Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees bats in the...

Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees bats in the first inning against the Cleveland Indians. (June 26, 2012) Credit: Jim McIsaac

One day at a time.

That was Derek Jeter's mantra when he broke in with the Yankees in 1995. Those were the words that guided him through five World Series titles, 12 All-Star selections and his emergence as the active hits leader.

As he celebrated his 38th birthday and prepared to lead off against the Indians Tuesday night, his approach is same old, same old.

When it was pointed out to Jeter before the game that, with 3,181 hits, he owned 11 more than all-time leader Pete Rose did on the occasion of his 38th birthday, he preferred to live in the moment rather than contemplate his chances of overtaking Rose's record (4,256).

"I don't think about it. I really don't," he said. "I'm trying to figure out how to get hits today."

Sure enough, he stroked a two-out infield hit on a hot comebacker to starter Justin Masterson that was part of a three-run second inning. He also grounded out twice and struck out through his first four at-bats. He singled in the eighth and finished 2-for-5. He is batting .305.

Jeter, treated to a chant of "Happy Birthday!" by the Bleacher Creatures in the first inning, entered three hits shy of tying Cal Ripken Jr. for 13th place on the all-time list. Only Ty Cobb (3,666) and Hank Aaron (3,272) had more hits before they turned 38.

Don't look for the Yankees captain to say much about that, either.

"Like I say, I think about one day at a time," he said.

That single-minded focus may be what Joe Girardi admires most in Jeter. "The season is a long grind, and he's prepared to play every day," the manager said. "That's probably been the most amazing part."

Andy Pettitte, 40, said he walked away last year because he had lost the desire to go to the weight room and do everything necessary to be primed for each start. He has never known Jeter to struggle with his daily regimen.

"To see him be able to do it every year and get prepared the way he does, it takes a lot of dedication," Pettitte said. "I'm really happy for him."

Jeter recalled the carefree days of his youth, when his body was so limber he felt no need to stretch. Now, he admits the aches and pains linger. And stretching is only a small part of what he must do to remain a fixture in the lineup.

"It's more of a process. It's something you learn in time that you have to do," he said. "I don't want to say it's harder. It's just gotten longer."

If there is any loss of bat speed, if his range at shortstop is not what it once was, if time has taken its toll, Jeter does not seem to be aware of that.

"There is no noticeable difference, I don't think," he said.

Jeter is aware of the ticking of the clock. "I've always known you can't play forever, especially here where a lot of guys come and go," he said.

He offered no timetable for how much longer he might want to play. Because he boasts an American League-leading 95 hits, it is understandable that retirement is not even an afterthought.

"I've never prepared for the end of something," he said. "I just haven't done that."

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