David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
CHICAGO - The champagne bottle was waiting in the locker next to Derek Jeter, along with a handwritten note. But this wasn't another gift from the White Sox, who already had presented him a Yankee-themed bench and some dirt from U.S. Cellular Field.
No, the bubbly was a reminder of Jeter's pledge from a day earlier, something that seemed a bit far-fetched, even for a future Hall of Famer.
When Brian McCann told Jeter that the captain would get four hits in Saturday's game, Jeter laughed, saying if it happened, "I'll be spraying champagne all over everybody."
Jeter was off by one day.
So maybe it wasn't Babe Ruth's called shot, or Joe Torre assuring The Boss that his '96 Yankees would rally from an 0-2 hole to take four straight from the Braves. But at age 39 -- he'll be 40 in a month -- Jeter still has some magic left for this farewell season, and he sprinkled some around during his last visit to the South Side.
By the fourth inning, Jeter had three hits, including his first triple since 2011. With plenty of game left, Brett Gardner -- a witness to the McCann-Jeter exchange -- told Kelly Johnson to start tracking down the champagne. In the sixth, Jeter ripped a 95-mph fastball from reliever Javy Guerra back through the middle for an RBI single, giving him at least four hits in a game for the 45th time in his career.
"It's not easy what he's doing," Joe Girardi said. "It's not easy for anybody."
We've been accustomed to Jeter making the spectacular look simple, turning the remarkable into the routine. It hasn't happened quite as often the past two seasons, but Jeter still expects more from himself than we do. Just because we're not holding him to the Jeter standard doesn't mean he isn't. The four hits in Sunday's 7-1 win raised his average from .259 to .275, and when that was relayed to him, he pumped his fists with a playful "how 'bout that?"
Jeter was kidding around. A career .312 hitter, he isn't satisfied sitting in the mid-.200s. We don't know what his number is; Jeter wouldn't tell me Sunday when I asked. But you get the feeling he's not that close. Not yet. "I still have expectations," he said.
The only thing Jeter thought of upon reaching four hits was getting a fifth. But for the 39,142 fans -- a sellout crowd for only the second time this year at U.S. Cellular -- what more could they possible want? After the pregame ceremony, Jeter again was treated to a standing ovation with each plate appearance, and he returned the favor on a nearly perfect afternoon.
This was a vintage Jeter day. He turned Paul Konerko's hot liner into a nifty double play by catching Adam Dunn napping at second. On his triple, Jeter found another gear after slicing a drive past the diving Adam Eaton. Was he thinking three all the way? "Yeah," Jeter said. "I can still run, man."
Haven't we seen enough to know that these things are possible? The White Sox may have been wearing their '84 uniforms, but it was Jeter who gave us the throwback performance.
If someone had attended a game for the first time Sunday and had never heard of Jeter, could that fan have correctly guessed his age? "I'd say late 20s, early 30s," Girardi said. "You'd look up and see all of his credentials, you figure he had played for a little while."
Jeter's got more of those coming. Fittingly, he passed White Sox legend Luis Aparicio this weekend for the second-most games played at shortstop. With four more hits, Jeter is 57 away from catching Carl Yastrzemski (3,419) at No. 8 on the all-time list. Right above Yaz is Honus Wagner (3,420).
But with a chance to pick up the fifth hit, he whiffed on three pitches in the eighth. Then he was applauded on his way to the dugout.
When Jeter got back upstairs to the clubhouse, he saw the bottle and the note. After the scribbled quote about the champagne promise, a teammate had written, "Your Move, Derek."
Later, as he knotted his tie, Jeter smiled. "I will at some point," he said. He probably was thinking that October would be a good time.