BOSTON - Derek Jeter, understandably, was too exhausted to be in the Yankees' starting lineup Friday night at Fenway Park.
Coming off a few hours' sleep, and the most emotionally draining 24 hours of his baseball life, Jeter was spent. For once, he made no effort to conceal it.
"I don't think I could have played," Jeter said.
We were still tired from the simple act of watching his heart-stopping heroics the night before in the Bronx. But to live through that experience? It surprised us that Jeter was able to keep his eyes open for the entire 20-minute news conference.
Sitting out Friday night's game was a no-brainer.
And really, ending his career with that walk-off single in the Bronx should be, too.
We understand the significance of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. We're quite familiar with how special a place Fenway Park is. Heck, we know people forked over big bucks for tickets for this weekend and whatever Jeter memorabilia it spawns.
But Jeter ultimately is the master of his domain, and there's nothing to be gained by dutifully pulling on road grays for two more games, especially if it's for a handful of DH trips.
Few players truly get to exit the stage on their own terms. But what Jeter did Thursday night at Yankee Stadium was a masterpiece, his Hamlet or King Lear. When the curtain comes down on that type of performance, you take your bows and walk away. All that's left is the mike drop.
As soon as Jeter's arms went up, and the Yankees mobbed him on the infield dirt, we figured it was over. Jeter would abandon his plan of DH duty at Fenway. There were no more mountains to climb. Even after Jeter told us he had retired as a shortstop, but would take DH swings in Boston, we still envisioned a scenario in which he could change his mind.
Who would blame Jeter if he did? Thursday night was a once-in-a-lifetime moment, a fantasy made real. It was big enough to close a Hall of Fame career on -- and not just the Bronx half. "That's pretty much as good as it gets," he said. "You couldn't have scripted it any better."
Then we say frame that memory. Hang it on the wall like a Monet. Resist the urge to finger paint a few more water lilies. What's the best thing that can happen this weekend? A couple more hits?
How about the worst thing? Say Jeter underestimates just how wiped he's feeling and struggles during his handful of at-bats. Does anyone want to see him go down swinging on a meaningless weekend at Fenway, of all places? An objective observer may consider this ballpark to be a national treasure, but to Yankees fans, it's enemy territory. And they don't want to see their hero humbled in the shadow of the Green Monster.
What's so wrong with the perfect ending? Why mess with success? Jeter choosing to play this weekend is like holding an ace and king and harassing the blackjack dealer for another card. But when a reporter asked Jeter if he might reconsider his decision to DH for the final two games, the Yankees' captain stood firm.
"You want me to say that's it?" Jeter said. "No. My plan was always to play here. I have the utmost respect for the Red Sox organization and their fans here. I would love to come and play here one last time."
St. Patrick's Day matinees at Steinbrenner Field feature more major-league players than the two teams did Friday night at Fenway. This weekend threatens to test the boundaries of meaningless. Yet a weary Jeter is about to insert himself into it.
A year ago, Mariano Rivera realized the needle was on "E" and passed on taking the mound in Houston -- along with the dream shot of playing centerfield. It felt like the right thing to do. Listening to Jeter, you get the sense he's being tugged in two different directions.
Playing now seems more like an obligation. To all of us, still dizzy from Thursday's adrenaline rush, Jeter's brilliant career ended that night in the Bronx.
Perfection doesn't need an encore.