It's never about the numbers for Derek Jeter

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Yankees' Derek Jeter, right, runs to first base

Yankees' Derek Jeter, right, runs to first base on a drop third strike as Chicago White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers looks to a throw during the fourth inning at U.S. Cellular Field on May 22, 2014 in Chicago. Photo Credit: AP / Nam Y. Huh

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David Lennon David Lennon has been a staff writer for

David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.

CHICAGO - The ritual has been the same in every ballpark this season. It was no different Friday night at U.S. Cellular Field.

Derek Jeter's name is announced. The crowd gives him a standing ovation that lingers until the Yankees' captain steps to the plate.

Unlike with Mariano Rivera's 2013 farewell tour, this happens for Jeter multiple times each game, making him the rare player to be celebrated on a daily basis just for showing up.

But Jeter's not fooled by the affection. He's not tricked into thinking everyone will look past the on-field warts for the sake of ceremony, a few parting gifts and a cheery send-off. Some can. But plenty of others won't, and count Jeter in that latter group.

He's been at this for two decades in New York, long enough to remember a time before the Yankees' dynasty years. Five World Series rings later, the expectations have changed dramatically for Jeter and the Yankees as a whole. Even with his retirement only a few months away, that's not going to stop.

"It was different when I came up because we hadn't won," Jeter said before going 2-for-4 in Friday night's 6-5 walk-off loss to the White Sox. "Whereas now everybody expects you to win. Now it's a dissection of what you're doing wrong."

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No player currently wearing pinstripes feels that more acutely than Jeter because he's the only one left from the boom years. And he's the face of the Yankees' incredible 20-year run of prosperity, a future Hall of Famer and the modern-day link to the likes of Mattingly, DiMaggio, Mantle and Ruth.

It's a high standard, and maybe Jeter is more conscious of such things with his 40th birthday around the corner. He refuses to make a concession to age or the severe ankle injury that cost him nearly all of the 2013 season, but the numbers don't lie.

Jeter entered Friday night hitting .261 -- far below his career .312 mark -- and his 0.1 WAR was tied for 21st with the Rays' Yunel Escobar among the 25 qualifying shortstops.

Jeter ranked 20th in defensive runs saved at a minus-2. By comparison, Troy Tulowitzki was No. 1 with a plus-12.

That's nothing new for Jeter, who's never been a darling of the defensive metrics. But we've wondered what kind of player Jeter would be after he announced his retirement in February, and he insists we don't have our answer yet.

"I'm never where I want to be at," Jeter said. "Really, I never am. There's always room for improvement, you know? But I'm headed in the right direction is the best way to put it. I always think that you can do things better and you can improve. Just waiting for the period where you get hot."

Health is the one area in which Jeter has surpassed expectations. Aside from a sore quadriceps muscle, he's looked fine, and on Friday night he tied Luis Aparicio for the second-most games played at shortstop with 2,583. He won't catch Omar Vizquel (2,709), but Jeter owns the record for most games at any single fielding position without playing another one.

"It's not only a credit to him but a credit to the Yankees that they decided, this is our guy," Joe Girardi said. "You have to give credit to both sides because Derek lived up to the long-term contract and the Yankees were rewarded for that."

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After so many years together, it's tough to get too critical of Jeter. From a purely baseball standpoint, of course, there has been a regression. Jeter is playing one of the sport's most physically demanding positions. At the same time, he's chasing his own legacy and trying to keep pace with players almost a generation younger.

"I've always been a believer, if you feel good, the numbers will follow," Jeter said. "I'm starting to feel good, so the numbers will be there."

On Friday night, Jeter delivered one of his classic inside-out singles to rightfield in his first at-bat. When he scored on Brian McCann's three-run homer, Jeter pushed past Lou Gehrig for second place on the Yankees' list with 1,889 runs.

Next up? Alex Rodriguez with 1,919. Remember him? As Jeter keeps reminding us, there can be more important things than numbers.

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