David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
None of the Yankees had to see the X-ray film. Just looking at Derek Jeter, stretched out on the infield dirt, not even trying to climb to his feet again, told them everything.
Jeter just stayed down in the dirt. He barely moved. Not until Joe Girardi and trainer Steve Donohue propped him up on their own shoulders -- with Jeter's fractured left ankle dangling above the ground -- could they get the fallen captain to the dugout.
That was the 12th inning, the last stand for the Yankees in what would be a 6-4 loss to the Tigers in Game 1 of the ALCS. The remaining fans who populated the half-empty Stadium, well after midnight, stood in silent shock.
Wasn't it just three innings earlier that Raul Ibañez had delivered the tying two-run homer off Tigers closer Jose Valverde, once again snatching hope from almost certain defeat? But for all the joy Ibañez injected into this Bronx evening, the sight of Jeter, his face in obvious anguish, hit like a punch to the stomach.
The Yankees overcame plenty of hardship to win 95 games during the regular season, and somehow cobbled together enough offense to dispatch the Orioles in the Division Series. But having Jeter stolen for the remainder of these playoffs, in such cruel fashion, is different.
Jeter had played through it all. After he slammed one too many foul balls off his left foot, a bone bruise had developed, but that still didn't stop him. He would pull up lame occasionally, and even show a noticeable limp, but he never let on the extent of the damage.
"You either play or you don't," Jeter often said. "I'm playing, so there's nothing to talk about."
Jeter never showed up to his locker early Sunday morning after the game ended, and the last anyone saw of him was in the trainer's room, where Cashman gathered with a small group that included Joe Torre, Reggie Jackson and Tino Martinez, who hours earlier had thrown the ceremonial first pitch.
The game still was going on, and they knew how much it hurt Jeter not to be out there. Probably more than the fractured ankle did.
"Jeet has always been as tough a player as I've ever been around," Joe Girardi said. "Even when I was going to carry him in, he said, 'Don't carry me.' That's the kind of guy he is. You could see the disappointment in his face."
Jeter immediately realized he was severely injured but didn't want to face the reality of being lost for the remainder of the postseason. According to Cashman, as the group huddled in the trainer's room, the team's orthopedist, Christopher Ahmad, made a point of telling Jeter the extent of the damage -- and what that meant for him.
"You have a fracture and your season is over," Ahmad told him. "It's something you can't play through."
Now the Yankees have to figure out if they can. They said all the right things in the immediate aftermath. Eduardo Nuñez was added to the ALCS roster and Jayson Nix will take over at shortstop. Those are mere Band-Aids, however. Trying to patch this team's wounded psyche after suffering two heartbreaking losses in one night -- first Jeter, then the game -- will be a difficult task.
"The schedule doesn't stop for anybody to have emotions," Cashman said. "We have to sleep fast and take the field tomorrow. We have to find a way to plow through this. We have a lot of great players on this team and now it's time for other players to carry the load. It's time to honor Derek and keep fighting for him."
Before Ibanez's dramatic homer tied the scored in the ninth inning, Yankee Stadium was lifeless, dead. So, too, was the team itself. Once Jeter dived awkwardly to the ground, hearing a "pop" as Cashman said, the Bronx returned to that lifeless state. Without Jeter, the team's heartbeat, it's hard to imagine a pulse coming back. Not impossible, just that much harder.
"We've been through some disappointing time before this year and here we are," Girardi said. "We've only played on game and we have an opportunity to do something great. We have to find a way to get it done, just like we have all year long."
Only this time it will be without Jeter.