the tunnel and looking at the boxes and all the signs, 'Congratulations, Jeter.' ''
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The baseball provided to Price when Derek Jeter stepped to the plate in the third inning was specially marked with a "J-3,'' Price noticed, in the event Jeter struck his 3,000th career hit during that at-bat. "You've got 50,000 people screaming for Jeter to get a hit,'' Price said.
Having allowed Jeter's 2,999th hit on a first-inning single, Price certainly knew what could be next. "But I really didn't care if the guy got [the 3,000th] off me," he said, "as long as he didn't drive in a run or score a run. And he did all those things."
Jeter's solo home run into the leftfield seats tied the score at 1.
Approached by reporters about his unwilling ride in the Jeter magical history tour after the game, Price smiled, then pulled the hood of his navy blue sweatshirt over his head, like a man headed to the gallows.
He had given up a homer to Jeter -- hardly a home run hitter -- in his major-league debut, Price reminded, on Sept. 14, 2008, at the old Yankee Stadium. That was the first hit off Price in the major leagues, and it tied Jeter with Lou Gehrig for the most hits at Yankee Stadium. Jeter broke the record later in the game.
"I'd rather not be the answer to this trivia question,'' Price said, "but I am. It's tough, but he's one of the best hitters who ever played baseball, so he was going to do it to somebody, and it just happened to be me.''
Price threw a 3-and-2 curveball and Jeter made it quickly disappear. "Left it up a bit,'' Price said. "It's all kind of a blur right now. I'm going to say it was a bad pitch.''
A former No. 1 draft pick of the Rays out of Vanderbilt University, Price is in his fourth big-league season. Entering the game, he had given up 405 hits in 475 innings and had an outstanding 37-20 record with a 3.37 ERA. Jeter had been just 6-for-25 (.240) against him. No easy touch.
He certainly liked the idea of pitching before a full house (48,103) in what he called "the grandest stage in baseball, one you want to play on.''
In the end, he was pragmatic, if not thrilled with the outcome.
"He's going to get that hit eventually,'' Price said. "I'm glad we don't have to deal with this [Sunday] for [James] Shields. He's Derek Jeter; he's done this to a lot of guys. He has -- what? -- 3,003 hits now? On his way to four thousand. At the end of the day, all I can do is tip my cap.''