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Jeter injury illustrates effects of age
Everyone was doing Derek Jeter’s math after the first inning on Monday night, and suddenly the numbers looked promising.
The New York Yankees shortstop had just punched a single to left field against Cleveland Indians starter Carlos Carrasco, which ran Jeter's career hit total to 2,994. That meant Jeter was six hits away from a major milestone, with at least 15 at-bats left on the Yankees’ homestand.
You didn’t need any forensic evidence to know how badly Jeter wanted to make this deadline. The captain said it himself: The coronation was a payback to his fans. As much as Jeter could control anything, he targeted one of the three games against Texas for the history-making moment. Not only would the captain become baseball’s 28th player to reach 3,000, he would be the first in Yankees history.
Say what you want about Jeter in 2011 — that he’s ordinary, overrated, over-hyped, overpaid — but this achievement is more than just a snapshot of his age (37). It’s about the body of work, his consistency, and, let’s face it, his Disney-rated rep, managing to stay beyond Page Six’s long tentacles.
It’s about reputation and legacy — except Jeter learned the hard way on Monday that reality trumps both of them. He suffered a Grade 1 strain of his right calf in the fifth inning, forcing him out of the game and onto the disabled list, too. With the Yankees slated for back-to-back series in National League cities, the Bombers decided on Tuesday morning they’ll need Jeter’s roster spot for an extra infielder and pinch-hitter.
That means Jeter will have to wait a couple of weeks, for that 3,000th hit. That’s bad news for Yankees fans who’d bought tickets for the Rangers series, and just as much of a bummer to those who zeroed in on the Cubs series this weekend.
That’s all on hold now, although that’s not to say the Yankees' hierarchy is particularly upset. Although it was possible Jeter could have gone 6 for 15 against the Rangers, team officials knew there was a greater chance Wrigley Field would have had the honor of hosting Jeter's big moment.
There’s a link there, as any Yankees historian will tell you. Babe Ruth called his famous home run in the 1932 World Series against the Cubs — in that very ballpark. Still, the Yankees so badly wanted Jeter to have his scrapbook moment in the Bronx, they were willing to wait out a three-hour rain delay last Thursday, just to squeeze in a game against the Red Sox.
The first reason was not wanting to skip CC Sabathia’s start. The second factor was Jeter, who would have lost four at-bats with a rainout. As much as the front office knew the fans were being inconvenienced, the payback — Jeter waving to an adoring crowd — would have balanced the books.
But scripted moments always get tangled by reality — in this case, Jeter’s age and a body that has become less resilient over the years. Even though this is his first stint on the DL since 2003, it’s fairly obvious how he’s aging. Despite being in shape, Jeter has nevertheless slowed; his bat is less explosive.
The injury itself speaks to Jeter nearing his 37th birthday: He strained his calf not on a hard slide, or collision, or because he absorbed a 90-mph fastball. The shortstop wasn’t even busting out of the batter’s box on a slow roller up the third-base line.
Instead, he broke routinely out of the box after a fly ball to shallow right field. There no trauma, no real reason for Jeter to have been hurt, other than being on the bullet train to 40. And you knew the pain was severe, too. Remember, this is the same player who sacrificed the bones of his face in 2004, diving into the stands to snare a foul ball against the Red Sox.
This time, however, Jeter’s man’s-man, play-through-it ethos wouldn’t — couldn’t — sustain him. As soon as he reached first base, he made a straight line for the dugout and then the clubhouse. As A.J. Burnett would later say, "you knew it was something serious when Derek came out."
It was one more insidious reminder for Jeter, that the years can get in the way of the legacy. All season, he’s been waiting for that bust-out hot streak. But so far, Jeter has plodded along at .260, giving no reason to believe he’ll recapture the energy of his 2009 season. He’s hitting ground balls at a rate of 66 percent, the highest/worst of his career, which prompted one team official to say recently, "as much as we love Derek, he’s just not the player he was a few years ago."
That’s what’s killing Jeter right now. It’s not having to wait for the 3,000th hit — that moment will come. It’s those taps on the shoulder from the cosmos, which have made sure the shortstop understands there’s no such thing as a detour around the aging process.
Mets' attendance issues
The Mets have at least held their own on the current road trip, going 4-3 against the Brewers and Pirates, two teams that figured to cause problems for Terry Colllins’ lineup.
The Mets, obviously, are uplifted winning games without David Wright and Ike Davis. But whether that can-do efficiency will generate additional buzz at home this weekend, when the Mets face the Angels and Athletics during interleague play, remains to be seen.
Attendance is down 13 percent from 2010, and 28 percent from 2009. According to research compiled by the New York Times, the Mets’ average nightly draw has fallen 19 percent since the 10th game this year, despite a cut in ticket prices.
That’s what Fred Wilpon was talking about when he said the franchise was “bleeding cash.” Without a renewed revenue stream — meaning, more fans buying tickets — it seems less and less likely the Wilpon family will be able to retain control of the team. With 2011 losses projected at $70 million, the Mets will be hard-pressed to make Jose Reyes a competitive offer to remain at Citi Field.
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