The fans were still filing into Yankee Stadium last night when Derek Jeter reached the milestone that was first on most fans' must-see list.
Jeter singled off the White Sox's Gavin Floyd to pass Lou Gehrig for first place on the all-time hits list at Yankee Stadium with 1,270. The hit, which came in a 6-2 Yankees' loss, was acknowledged by a lengthy ovation from the crowd of 52,558. The top step of the Yankees' dugout filled with players and coaches applauding Jeter's milestone, and the scoreboard flashed with the news.
"It's kind of hard to enjoy it because we lost the game," Jeter said. "I definitely appreciate everything the fans have done. They've been great my entire career."
Jeter stepped off first base for a moment, pulled his batting helmet off and raised it while he turned in a circle and waved to the crowd. Even after play resumed, the crowd continued to cheer for their beloved captain, chanting: "Der-ek Je-ter! Der-ek Je-ter!"
White Sox third baseman Juan Uribe attempted to backhand the hard-hit ground ball, but it went under his glove, and official scorer Bill Shannon ruled it a hit. Jeter would have passed Gehrig later, anyway, as he lined a single into rightfield in the fifth inning.
"He's a true Yankee," manager Joe Girardi said. "I think he embodies what baseball people want to see in a player. He does things the right way. He's important to the community. He's what you want in a person."
Jeter got that hit in his 8,002nd major-league at-bat, which moved him past Gehrig for second on the all-time Yankees' at-bat list behind Mickey Mantle (8,102). Jeter had nine hits in the three-game weekend series against the Rays, tying Gehrig in hits with a home run Sunday. He passed Gehrig just in time, with five games remaining at Yankee Stadium.
Yankees starter Andy Pettitte, a longtime teammate, said: "I'm just as happy as I could be for him. I just wish we had been able to win the game on a special night."
Jeter was reluctant to make too much of his accomplishment, given the team's loss and position in the standings. But he did keep the baseball and the lineup card, and said he was trying to keep in mind some advice from his parents, Charles and Dot. Said Jeter: "I was talking to my parents [Monday] night, and they said I need to sit down and enjoy it while it's happening."
Jeter's sister, Sharlee, and several friends attended last night's game.
Coincidentally, Jeter was named a finalist for the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award yesterday. Fans select finalists from a list of 30 (one per team), and players choose the winner, based on outstanding on-field achievement and extraordinary off-field accomplishment. The other finalists are the Mets' Carlos Delgado, the Twins' Justin Morneau, the Rangers' Michael Young, the Cardinals' Albert Pujols and the Giants' Barry Zito.
But Jeter's achievements were about all the Yankees could celebrate. The Yankees' inched closer to playoff elimination, remaining nine games behind the Red Sox for the wild card. Pettitte was just so-so yet again, giving up four earned runs, six hits and three walks in six innings. Pettitte gave up a solo home run to Alexei Ramirez in the third, then allowed three runs, three hits and three walks (one intentional) in the fourth. Pettitte (13-14) has just one win in his last 10 starts.
After being asked about sharing in the recent milestones of Jeter and Mariano Rivera, Pettitte said: "It's great to see guys who are Hall of Famers and unbelievable players, it's wonderful to seem them doing what they're doing. It's just sickening to see me doing what I'm doing out there right now."
A season-by-season breakdown of Derek Jeter's hits at the old Yankee Stadium:
Year Hits 1Bs 2Bs 3Bs HRs
1995 8 4 3 1 0
1996 86 69 11 3 3
1997 89 69 12 3 5
1998 104 78 14 3 9
1999 103 66 17 5 15
2000 101 78 13 2 8
2001 95 61 20 1 13
2002 84 62 14 0 8
2003 80 60 11 2 7
2004 101 64 25 1 11
2005 114 86 14 2 12
2006 105 77 19 1 8
2007 109 82 22 1 4
2008 92 74 14 1 3
singles 930 73.1%
2.4% triples 26
8%home runs 106