David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Derek Jeter was conspicuous by his absence Sunday at Yankee Stadium. There would be no clubhouse speech from The Captain, no news conference, no inspirational moment with Jeter, on crutches, emerging from a dugout tunnel to rally an otherwise moribund Stadium crowd.
It didn't happen because that's not who Jeter is. To Jeter, the game is everything, and if he can't compete, the last thing he wants is to be a sideshow. To Jeter, any attention paid to him -- by his teammates or otherwise -- would detract from what the Yankees' focus should be on, which was beating the Tigers in Game 2 of the ALCS.
With more tests scheduled on his fractured left ankle Sunday, Jeter had a built-in excuse to stay away from the Bronx, and the Yankees announced that their shortstop would not be traveling with them to Detroit for the middle segment of this series.
It's probably easier that way for Jeter, who surely has no interest in being anyone's charity case. But it's also easier for the Yankees, a team that still has an ALCS to play and now has to figure out how to do it with Jeter sidelined.
In a sense, that was Jeter's message. Forget me. Turn the page. Concentrate on the task at hand. Just as Jeter never uses injuries as an excuse -- "I'm great, let's go" is what he would say when asked by Joe Girardi -- this is no time for the Yankees to feel sorry for themselves.
They didn't when Mariano Rivers was lost for the season because of knee surgery. Girardi turned to Rafael Soriano, who answered the call by doing the best Rivera impression anyone could have hoped for, converting 42 of 46 save opportunities. Jeter's sub is Jayson Nix, a far less accomplished replacement than Soriano was for Rivera, but the best one available on Oct. 14.
For ALCS Game 2, the first playoff game without Jeter in the starting lineup since 1995, Girardi inserted Ichiro Suzuki in Jeter's vacated spot atop the batting order and essentially moved everyone else up, with Nix at the bottom. Aside from that, it was business as usual for the Yankees, who had to think about moving on in a hurry.
"He means a lot to this club and we understand that," Girardi said Sunday afternoon. "There are other guys that we have lost during the course of the season that meant a lot to our club, and we found a way. You are still throwing nine guys out there that are very capable. So we have to make it happen."
Jeter wasn't much for drama after he lay motionless in the dirt during the 12th inning of Saturday's 6-4 loss to the Tigers. He asked Girardi not to carry him off the field, but his fractured ankle required Girardi and trainer Steve Donohue to help him off, and the shortstop left to bellowing "De-rek Je-ter" chants before disappearing down the dugout steps.
Once inside, Jeter had a feeling he was finished even before the X-rays were examined. Propped up on a table in the trainer's room, surrounded by Brian Cashman, Tino Martinez and Joe Torre, he wasn't much for conversation.
"He really didn't say anything," Torre said. "Guys were coming in there after the game was over. He pretty much just sat there."
That had to be more painful than the fractured ankle. Knowing that beyond those clubhouse walls, the Yankees still were playing, and Jeter was powerless to help them. And if he couldn't scoop a ground ball or deliver one of his signature flare hits to rightfield, then Jeter would take himself out of the equation completely.
The common misconception about being a captain is that of a uniformed cheerleader. But it's not always the loudest voice in the room, or the most entertaining quote, that gets the message across. Sometimes being a captain is just doing your job well, day after day.
And when that's no longer possible, to step aside, to let the rest of the team go about their business in the same way you would have -- with a singular focus free of distraction.
Jeter certainly was in everyone's thoughts Sunday. The Bleacher Creatures even included him in their daily roll call.
It was a nice touch, but Jeter has never been one for sentiment or excuses. If he has demonstrated anything during his Hall of Fame career, it's the importance of playing the game, and above all, playing to win. In Jeter's mind, the Yankees would be much better off right now thinking about that rather than him.