BOSTON - Derek Jeter said it himself.
If the Yankees were finishing the regular season anywhere other than historic Fenway Park, Sunday would not have happened.
Sunday, meaning the final game of his career.
That would have left his last career at-bat Thursday's ninth-inning masterpiece, a first-pitch inside-out swing that delivered an RBI single to right to beat the Orioles, 6-5, and create a noise at Yankee Stadium that very well might have surpassed even that heard during the 2009 World Series.
"You couldn't have scripted it any better," Jeter said afterward during an emotional news conference.
But in announcing that his career script at shortstop ended Thursday night at the Stadium, Jeter said there would be a few additional lines written this weekend at Fenway Park. He, for the first time in his career, asked for a day off Friday.
"I couldn't have played today," Jeter said late Friday afternoon.
But he suited up at designated hitter Saturday, going 1-for-2, and will do so again Sunday, despite very much mentally and physically seeming to have checked out on the season.
And, it needs to be said, no one blames him if that is the case.
"I'm not sure what I would have done if I was him," Joe Girardi said Saturday. "I'm not so sure I wouldn't have let that be my last moment. I think he's a guy that feels a real responsibility to the game and I think that's a part of his reason for playing today. But you know, it's a pretty perfect ending the way it ended in New York."
Jeter, above all else, knows the atmosphere and emotion of Thursday can't be duplicated Sunday afternoon at Fenway, regardless of how the day goes.
"I can't imagine it being like it was in New York and that has nothing to do with where I am," Jeter said of Boston. "I can't imagine it because that's pretty much as good as it gets for me."
Accolades pour in
For outgoing commissioner Bud Selig, too.
"What would I say about Derek? In an era where few heroes exist, over a 20-year span, he represented the sport and himself in an absolutely magnificent way," Selig said Saturday at Fenway. "We are blessed in baseball to have somebody who becomes the face of our sport. He is the face of our sport. And that face transcended everything else. Ford Frick was right about Stan Musial and I feel the same way about Derek Jeter. I cannot tell you the meaning of that game the other night. It has really affected me profoundly."
Jeter's legacy, of course, can only be burnished by what occurs in his final at-bat Sunday, certainly not tarnished. If the result is a positive, the at-bat quickly will become part of his lore. If he strikes out or grounds out or pops out, etc., the passage of time will redact two ho-hum days of DH from fans' minds and Thursday's sharp single to right will take its place as their "final game" memory.
For his teammates, the longest tenured of whom only go back to the 2008 season, the memories will be that and more.
"He's just a clutch player, somebody that's really comfortable in his skin," said CC Sabathia, who signed with the Yankees before the 2009 season, one that ended with a World Series crown, Jeter's fifth. "He knows how good he is, knows what his abilities are and works at it every day. Just cool to have him behind you. I've had a chance to play with some good players but none as good as he is."
Sabathia said his favorite memory of Jeter came at the start of the 2009 playoff run in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Twins. The lefthander, making his first career postseason start for the Yankees, allowed two runs in the top of the third to the underdog Twins, putting the Bombers in a 2-0 hole.
"Walking off the field he said, 'don't worry I got you,' " Sabathia said. "He comes up, hits a homer to leftfield . I never see him pull balls. It just kind of gave me the chills and got me ready, and we kind of took off from there."
Brett Gardner, who along with David Robertson are Jeter's longest-tenured teammates on the current roster, both having made their big-league debuts in 2008, said he's long marveled at the shortstop's daily preparation and even-keeled mood.
"Coming to the field every day he's the same person, doesn't matter if the team's been playing well, on a 10-0 run or a 2-8 run, he's the same guy every day," Gardner said. "It's pretty important in your captain and your leader to be able to look at him and for him to have that poise and to be that calm and cool under pressure."
Brian McCann, a former Atlanta Brave in his first year with the Yankees, said Jeter lived up to his reputation.
"He's everything that you see across the diamond," McCann said. "His preparation for this game is unmatched and when you come in here and you see him work on a daily basis, it's a privilege."
Mark Teixeira, like Sabathia part of the big free-agent class brought in before the 2009 season, called playing with Jeter "one of the great blessings of my baseball career."
"He's been such a great ambassador for the game of baseball," Teixeira said. "You see what baseball's done the last 20 years and the growth, Derek Jeter's a big reason for that."
Said Gardner: "It's been special. It's probably something that I don't appreciate as much as I should right now and once it's over and done with down the road, I know it's something that I'll look back on and really appreciate . . . He's meant a lot not just to this organization but the game of baseball. I tell kids all the time that he's a great role model and he is who they expect him to be and who they think he is."
Chase Headley, though only with the club since July 22 and talking about the leadership void that will be created by Jeter's retirement, nonetheless captured the overall perspective of Yankees fans best.
"Not saying that there aren't some other guys in the clubhouse that could step up and lead but you're not replacing him, you might as well just acknowledge that and not try to because it's not possible," Headley said. "To become that kind of leader, to become that respected in the clubhouse, obviously by other clubhouses, by the fans all around baseball, it takes a lot of time to do that.
"Obviously, next year will be a different year and there will be different players and there will be different personalities and I'm sure there will be some guys that have an opportunity to step up, but you're not replacing what that guy does."