Elation and woe hit Jeter on Yankees return
After eight months out of action, skipper is back for Yankees, but thigh issue forces early exit
Derek Jeter waited more than eight months to get back in a game and push aside the jarring image from last October, when he lay on the infield dirt at Yankee Stadium, his left ankle fractured.
During that long stretch, Jeter endured the rehabilitation from the first surgery, a second fracture in the same ankle, and more months of rehab work.
But his day finally arrived, and for two at-bats, everything was as it should have been. Jeter received a standing ovation, beat out an infield single in his first at-bat and scored a run as the New York Yankees went on to beat the Kansas City Royals 8-4.
The ankle, he said afterwards, came through without incident, and for that he was pleased. But in a Yankees season characterised by injuries and more injuries without pause, it was not surprising that Jeter endured another setback himself, however minor it may turn out to be. He felt tightness in his right quadriceps, while grounding out to second in the fifth inning in his next-to-last at-bat of the day and was later removed from the game.
Jeter was scheduled for an MRI test and was hopeful it would reveal nothing significant. But the injury, whatever its extent, put a damper on what might otherwise have been a day of pure celebration.
"Well, it's not frustrating yet," Jeter said after the game. "We'll see. They MRI everything around here, so, they want me to get an MRI and find out. I hope it's not a big deal."
Jeter, who turned 39 on June 26, is the latest Yankee to come back from one injury only to quickly encounter more problems. Mark Teixeira reinjured his troubled wrist and ended up having to have surgery, Kevin Youkilis' back ultimately forced him to go under the knife, Curtis Granderson broke a bone in one hand, came back three months later and broke a bone in the other, and Francisco Cervelli sustained a stress reaction in his elbow, while recovering from a broken hand.
Of that group, only Jeter, the Yankees' captain, is now playing. As he grounded out to shortstop to drive in a run in the sixth, he ran awkwardly down the first-base line. He returned to the dugout and sat on the bench grim-faced, talking with the Yankees' trainer, Steve Donohue. Manager Joe Girardi came over to check what was being discussed, and after a brief exchange he patted Jeter on the shoulders and walked away.
Jeter then took his bats out of the bat rack and descended into the tunnel, ending his day with a 1-for-4 performance as the designated hitter and so beginning his 19th season as a Yankee, joining Mariano Rivera for most seasons played in the Bronx.
Jeter was tentatively scheduled to play shortstop today Hong Kong time, against Minnesota. But with an MRI looming, Girardi said he was now more inclined to have Jeter as the designated hitter again, if he can play.
"We hope it's not much," Girardi said of the injury. "We won't know until tomorrow."
Originally, the Yankees had planned for Jeter to return from his Class AAA minor league rehabilitation assignment in Pennsylvania today. But when Travis Hafner and Brett Gardner both sustained foot injuries on Wednesday night, they decided to bring Jeter back a day early. Could that have contributed to Jeter incurring an injury before he could even get nine innings under his belt? Jeter said no.
"I've been running all over the place the last three weeks," he said of his rehabilitation work.
Jeter, who had been impatient to rejoin the Yankees, learned from general manager Brian Cashman at about 11pm on Wednesday that he would finally be activated. He had already arrived at his hotel in Moosic, Pennsylvania, and quickly packed for the drive back to New York. He arrived in Manhattan around 2.30am, but did not get to bed until 4. He woke up just 2 1/2 hours later.
Hours later, the first reaction from the crowd of 40,381 came when he ran in the outfield during pregame warm-ups. When he strode to the plate in the first inning, batting second, the fans gave him a sustained standing ovation.
Jeter had planned since Wednesday to swing at the first pitch he saw, and with the Yankees already trailing 3-0, he followed through. He hit a bouncer to third base, sprinted down the line and safely reached first. He went to third on a single by Robinson Cano, still showing no ill effects from his ankle injury, and then scored on a sacrifice fly.
It was not too dissimilar from his nine at-bats in the minors (he went 1 for 9), but for the first time since last October, it mattered.
"It's a huge difference," he said. "No disrespect to any rehab assignment that you do, but it's Yankee Stadium. I was nervous going into the game. It's almost like opening day for me even though, what are we, in July now? I've lost track of the months. So it felt good to be out there, and the fans were great."
Still, the new injury was deflating, and it showed on his face in the dugout. But later, Jeter characteristically asserted that the key question, the condition of his repaired ankle, was no longer an issue.
"I'm ready to go," he said. "I want to play, and my ankle is fine."