David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991. Show More
With two hours to go before Game No. 157, Derek Jeter has plenty of things to worry about.
There's the fear that any step could be his last because of the bone bruise affecting his left ankle. The Orioles refuse to lose, and what if -- yes, it's within the realm of possibility -- the Yankees ultimately slip from the top spot in the AL East for the first time since June 10?
Does Jeter ever think about those things? About failure? About the possibility of stranding that tying run, of making the final out, of the Yankees losing when they need to win?
Everyone else does, to varying degrees. But Jeter forces those thoughts from his mind the best he can.
"You have to try," he said before Friday night's 11-4 victory over the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. "I haven't been around here this long by thinking negatively, you know what I mean? You have to think positively. You've got to try to keep as much negativity out as you can. I've always looked on the bright side of things."
As life strategies go, it's worked out pretty well. Five World Series rings, a spot waiting for him in Cooperstown, another in Monument Park. In the past few weeks, he's been mentioned in the same breath with Willie Mays after passing him for 10th on the career hit list.
But all of that doesn't stop the "butterflies," as Jeter referred to them Friday night, the pregame jitters that flutter around everyone's insides, just as they have for him since way back in 1996, his Rookie of the Year season.
Watching Jeter play the game is like looking down at the ocean's surface from 30,000 feet -- it appears smooth, without a ripple. That's an optical illusion, though. Jeter's calm exterior hides the anxiety he still feels in the early innings of these games, before the "butterflies" eventually call it a night.
"But that's good, though," he said. "When you have butterflies, that means you care. I think I'd wonder about myself if I didn't. If I stopped having butterflies, then I wouldn't play anymore."
Jeter, at age 38, makes it sound as if that day is nowhere close. Friday night, his sixth-inning single was hit No. 209, tops in the majors. The one at-bat he probably wanted back was in the second inning, when he grounded into a double play with none out and the bases loaded -- still good enough to get a run across.
Through it all, Joe Girardi holds his breath, wanting Jeter in the leadoff spot and playing shortstop, yet worrying about that bruised ankle for the same reasons.
There are times Jeter should decelerate, slow up, pump the brakes in an effort to save the tread on the ankle. But Girardi knows that's a lot to expect from someone who has played at one speed for 18 seasons.
When Girardi talks of these as "playoff games" because of the tight race with the Orioles, Jeter shrugs. It's still a game, right?
"Why is it any different than any other day?" he said. "If you have the approach that every game is important -- whether it's April or October -- nothing changes. It's a mind-set, man.
"You guys forget, when I first came up, our owner sent you down. They'd get rid of you. You don't do your job, they'll replace you. So I've always felt as though I was playing for my job, to keep my job. Nothing changes."
He has 152 postseason games under his belt, and the odds are good he'll rack up a few more. Which brings up the other thing motivating Jeter at this time of year -- and that's as enjoyable as it's always been.
"I like to win," he said. "I like to be in a position to win, therefore it's fun. It doesn't get any more fun than where we are right now."