Posada's HR removes conflict from Jeter - Newsday

Posada's HR removes conflict from Jeter

Derek Jeter gets a postgame hug from A-Rod Derek Jeter gets a postgame hug from A-Rod after the Yankees beat the Rays, 4-2. Jeter tied Lou Gehrig's career Yankees hits record in the game. Photo Credit: David Pokress

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Wallace Matthews Newsday columnist Wallace Matthews

Matthews writes on professional sports, with a specialty in professional boxing. ...

In addition to all the people Derek Jeter thanked for making last night special - the fans, his parents, his manager and his teammates as a group - he should add one more: Jorge Posada, his teammate and closest friend on the Yankees.

In fact, considering the way Jeter has approached his every at-bat of his entire career, maybe he should move Posada to the top of the list.

-FULL COVERAGE: Derek Jeter ties Lou Gehrig

If Posada hadn't sent Grant Balfour's eighth-inning fastball into therightfield seats, providing the Yankees with yet another come-from behind victory, what, exactly would have been the appropriate reaction from Jeter after finally having caught up to Lou Gehrig atop the list of all-time Yankee hit leaders?

"Throughout my career, I've only cared about one thing and that's trying to help us win games,'' Jeter said. "I've been told to try to enjoy these things but it makes it a lot harder when you don't win the game.''

If you doubt Jeter's sincerity on that subject, then you obviously haven't been paying attention for the past 14 years. Had Jeter left the ballpark with only Gehrig's scalp and not the Rays', he would not have been a happy Yankee. In fact, in his code, it would seem the only individual achievement he could truly allow himself to enjoy was the MVP award he won for the 2000 World Series, because winning that one meant his team had won, too.

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Thankfully, Posada spared Jeter from being torn between celebrating the seventh-inning single that drew him even with Gehrig at 2,721 hits or mourning a Yankee loss, even though it still would have left them 39 games over .500., eight games ahead of their nearest divisional rival and, with probably home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, the odds-on favorite to win their first World Series in nine years.

But that's the way Jeter is wired, to win, and there's no doubt that if the Yankees hadn't overcome the 2-0 hole Joba Chamberlain left them in after the first inning, it would have made for a very awkward postgame situation.

That would have been the strangest part of an already bizarre night in the Bronx, a night on which a bunt was cheered as if it were a game-winning home run and a walk was booed as if it were a beanball.

But then, how often does a player catch up to Gehrig? About as often as Jeter shows signs of being a mere mortal, which he did when he chose to lay down a bunt on the first pitch he saw from Tampa Bay starter Jeff Niemann.

And that hugely unpopular walk came in the eight inning, with Jeter at the plate and the crowd hoping for his fourth hit of the night, the one that would have relegated No. 4 to second-place behind No. 2.

By then, however, all was right in the Yankee world and Jeter & Co., could get back to such mundane pursuits as tying up the division and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and making sure no one gets hurt along the way.

Although he would deny it later, that bunt proved that the 0-12 collar he has been wearing since he and the Yankees returned home with a chance for him to eclipse the hit record was bugging him more than he or his manager would ever let on.

"I only did it because [third baseman Evan] Longoria was playing back,'' he said. "People ask if I was feeling the pressure, but it was really that I haven't been swinging the bat too well since we came home and sometimes when you're not swinging the bat well, just getting any kind of hit can help.''

>> View photos of Derek Jeter through the years as well as some of his most memorable moments in pinstripes.

>> Follow our coverage of Derek Jeter's pursuit of the record on Twitter and read what others are tweeting about him.

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>> To see how Newsday covered many of Jeter's greatest moments, click here.

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