BALTIMORE - There was a time when we cared where Derek Jeter hit in the Yankees' lineup. Actually, let's rephrase that. When we thought dropping him from the No. 2 spot might help a struggling team generate a little more offense.
Not anymore. That's over now. With the Yankees all but eliminated from playoff contention, even after Saturday's gritty 3-2 win over the Orioles, we're beyond debating where Jeter should spend his final two weeks before retirement.
Starting with Sunday night's farewell ceremony at Camden Yards, the Yankees will be in full Jeter mode during this last stretch, with another fete Tuesday at Tropicana Field and what should be a fun Red Sox sendoff Sept. 26-28 at Fenway Park.
So we're going to stop worrying about whether Jeter remains a difference-maker or not and simply enjoy the ride.
Ten days ago, when we brought up the idea of moving Jeter, it was hardly a new concept. But we also asked him if he would ever consider telling Joe Girardi to forget about the whole retirement thing and just do whatever he felt was necessary to help the Yankees make a serious push in September.
Jeter wasn't a fan of the question. He told me it was his job to play, not determine who bats where in the lineup.
Understood. Loud and clear.
But we also didn't expect Jeter to go into the nosedive he has since then. His hitless streak reached 20 at-bats Saturday after he went 0-for-3 with a walk.
In the third, Jeter smoked a line drive back at Miguel Gonzalez and was robbed when he made a nifty grab, mostly in self-defense. That's how it goes with slumps -- some terrible luck mixed in with the bad.
But for Jeter, who has always been one of the brightest stars on the biggest stage, the dimming of that light is a bit harder to watch. His 2014 average has slipped to .251, and his career average is down to .310 from where it began at .312 on Opening Day.
Jeter didn't stick around at his locker after the game, probably figuring that he wasn't one of the key protagonists in the victory. Brian McCann hit his 19th home run and Chris Young, who seems to be in the middle of everything these days, doubled and scored what proved to be the winning run by stealing home.
But Girardi tried to explain Jeter's unfortunate run of late, denying that it had anything to do with getting drilled on the hand and elbow in the past six weeks or the 40-year-old shortstop being fatigued. The hard-hit balls are getting fewer and further between, but what choice does Girardi have other than to just hope for better bounces?
"We don't get so caught up in what the numbers are," Girardi said. "You look at the at-bats, because sometimes you can be swinging horrible and you're getting hits, too. It can go the other way. I thought he hit a ball on the screws [Friday] night. He hit a couple well today and didn't have much to show for it."
In his last 31 games, Jeter has a slash line of .169/.205/.194 with five walks and 16 strikeouts in 133 plate appearances. His .300 slugging percentage is the worst in the majors among qualifying hitters. Those aren't Jeter numbers.
What does it all mean in the final equation? Not much, I guess. Jeter deserves to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer and has been treated like one every step toward his retirement. The fact that he's played more games (132) than anyone else on the Yankees but Jacoby Ellsbury (143) and Brett Gardner (135) is remarkable. And that includes 121 games at shortstop, a high-impact position we didn't think his surgically repaired ankle could handle for an entire season.
Girardi has remained loyal, Jeter, but he's also had a built-in alibi: Most of the lineup has been worse. Tinkering with a Yankees legend was pointless. The juice wasn't worth the squeeze.
The Yankees didn't fail this season because Jeter didn't have the kind of year we're used to celebrating from him. Maybe we just wanted a better farewell party for him and ran out of suggestions on how to make it happen.
Right now, we'll settle for a memorable two weeks.