This time, Derek Jeter put only the baseball into the stands.
He jumped into a group of ecstatic teammates, instead, and with a far smoother landing.
Virtually invisible since his famous catch in the Yankee Stadium seats 17 days ago, the Yankees' highest-paid player delivered one of the biggest hits of the dynasty he helped construct. At 12:04 this morning, he sent a full-count, Byung-Hyun Kim pitch over the rightfield wall, giving his team a thrilling 4-3 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks in Game 4 of the World Series. His blast, coming one inning after Tino Martinez's two-out, two-run homer tied the contest, knotted this classic at two games apiece.
"The beauty of the postseason is it really makes no difference what you've done up to a certain point," Jeter said, "because every time you are at the plate, or every time you are in the field, you have an opportunity to do something special."
Jeter's special contributions this postseason were starting to grow mold. He came up with the two huge defensive plays in the American League Division Series against Oakland, the latter of which required him to dive into the third-base stands to catch a foul ball in Game 5 on Oct. 15.
While he had adamantly refused to blame that catch for his play since, the plummet in play is too large to label it a coincidence. He hit .118 (2-for-17) in the AL Championship Series against Seattle, and in the first three games of the World Series, he had just one hit in 11 at-bats (.091). "I kept telling you guys, I may have been scuffling, but I felt like I was hitting the ball better," Jeter said.
He hit the ball all right in his first at-bat last night, off Diamondbacks starter Curt Schilling, sending a line drive to shortstop. He didn't get the ball out of the infield in his next two at-bats, and when he led off the ninth against Kim, he tried to bunt for a base hit. Arizona third baseman Matt Williams threw him out.
The Yankees did tie the score in the ninth, of course, and in the 10th, Jeter came up with no one on and two outs. He worked the count full against Kim-it helped to see the sidearmer throw more pitches, he said-and he went the other way on the critical pitch, sending it to rightfield. "I had no idea whether it was going to go out," Jeter said.
From the dugout, Scott Brosius said, "I thought it was out, easy."
It cleared the wall, thrilling the Stadium, emptying the Yankees' dugout. With everyone in pinstripes awaiting him at home plate, Jeter leapt onto it to make the victory official four minutes into November.
Asked where this ranked in his career, he said, "Right now, it's pretty good. We've been spoiled over the years, but this was huge. We've been battling, and we really needed this game."