By Ben Walker/The Associated Press
NEW YORK — Mobbed by his pinstriped pals after the ball sailed into the left-field seats, showered by ovations from his fans, Derek Jeter stood alone — the first New York Yankees player to reach 3,000 hits.
A fitting crown for the captain, on a sunny afternoon when it seemed he could do anything he wanted.
He lined his first home run of the year at Yankee Stadium. He tied a career high going 5 for 5. He singled home the go-ahead run in the eighth inning. And, for good measure, he stole a base.
“Something I will remember for the rest of my life,” Jeter said.
With a swift swing of his shiny black bat, Jeter jolted himself into historic company, hitting a solo home run off Tampa Bay ace David Price in the third inning Saturday. He became the 28th major leaguer to hit the mark and joined former teammate Wade Boggs as the only players to do it with a home run.
Jeter watched the ball fly as he left the batter’s box and gave a big clap as he rounded first base. Rays first baseman Casey Kotchman was the first to salute Jeter, doffing his cap as Jeter passed by.
“Hitting a home run was the last thing I was thinking about,” Jeter said.
By then, all of Jeter’s teammates were already celebrating in the dugout, raising their arms almost in unison. A special time for No. 2 — his second hit of the game, and right at 2 p.m.
Plus, a win, 5-4 over the rival Rays.
He looked every bit like a spry 27-year-old with those bright green eyes and an even brighter future, rather than a 37-year-old shortstop with his best days behind him.
The ball, one of the specially marked ones put in play for the occasion, disappeared into a cluster of fans a few rows beyond the wall. Christian Lopez of Highland Park, N.Y., sitting in Section 236, emerged with the valuable prize. He gladly gave the ball back to the Yankees so Jeter can have the memento, and the Yankees rewarded him with four tickets to every game for the rest of the season and autographed memorabilia.
“He earned it,” the 23-year-old Lopez told the YES Network. “I’m not going to be the person to take that away from him.”
Jeter 3K merchandise, meanwhile, began flying off the shelves at the souvenir stands. Hats, pins, shirts and more, all commemorating No. 3,000, hadn’t gone on sale until it occurred.
True to his nature of staying focused on the game, Jeter briskly rounded the bases. When Boggs got his 3,000th, he knelt down and kissed home plate.
Not Jeter’s style. But there was no way this moment was would pass without plenty of fanfare.
Good buddy Jorge Posada greeted Jeter with a bear-hug after he crossed the plate. Mariano Rivera and the rest of the Yankees were right behind, swallowing up Jeter before he could reach the dugout. The bullpen gate swung open, too, as New York’s relievers came pouring in.
Jeter, still in the midst of a most difficult season, waved to the crowd several times, then clenched his fist and pointed up to the box where his dad and steady girlfriend, actress Minka Kelly, were sitting. His dad was in attendance — his mom and sister were absent, attending a christening.
“It was tremendous,” Jeter’s father, Charles, told YES. “I can’t describe how I was feeling. We need a victory, first of all. … Very emotional for me, very happy for him.”
All the Yankees greats left their distinct marks. Babe Ruth set the home run record, Lou Gehrig became the Iron Horse, Joe DiMaggio hit in 56 straight games, Yogi Berra won the most championships, Mickey Mantle launched the longest drives. They all won World Series rings, certainly, with Jeter owning five.
The 3,000 hits, that will be Jeter’s legacy forever.
Whenever Jeter retires, a plaque in Monument Park is guaranteed to follow. Someday, he’ll surely have a monument, too. Because on the list of monumental baseball achievements, this ranks right up there.
Along with 28 players with 3,000 hits, there are 25 members of the 500-homer club and 23 pitchers in the 300-win club. And the Yankees: They’ve got 27 World Series championships.
Jeter desperately wanted to achieve the mark at home, and the Yankees only had two games left in the Bronx before the All-Star break, with an eight-game road trip looming to start the second half.
Manager Joe Girardi wasn’t worried about Jeter trying too hard.
“He’s never had a problem with pressure in his life,” Girardi said before the game.
As always, Jeter walked to the plate after a recorded introduction by late, longtime Yankee Stadium public address announcer Bob Sheppard. His intonation of “Deh-rick Jee-tuh” has been imitated over the years by thousands of Yankees fans, if not millions.
Jeter smiled after his first hit as the sellout crowd of 48,103 roared.
The crowd sensed history was on deck when Jeter came up next. There was a buzz when he stepped into the batter’s box — Jeter loves to put up his right arm to ask the umpire for time.
As the at-bat built, there was a hush each time Price went into his windup.
After his home run tied the score, Jeter remembered to honor his opponents. He pointed at Price while many of the Rays applauded the accomplishment, some of them coming out of the dugout to cheer.
Fans kept chanting and cheering throughout a celebration that lasted 3-4 minutes, and Jeter montages filled the videoboard for the next couple of innings.
Far away, the tributes began. Longtime Yankees great Don Mattingly, now manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, saw Jeter’s shot on a TV in the clubhouse at Dodger Stadium.
“Only Jeet. Everything’s like that with him,” his former teammate said.
Having grounded a leadoff single to left field in the first inning — much like his first career hit on May 30, 1995, against Seattle’s Tim Belcher at the old Kingdome — Jeter achieved the milestone in his next at-bat.
Jeter casually chatted with Rays catcher John Jaso when he came to the plate, fouled off a couple of full-count deliveries and homered on Price’s eighth pitch. Jeter, in fact, homered when the future All-Star lefty made his major league debut in 2008.
Jeter doubled to left his next time up in the fifth inning for No. 3,001, breaking a tie with Roberto Clemente. He showed off his Jeterian, inside-out swing to right-center for a single in the sixth.
The only thing left, it seemed, was a triple — Jeter has never hit for the cycle. He settled for a tiebreaking single in the eighth. He tried to steal again, but was thrown out.
Jeter was the first big leaguer to get 3,000 since Craig Biggio in 2007, who reached it with his third hit in a five-hit effort.
Rafael Palmeiro, Rickey Henderson and Cal Ripken were the previous players to get there.
There was a time when some wondered whether Jeter would have a chance to break Pete Rose’s career record of 4,256 hits. Jeter, in fact, was eight days younger than Rose when he got to 3,000.
But Jeter has been slowing down. He came into the game hitting only .257 with just two home runs, and recently pulled out of his 12th All-Star game to rest the strained right calf that recently landed him on the disabled list.
Jeter hadn’t homered at all since May 8, and this was his first homer at Yankee Stadium since last July 22.
Boggs, Dave Winfield and Rickey Henderson each got plenty of hits on the way to 3,000 and the Hall of Fame, but were gone when the milestone came. Paul Waner got one hit for the Yankees after he passed the mark.
Jeter said it “mind-boggling” when he first found out no Yankees player had 3,000, a fact he discovered while perusing the team media guide several years ago during spring training.
Jeter is the fifth Yankees player to achieve 3,000 hits, but the only one to do it while playing for New York. Hall of Famers Dave Winfield, Rickey Henderson, Paul Waner and Boggs all got No. 3,000 with other clubs.
“Congratulations, first of all, to Derek Jeter on joining the 3,000 hit club. It is an exclusive honor, achieved by only a select group, that not many people can call their own. It is a monumental achievement,” Boggs said in a statement. “I had the opportunity to play with Derek when he was a rookie in 1996, and I had no doubts that Derek would reach this milestone. He is a very consistent player and he never deviated from his game.”
Jeter is the 11th player to get all 3,000 with one team, a list by Stan Musial, who had 3,630 hits for the St. Louis Cardinals, Carl Yastrzemski (3,419 for the Red Sox) and Ripken (3,154 for the Orioles).
About the only people disappointed that Jeter hit 3,000 this day were the thousands of fans who lined up trying to get tickets, many of them having paid whopping amounts to get into Friday night’s game that was rained out.
John Verbeek made trips on the New Haven rail line for two straight days from his home in Milford, Conn., to see Jeter’s chase. Instead, he was headed back to the train station without seeing a single pitch or at-bat.
“I got the tickets on StubHub for a premium, hoping to see the game last night,” Verbeek said. “My daughter is a real Jeter fan and she raced all the way in from Boston to get here on time last night.”
“And now we can’t get in today. We’re very, very disappointed,” he said.