40° Good Afternoon
40° Good Afternoon
SportsColumnistsNeil Best

Bet against Jeter in second half? No way

Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees looks

Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees looks on after the eighth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium. (July 10, 2011) Credit: Jim McIsaac

It was the morning after, time for a sober assessment of what the previous day's party for the ages might mean in baseball terms for Derek Jeter between now and October -- and beyond.

After being asked about that several different ways, Joe Girardi finally turned the question on members of the media.

"Is he hitting .320 like he did in 2009? No, he's not," the Yankees' manager said before yesterday's 1-0 victory over the Rays. (Actually, he hit .334 in '09).

"But are you convinced that he can't hit .320 the second half? That would be my question to everyone in here."

Hmm. Tough but fair, Skipper! But after watching Jeter follow Saturday's 5-for-5 tour de force by going 1-for-4 with two strikeouts, a groundout and a bunt single against All-Star pitcher James Shields, it was equally fair to ask this of Girardi:

Are you convinced he can hit .320 in the second half?

There is a better chance he won't than he will, what with his current .270 average, identical to last year's career low.

But Girardi doesn't have much choice but to stick with Jeter and hope for the best, especially with the news Sunday that another future Hall of Fame infielder, Alex Rodriguez, will be out for a month or more.

Who knows? Betting against Jeter seems a little silly after Saturday's drama, including a home run for his 3,000th career hit.

If nothing else, he bought himself time at the top of the order, and bought his manager time to not be pressured into a move.

"The amount of times he's been on in the first inning is about 50 percent," Girardi said, "so I would be careful on how quick you are to judge him and doubt that he can still do it."

Girardi also said Jeter had been driving the ball well even before his mid-June calf injury. "Right now, he's my leadoff hitter," Girardi added.

(Fast fact: The only other guy with five hits on the day he reached 3,000, Kings Park High's Craig Biggio, finished that 2007 season batting .251. But he was 41 at the time.)

All of this is not among Jeter's favorite topics, of course, and if he thought Saturday put a temporary end to the dissection of his aging process, well, it lasted 20 hours or so.

When a reporter awkwardly began to ask him before Sunday's game about whether he expects the scrutiny to continue, he said, "Start over now."

When the follow-up began with "Given, frankly, your advancing age . . . ," Jeter said, "That didn't take long, huh?"

Finally, there was this: "Do you feel like the scrutiny will ease or it'll always be there?"

Said Jeter: "I don't pay attention to it. It depends on you. You're writing it. We'll end on that note." (Jeter did not speak to reporters after the game.)

Jorge Posada also dismissed the study of Jeter's decline mostly as a media obsession, saying: "What we feel about Derek Jeter hasn't changed. It's for you guys to answer that."

This being baseball, the numbers eventually will answer that. At 37, Jeter will be compiling them for several more years, with a good chance to surpass Tris Speaker's 3,514 hits and vault into the top five -- and with a good chance to have a few more moments like Saturday's.

Well, maybe not that good. Sunday's tidy 2-hour, 11- minute pitchers' duel was a reminder that not every day at the ballpark can be historic.

No one expects or needs that, though. The Yankees and their fans would settle for a Jeter somewhere between Saturday's superhero and Sunday's mortal.

Are most of us convinced Jeter can't do it? No. Are we convinced that he can? No.

See you Thursday, Derek!


We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.

New York Sports