Derek Jeter entered the 2011 season 74 hits shy of becoming the first player to reach the 3,000-hit milestone while wearing a New York Yankees uniform.
Based on his career tendencies,1 it looked as if Jeter would reach that mark during New York’s homestand between June 7 and 16, and sure enough, he entered the second series of that stretch 10 hits from 3,000.
Then, a rarity happened.
A calf strain sidelined Jeter during the final game of a four-game series with the Cleveland Indians on June 13, putting his pursuit of 3,000 hits on hold at 2,994.
“It’s a little bit frustrating, but even if I wasn’t at this point, I’d still be frustrated,” Jeter said. “I don’t like not (being able) to play whether it’s going for 3,000 hits or 100 hits.”4
After rehabbing at New York’s spring-training site in Tampa and for two games with the Double-A Trenton Thunder, Jeter returned to big-league action on July 4 in Cleveland and collected three hits in three games. He and his teammates returned to Yankee Stadium for a four-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays, which led into the All-Star break, and Jeter notched his 2,998th hit in the opening game.
In the second game of the series, on July 9,5 Jeter had one of the finest games of his career, thrilling a sellout crowd of 48,403 with one of the most memorable 3,000th hits in history – and then some.
He worked a full count against Rays All-Star starter David Price before he rapped a single to lead off the bottom of the first for hit number 2,999, then waited through seven pitches and chants of “Der-ek Je-ter!” before unloading on a hanging curveball from Price for a home run to the left-field bleachers in the third inning.
Jeter, who wore number 2, became the second player to homer for his 3,000th career hit. It was his second hit of the game in his second straight at-bat, at precisely 2 P.M.6 He continued on to finish 5-for-5 and drove in the winning run in the eighth inning of New York’s 5-4 victory.
“If I would have tried to have written it and given it to someone,” Jeter said of how he became the 28th player in major-league history to get 3,000 hits, “I wouldn’t even buy it, to be quite honest with you.”7
Former teammate Johnny Damon, who was Tampa Bay’s starting designated hitter and leadoff batter, disagreed, saying the game featured another typical Jeter moment: “This is definitely a storybook game for him. Hopefully he can act very well and hopefully he can play himself in his own movie. That’s the type of day this was.”8
Jeter was the first player to reach 3,000 hits since 2007, when Craig Biggio of the Houston Astros became the first major leaguer to uncork at least five hits in the game in which he reached the milestone. Jeter was the third full-time shortstop to collect 3,000 hits9 and the first player to get number 3,000 at Yankee Stadium.
“I just wanted to hit a ball hard,” said Jeter, who turned 37 during his rehab assignment and became the fourth-youngest player to reach the milestone.10 “I didn’t want to hit a slow roller to third and have it replayed over and over.”11
Instead, it’s a home run and a catch by Yankees fan Christian Lopez that’s played over and over. Lopez, who was 23 years old at the time and carried more than $100,000 in student loan debt, opted to return the ball to Jeter rather than sell it for an estimated $50,000 to $100,000.
“I have friends who have called me crazy for doing it. I know I did the right thing,” Lopez said of returning the ball, an act which was rewarded by the Yankees with four luxury box seats for the remainder of the season and the postseason, along with other memorabilia. “It never crossed my mind to not give it back. I’m only 23. I’ve got plenty of time to make money.”12
Outside of Jeter’s milestone, the game also marked an important step for both teams, which were entrenched in a midseason battle for the American League East Division lead with the Boston Red Sox.
After a seven-game winning streak from June 25 to July 2 pushed the Yankees 2½ games ahead in the division, they lost four of five to fall behind the Red Sox, while the Rays had won 13 of 19 to get within 3½ games of the division lead. Both the Yankees and Rays hoped to build some momentum going into the All-Star break, and the see-saw game that was played on July 9 showed all involved were serious about contending.13
Matt Joyce put the Rays on the board in the top of the second with a solo home run to right. After Jeter evened the score with his homer in the third, Curtis Granderson walked and Mark Teixeira singled before Robinson Cano struck out. Russell Martin followed with a single to left to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead.
Jeter’s home run was the first he had hit at home since July 22, 2010, and his second milestone moment that came at Price’s expense.
“I wasn’t happy for the guy, but I was happy for the guy,” said Price, who allowed a home run to Jeter the first time they faced each other on September 14, 2008, which moved Jeter into a tie with Lou Gehrig for the most career hits at Yankee Stadium (1,269). “That’s the type of player he is. He steps up in big moments.”14
“I didn’t really care if he got it off me as long as he didn’t drive in a run or score a run,” Price added, “and he did all of those things in that one at-bat.”15
Ben Zobrist led off the fourth for Tampa Bay with a walk, and Melvin Upton hit a two-out, two-run homer to right to push the Rays ahead 3-2. In the bottom of the fifth, Jeter slashed the first pitch of the inning for a double down the left-field line, and Granderson followed with an RBI single to right. Teixeira kept the rally going with another single, and Granderson scored on a sacrifice fly to left by Cano for a 4-3 Yankees lead.
New York threatened with runners in scoring position in the sixth and seventh innings but couldn’t extend the lead. The Rays were held hitless throughout the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings, but got to Yankees reliever David Robertson when he came in for the eighth.
Damon led off with a triple to right-center, and Zobrist pushed a single to center to knot the score at 4-4.
Robertson escaped the jam by stranding runners at first and second, and New York’s offense bailed him out in the bottom of the eighth. Eduardo Nunez, a third baseman who started at shortstop and hit .339 while Jeter recovered from his calf injury, led off with a double, moved to third on Brett Gardner’s sacrifice, and scored when Jeter poked his fifth hit of the game – another single – into center field.
“It would have been really, really awkward to be out there doing interviews and waving to the crowd after the game if we would have lost,” Jeter said after the third five-hit game of his career fell a triple short of the cycle. “So that was going through my head in my last at-bat.”16
New York closer Mariano Rivera worked a scoreless ninth to notch his 22nd save. Robertson moved to 2-0 with the victory for the Yankees (52-35), while Tampa Bay reliever Joel Peralta took the loss and fell to 2-4 for the Rays (49-40).
Yankees starter A.J. Burnett struck out a season-high nine in 5⅔ innings. He allowed three earned runs on three hits and three walks. Price exited after five innings with three strikeouts and allowed four earned runs on seven hits and three walks. It was just the fourth time in 19 starts in 2011 that Price had failed to get into the sixth inning.
And while the pitching matchup didn’t elicit much excitement before or during the game, fans were in attendance to see Jeter. The lifelong Yankee and five-time World Series champion didn’t disappoint in again planting his name in the franchise record book.
“It’s a number that has meant a lot in the history of the game because not too many people have done it,” Jeter said. “To be the only Yankee to do anything would be special. If I were the leader in strikeouts, I’d be happy about it because so many have played here. This is the only team I’ve wanted to play for, and to be the only one to do something like this, I don’t know if I can even describe it.”17
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, I used the Baseball-Reference.com, Stathead.com, and Retrosheet.org websites for statistics and team information. I also viewed the HBO documentary Derek Jeter 3K.
1 Throughout Jeter’s first 15 full seasons, he collected his 74th hit, on average, in the 60th game of his season. The fastest he reached the mark was 51 games in 1999 and the slowest was 78 games in 1996.
2 The day Jeter was injured marked his 2,359th game since making his major-league debut on May 29, 1995. Teammate Alex Rodriguez was second in games played since 1995 with 2,346, and Johnny Damon was third with 2,338. By the end of 2011 season, Jeter and Damon were tied for first with 2,426 games.
3 Jeter had brief stints on the disabled list in 1998, 2000, and 2001, and also suffered a separated shoulder on Opening Day in 2003, costing him 36 games.
4 Erik Boland, “Injury Halts Jeter’s 3,000 Quest,” Hartford Courant, June 15, 2011: C5.
5 The July 9 game was supposed to be the third game of the series, but the previous night’s game was rained out and rescheduled as part of a doubleheader on September 21.
7 Art Stapleton, “Turns Pressure Into Perfection: 5-for-5 Day,” Passaic (New Jersey) Herald-News, July 10, 2011: C1.
8 Roger Mooney, “Captain 3,000,” Tampa Tribune, July 10, 2011: Sports 5.
11 Bill Madden, “Pressure Off,” New York Daily News, July 10, 2011: 50.
12 Michael J. Feeney, Mitch Abramson, and Lukas I. Alpert, “His Life’s a Ball,” New York Daily News, July 11, 2011: 7.
13 The Yankees won the division with a 97-65 record (the best in the AL), while the Rays finished 91-71 to win the AL wild card by one game over the Red Sox. Both New York and Tampa Bay were ousted in the first round of the postseason.
14 Ebenezer Samuel, “History Comes with Price,” New York Daily News, July 10, 2011: 52.
15 Mooney, “Captain 3,000.”
16 Kimberley A. Martin, “Jeter Turns It Around,” Hartford Courant, July 10, 2011: E1.