Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Jeter: One for the Ages

You cannot quantify the immense value, just appreciate it.

A decade after Derek Jeter began his historic postseason run with four hits in the 1996 American League division opener against Baltimore, he threw a 5-for-5 performance at the Detroit Tigers in Game 1 of the ALDS.

That performance, the lynchpin of an 8-4 Yankees' victory, tied a big-league record for hits in a postseason game, held by six. It also added to an undeniable legend, this quintessential performance by the quintessential clutch player.

For Jeter used two doubles, a home run and two singles to extend his own major-league records of most career postseason hits (147) and most DLS hits (64).

Jeter's big night came on the heels of a regular-season in which Jeter hit .345 during what was his fifth 200-hit season (another major-league record, for shortstops). It established once more that who the most valuable Yankee of 2006 is, and underscored the strong argument Jeter made for AL Mvp.

What pushes this special player to such a zone once October arrives?

"I think somewhat personality and his competitive drive," said Joe Torre, who, in 11 years, has reached the postseason every single season in large part because of the guy at shortstop. "You know, it's like this time of year, big games, whether we play Boston or games that are significant; not that he slacks off the other times. Look, he hit .340 this year.

"I guess the only way you characterize it for me, he doesn't go up there thinking negatively. He just doesn't. Failing doesn't scare him."

"You know, you're not always going to come through," said Jeter. "There's been plenty of times that I haven't. But when I'm in that situation, I feel as though I'm going to produce, or come up with a hit, or make a play."

He did tonight, turing a crucial doubleplay before the scoring started, then topping his offensive run with a crowd-pleasing eighth-inning homer.

It is these kinds of performances, and that special makeup that allows Jeter to continually put a damper on any contention that Alex Rodriguez is the best shortstop not playing the position for the Yankees. ARod might have the most talent stuffed in his body. All Derek Jeter does is win.

So, like the Ted Williams-Joe DiMaggio "who's best" debates of old, do you take the best athlete or the guy who just flatout finds a way to win? In the Jeter-ARod tug-of-war, there's no question which player wins.

Another thing: ESPN The Magazine was pretty provocative this week when its cover featured the Mets' Jose Reyes with a headline declaring the dazzling performer the best shortstop in New York.

Well, Reyes has got Jeter in terms of age. Jeter, though, long ago established himself as one for the ages. Reyes will have to wait for such accolades, at least until he can compare one World Series ring to Jeter's four.

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