It takes a lot to make veteran major-leaguers shed their stoic façade, but the men in Yankees pinstripes were vibrating with excitement just like the fans whose cheers for Derek Jeter shook Yankee Stadium on Saturday. They knew they had been part of something special, watching Jeter homer for hit No. 3,000 and go 5-for-5 with what proved to be the winning hit in the eighth inning of a 5-4 victory over Tampa Bay.
Coming in with 2,998 hits, Jeter led off the first with a single on the eighth pitch of the at-bat. In the third, again on the eighth pitch, he hit a curveball from lefthander David Price into the leftfield seats to tie the score at 1 and reach a milestone no one in the Yankees' storied history had managed.
"I gave him a hug and told him I was proud of him,'' Posada said. "I got a little bit emotional because I was so happy for him . . . You know, 5-for-5 don't come easily. There's nobody better in the clutch. You guys have seen it in the postseason. Today was a perfect example of looking forward to that moment. It was amazing.''
Jeter, Rivera and Posada are steeped in Yankees history because they've made so much of it together. They understood what this moment meant to the franchise that had everything but a 3,000-hit man.
"Being the first one that has done it for the New York Yankees is tremendous,'' Rivera said. "You're talking about from Babe Ruth to Yogi Berra and [Joe] DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle and all those guys. None of them have 3,000, and then here comes Derek Jeter for so many years doing it during the season, playoffs, big games like today. To collect 3,000, he goes 5-for-5. I'm extremely happy for him.''
With a smile, Rivera thought of Jeter's grounder up the middle through a drawn-in infield that drove in Eduardo Nuñez with one out in the eighth to put the Yankees ahead 5-4. "He had the game-winning hit that gave me a chance to pitch,'' he said.
Rivera hadn't pitched since blowing a save last Sunday against the Mets because of tightness in his right triceps. He admitted feeling the pressure in the ninth when Kelly Shoppach sent a one-out shot soaring toward the 408-foot sign in deepest center, where Curtis Granderson caught the ball just before hitting the wall. "I didn't want to tell you what was going through my mind,'' Rivera said.
Jeter became only the second of 28 players with at least 3,000 hits to reach the magic number with a home run, joining Wade Boggs. "The impressive thing is his 3-2 count curveball that he stayed on and hit for the home run,'' Posada said. "He got a pitch that was very tough and hit it out. After that, the pressure comes off, and he gets three more hits.''
That was Jeter's first home run at the Stadium since July 22 last year, ending a streak of 286 at-bats without a homer at home. He also doubled and scored the tying run in the fifth, prompting Rivera to say, "I was expecting a triple because that's the way it is. I was hoping for that one.''
Jeter may have missed the cycle, but he left his teammates awestruck by the way he performed in such a big moment. "That was one of the coolest things I've ever seen,'' Nick Swisher said. "Not only 3,000 hits, but 5-for-5 with the game-winning knock . . . It was going to happen, but the way it happened today, it was definitely immortal."