Jeter touched by crowd's reception in Anaheim
'One of the coolest things that's happened in my career,' says shortstop
ANAHEIM -- What Derek Jeter prefers to call his "final season" rather than a farewell tour made its final stop at Angel Stadium for a three-game series beginning on Monday night.
It was Jeter's 79th regular-season game in Anaheim, and it began with a rousing standing ovation from the decidedly partisan Angels crowd of 39,701 when he came to bat in his usual No. 2 slot with one out in the first inning. It was almost like a home game for Jeter. That raucous response continued all night as the Halos prevailed over the Yankees, 4-1.
"You know, that's probably one of the coolest things that's happened in my career, to be quite honest with you," said Jeter after breaking out of an 0-for-14 slump with a single and double in four trips to the plate. "It was unexpected. I've always enjoyed coming here. But the way they responded, it was unexpected and much appreciated."
Just as if the game was being played in the Bronx in front the infamous "bleacher creatures," the fans continuously chanted, "De-rek Jee-ter, De-rek Jee-ter" as he faced pitcher Jered Weaver in the first and flew out lazily to center fielder Mike Trout.
Prior to the game, Jeter said he doesn't like the words "farewell tour." He's not fond of the word "hype" or being told that his latest slump was a factor of nearing 40 years of age, either.
"I saw some reports in the media [Sunday] that I'm getting old now," Jeter quipped. "I guess I was young for the first 20 or so games, and I was old for the last four or five, so I'm going to try to get young again while I'm out here in California."
About his advanced age as a player, Jeter double quipped.
"Yeah, when I was in Spring Training, I got a lot of 'You're old' questions, because I didn't have a lot of hits," he said. "Then two or three weeks into the season, everyone said, 'You look young now! You're swinging the bat well.' Now I look old again, so I guess I fluctuate."
Asked if there is anything that might bring him back next season, Jeter said, "Nope, nothing at all. You can write that down, put it in stone."
Good to his word, though, Jeter snapped that 0-for-14 string with a solid single to center on a full count off Weaver to open the fourth inning, prompting the crowd to another rousing chant of his name as he took a lead off first base. It was the first hit of the game, and Jeter was quickly erased sliding into second when Jacoby Ellsbury grounded into a double play. The double was drilled inside the third-base line into the left-field corner to open the seventh, and it led to the tying run at the time when Mark Teixeira singled Jeter home.
It was Jeter's first multiple-hit game since April 22, and he only has four hits in his last 28 at-bats, which include hitting a bases-loaded double-play grounder of his own deftly snared by Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick, ending the Yanks' last offensive threat of the night in the eighth inning.
In many ways, the Yankees' shortstop and captain is like an old friend in Yanks road grays, having made his debut in this ballpark on May 27, 1996.
"It's a Hall of Fame career that I think anybody who's seen it understands," said Mike Scioscia, the Halos' manager since 2000, explaining the response to Jeter. "It's more than the numbers he's put up. I think it's the leadership he's shown, just the clutch play that he brings every game. I just know firsthand in watching him, he's relentless in how he competes. He's about winning."
That's how Jeter explained away his reaction to the term "farewell tour" as he did a session with the media in the Yankees' dugout prior to the game.
"I like 'final season,' because we're trying to win," he said. "I'm not just walking around shaking hands and kissing babies. We're trying to win games."
Jeter said he felt fine at the plate up until the last five games, which included the first 0-for-7 game of his career in a 14-inning loss to the Rays at Yankee Stadium on Friday night.
"I was swinging the bat good, with the exception of the last four or five games," he said. "One of them counted for like three games. Sometimes you feel good. You hit balls hard, they catch it. ... That's what's going to happen during the course of a season. You just want to feel good. If you feel good, the hits will come eventually."
The questions about Jeter's agility are not as much a function of age as they were a few years ago, leading up to his 3,000th hit, but the fact that he missed all except 17 games of the 2013 season recovering from surgery on a badly fractured left ankle. He's finishing his career playing with a plate and screws holding that ankle together. Plus, Jeter is playing a position that is very tough to cover for an older player.
Yanks manager Joe Girardi said he doesn't notice much difference in Jeter from 2012 to now.
"I think his mobility is pretty similar," Girardi said. "If you look at his times to first, they're pretty similar."
Scioscia also added that he didn't see much difference. As if to prove it, Jeter easily snared a line drive and four grounders on Monday night, turning one into an inning-ending double play in the fourth. Each time, the crowd affectionately responded.
"He looks fine," Scioscia said. "He moved well against us. He's got that uncanny knack, probably like Cal Ripken, of understanding swings and swing paths and getting a little bit of a jump here and there. He's just a tremendous player.
"Baseball will miss him, no doubt."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.