The New York Yankees played their first 91 games without Derek Jeter. Thursday was game 92, and he debuted in an 8-4 victory over the Kansas City Royals.
The matchup pitted Ervin Santana of the Royals against Andy Pettitte of the Yanks. As with his July 6 start against the Baltimore Orioles, Pettitte quickly found himself trailing 3-0 in the top of the 1st. It took the 41-year-old lefty 20 pitches to get out of it. He surrendered a 2 run double to Salvador Perez that scored Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer. In the next at bat, Lorenzo Cain hit a sacrifice fly to score Billy Butler. In an effort to damper Jeter’s long-anticipated return, Kansas City hit the ground running.
That said, the crowd still buzzed about his debut. Before the Yankees even recorded an out in the top of the 1st, chants of Jeter’s name were heard throughout Yankee Stadium. The place contained scattered seats, but one wouldn’t know that if they weren’t watching, based on the atmosphere.
With Ichiro Suzuki retired in the bottom of the 1st, Jeter stepped up to the plate as the designated hitter. The Yankee announcers uttered not a syllable and let the moment speak for itself. Very few fans were not on their feet, giving the captain a rousing ovation to welcome his return from ankle surgery last October. Doctors reported in April that was a small fracture in his ankle and thus his return was pushed all the way back until July.
On the first pitch he saw, he hit a slow roller to Royals third baseman Miguel Tejada. Tejada charged in, attempted to play the ball barehanded but bobbled it and thus Jeter was 1-1 to start the season. Despite missing nearly the entire first half, the 39-year-old didn’t appear to miss a beat. It would be the only hit he recorded in the afternoon and the ball never left the infield as he was 1-4, but his contributions were pivotal to his team’s win.
Jeter managed to run with Robinson Cano up next and Cano’s hit into shallow right advanced Jeter to third and he scored on a sacrifice fly by Vernon Wells. The Bronx Bombers found themselves on the board, but had to catch up and it didn’t help for them when Alcides Escobar had an RBI single in the top of the 2nd to score David Lough.
The Yanks pulled within one thanks to an Austin Romine double in the bottom of the inning that scored Eduardo Nunez and Romine crossed home plate himself after Ichiro singled. Despite the score of 7 runs in the first two frames, both Santana and Pettitte seemed to settle down. In Ervin’s case, he set down the Yankees in order both in the bottom of the 3rd and bottom of the 4th.
In any event, though, the Yankees came storming in the 5th. Lyle Overbay had a 2 run single to score Ichiro and Cano. Zoilo Almonte brought in Vernon Wells and Overbay scored when Nunez brought him home.
The last RBI of the contest from either side belonged to Jeter. In the bottom of the 6th, he sharply grounded out to Escobar at short to drive in Luis Cruz. Brett Gardner pinch hit for him in the bottom of the 8th.
The return of the Yankee Captain helped his team take the final two games of a four game series with the Royals. His debut came at a most crucial time for the Yanks, who as of the victory are tied with the Baltimore Orioles with a 50-42 record in the AL East, but both of them are looking up at the first place Boston Red Sox (56-37) and second place Tampa Bay Rays (53-40), who extended their winning streak to 8 games Thursday by taking a 4-3 contest over the Minnesota Twins.
Speaking of the Twins, Jeter and the Yankees will play them in the final three games before the All Star Break from Friday through Sunday.