The Yankees completed a four game sweep of the Rays tonight, using yet another comeback win to continue their dominant run through the season's second half and further crush the Rays now nearly non-existent post-season hopes. That wasn't the story of the game.
Trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the eighth inning, Jorge Posada came to the plate as a pinch hitter with one out and runners on the corners. He worked a full count, then blasted a go-ahead three run homer to right, giving the Yankees the only lead they would need all night. That wasn't the story of the game.
Derek Jeter, as you may have heard, came into this homestand needing just three hits to tie Lou Gehrig atop the Yankees' all time leaderboard. In the three games since, Jeter has gone 0 for 12, allowing that story to linger. And that was the story of tonight's game.
Jeter led off the bottom of the first. With Evan Longoria playing back, Jeter resorted to an old slump buster, dropping the first pitch down the third baseline for a bunt single. After grounding out in the third, Jeter came up again in the fifth, driving a 2-2 slider to deep center field for a ground rule double and bringing him within one of the Iron Horse.
In the seventh, Jeter came up with two outs, no one on, and the Yankees trailing 2-0. For the fourth time on the night, Rays starter Jeff Niemann threw Jeter a first pitch fastball. Jeter pounced on it, with his familiar inside-out swing, and punched a basehit through the right side. The ballpark and both dugouts erupted with a standing ovation. In a subtle, but poignant moment, YES showed Yankees Head Athletic Trainer Gene Monahan, in the Yankees organization since 1962 and in his current position since 1973, standing at the top of the dugout steps, applauding with the rest of the team.
Johnny Damon followed with a single of his own, making it appear that Jeter's historic hit might also be the start of a rally. But Mark Teixeira fanned to end the threat.
Aside from giving the Yankees the lead, Posada's one out homer in the eighth ensured that Jeter would get another plate appearance on the night. Jeter stepped in for his fifth plate appearance of the night with no one on and two outs. Jeter worked a seven pitch walk, much to the chagrin of the crowd and more the disappointment of Yankees' play-by-play man Michael Kay who has been painfully wringing ever last possible ounce of drama out of this chase. Hyperbolic even by his lofty standards, Kay called it "the most underrated walk in the history of baseball". Sure it is.
As for the rest of the game, Joba Chamberlain turned in a start that was rather representative of his 2009 season. He needed 32 pitches to get through the first inning, surrendering a leadoff home run to Jason Bartlett, two singles, a walk, a wild pitch, three strikeouts and leaving the Yanks in a two run hole before they even picked up a bat. Appropriately, a mound visit midway through the first from the man of evening seemed to change Joba's approach. Chamberlain settled down from there, throwing a perfect second and third inning and retiring the last eight batters he faced after the Captain's visit. With his pitch count at 55 through three, Joba's night was over, marking his third consecutive start of just three innings.
Alfredo Aceves followed and turned in an outstanding performance, going three shutout, hitless innings in which he allowed just a walk and K'd three. The Yankees still dormant bats prevented Alf from getting his 11th relief victory of the year. Jonathan Albaladejo then tossed two perfect frames to pick up the win, and Brian Bruney and Phil Coke combined to close out the ninth.
Derek Jeter is deservedly the man of the hour with his historic achievement coming tonight. However, this game, like so many other this year, was an impressive team effort in which several players - Jeter, Posada, Alf, Albaladejo, A-Rod, Hideki Matsui - all made important contributions to another Yankee victory.
Jeter will take his swings at the record on Friday night. Rest assured that tomorrow's off day will be flooded with talk about the impending accomplishment. We'll be here for you to discuss that and more. See you in the morning.