Green: Jeter curtain closer had charm but not a classic
The batter swung and the baseball was laced toward right field. The second baseman dove for it and missed. Derek Jeter must have hit 500 hits just like that before his historic 3,463rd safe hit in his glorious 20-year career with the Yankees.
It was a measly single.
This one won a game in late September in the batter's last play in the precious Yankees pinstripes with the N-and-Y monogram superimposed on the chest. It happened with America watching on TV and Yankee Stadium, the new House That Jeter Built, filled with vocal, sign-lifting spectators. And Jeter delivered with everyone inside the ballpark standing and roaring with anticipation.
Three Derek Jeter biographies were already on the bookshop shelves or available for a discount on Amazon. Fresh Sports Illustrated magazines with Jeter sporting his enchanted No. 2 pinstripe uniform were dropped into mailboxes from coast-to-coast that very day before the Yankees ballgame.
SI's photographic cover view was from the back. The baseball player is so famous he is recognizable to all by the back of his pinstriped shirt.
Everything that ever could be said about Derek Jeter has been said — was etched in ink or flashed in footage. Or shown in still photographs.
But now this was theater worthy of Broadway, uptown from Manhattan and the Great White Way, near the Grand Concourse tenements of the Bronx. The stage was set for the final curtain, the Orioles had to score three runs in the top of the ninth the tie a game the Yankees had seemed certain to win. Score tied, a bottom of the ninth now necessary, the Yankees had to have a runner on second base — a guy from the cast portraying the potential winning run — to complete the scenario.
Then it would be the protagonist's turn at bat. And all he would need to win the game would be the measly single.
It was a denouement — I've yearned for years to use that word — the authors and the playwrights and the screenwriters never could have imagined.
Gripping, dramatic, spectacular.
They never could have made it up in what has become the overkill of stuff about Derek Jeter at age 40, balding and thin — the man from Kalamazoo and the University of Michigan — in his final days in Major-League Baseball.
It was all brand new. A new story made just for Derek Jeter's goodbye.
A victory. A celebration. A tour around the infield at Yankee Stadium, cap waving in the thank-you gesture to the adoring New York fans. And then a second tour around the infield.
Thursday night at Yankee Stadium produced the quality of pure drama that only sports could create. And Major-League Baseball above the others — pro football's Super Bowl, the NBA Finals, Game 7 overtime in the Stanley Cup Finals.
This was Derek Jeter for the last time in pinstripes at Yankee Stadium. This was America's best-known athlete, the nation's most adored and most identifiable sports personality creating the climax to an already climactic saga.
All that, and I'm sure when America basked in this story on Friday it was considered the most captivating and most incredulous sports story ever created. Regarded as the best moment in the sports history of this historic nation.
To which I shall now issue my traditional BALDERDASH!
Derek Jeter is an American treasure. And he is a Michigan treasure. He should make all of us from Michigan proud even though he played in New York.
But how quickly we diminish the drama of the past from the drama of the present. How enduring the term walk-off has become an integral part of baseball's language.
Box-score write off
Derek Jeter's measly single in the bottom of the ninth won a theatrically staged baseball game that itself was meaningless. The winning Yankees had already been eliminated from any possible postseason contention. The Orioles had already clinched first place in their division and their main agenda was keeping themselves safe and sound for October. For their upcoming pennant playoffs.
This was not a limping Kirk Gibson emerging from a trainer's table, limping to home –plate in the bottom of the ninth. And striking a game-winning pinch-hit home run and dragging an injured leg around the bases to turn a World Series.
This was not Bill Mazeroski, a deft Hall of Fame fielder and punch-and-judy hitter, smashing a home run in the bottom of the ninth of Game 7 to win a World Series for Pittsburgh over the monstrous Yankees.
This was not Bobby Thomson hitting a home run in the bottom of the ninth to overcome a deficit in the deciding playoff game to win a pennant for the New York Giants. Those Giants, who seven weeks earlier had been 13 ½ games behind the Brooklyn Dodgers. In what then was Major-League Baseball's best pure, genuine pennant race. Ever!
Gibson, Mazeroski, Thomson — those were all unscripted baseball dramas. Before the books were written and the TV moments taped for posterity. Those all involved World Series or a true pennant race.
For sure, Derek Jeter's single to right was another baseball moment taped for posterity. It was one of those New York moments, whatever they are. It was in itself true and genuine and belongs in this memory box of sport's treasured moments.
It happened in Yankee Stadium, it was the best of Derek Jeter in his last act in the Yankees pinstripes, in New York.
But as glorious as it was, it did not match a gimpy Gibson in the bottom of ninth in Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles. It did not match Bill Mazeroski in the bottom of the ninth in grungy Forbes Field, Pittsburgh. It did not match Bobby Thomson in the bottom of the ninth in the ancient, oddly-shaped Polo Grounds, New York.
Derek Jeter's measly single to right happened just when it should have, the bottom of the ninth, his final act in pinstripes in Yankee Stadium, New York. A player for the ages in a baseball moment for the ages and yes, compare it to those dramatic moments of Gibson-Mazeroski-Thomson.
But Derek's beautiful, glorious single to right — the magnitude wasn't quite the same!
And ah, the identity of the cast member who scored the winning run that Jeter drove in — pinch-runner Antoan Richardson, just up from the minors, sliding over home plated on his pinstriped tummy!
Jerry Green is a retired Detroit News sports columnist. Read his web-exclusive columns Saturdays at detroitnews.com.