TORONTO – It was quite a set-up for Derek Jeter here Sunday. Two outs, top of the ninth, tying run at third base and up came The Captain for one last at-bat in Rogers Centre.
The game was on the line, of course, but rooting interests stopped momentarily as everyone in the sun-bathed crowd stood and applauded the retiring Jeter.
Even Blue Jays closer Casey Janssen, who had retired Jeter in 16 of their 17 previous at-bats against each other, admitted he could see it was one of those “fairytale-story-being-written” moments before refocusing on his task.
It was over quickly. Jeter took a strike, then swung off-balance and looped the final out into the glove of Toronto second baseman Steve Tolleson.
A game the Yankees once led, 3-0, turned into a head-scratching 4-3 defeat. And the end of Jeter’s career with no postseason berth as part of his final act pulled one day closer.
“Those are the fun situations. You want to be in those situations,” Jeter said. “I don’t think I’ve had much success off Janssen but you’re just trying to get a hit like always. I like those positions but he was better than me this time. We had an opportunity up until the end.”
The Yankees were trying to figure out how they were still battling at the end of this one.
Starter Brandon McCarthy was cruising on a two-hit shutout with two outs and nobody on base in the sixth. Then Melky Cabrera and Jose Bautista blasted back-to-back homers, with Bautista going deep for the fifth straight game.
With one out in the seventh, Edwin Encarnacion drove a full-count offering over the wall in left to tie the game. Three batters later, Munenori Kawasaki won it with an RBI single off reliever Dellin Betances.
McCarthy (5-4) had given up three homers in his first 62 innings with the Yankees since being acquired from Arizona. Then he gave up three bombs in four batters.
“Everything happened so fast,” said catcher Francisco Cervelli.
“That’s one where you have a 3-0 lead in the sixth you need to take that one home,” McCarthy said. “Whether you take it all the way or go deeper to put the bullpen in a better situation. Even just a couple outs later.”
The Yankees were in control from the start. Leadoff man Brett Gardner drove the game’s second pitch from Toronto starter J.A. Happ over the wall in right. Cervelli’s RBI single in the fourth made it 2-0 and Gardner added one of those classic Little League-style home runs in the fifth with a triple to left-center and an overthrow by Jays shortstop Jose Reyes sending him home.
Those are, however, all footnotes. The series finale was a day-long Jeterpalooza for the sellout crowd of 45,678.
Sign- and camera-toting fans mobbed the first-base stands several deep to watch the Yankees’ batting practice. And they cheered loudly during a pregame ceremony that saw Blue Jays veterans Bautista and Mark Buehrle present Jeter with a $10,000 donation check on behalf of the team to his Turn 2 Foundation and a trip to an Alberta castle in scenic Banff, in the Canadian Rockies.
“A pretty awesome gift to get,” Jeter said after the game. “I will definitely use that one.”
Jeter is the all-time leader in Rogers Centre among opponents in games (129), hits (164) and runs since the stadium opened in 1989. But while the Yankees have dominated Toronto at home in recent years, they have traditionally struggled here. They went 4-5 under the sometimes-open dome this season.
“I just like the city,” Jeter said. “Nice restaurants. Walking around, I always enjoyed coming. The team has played us especially tough here, so baseball-wise I don’t know if I’ll miss it that much.”
The Yankees are fifth in the wild-card standings, but still just 3½ games back. They had won seven of nine to get back into legitimate contention for the second wild card before dropping the final two games of this series.
They have a rare Labor Day off today, then open a nine-game homestand Tuesday night against Boston. Jeter’s official day in the Bronx comes Sunday against Kansas City.
“Every game is important for us,” said Jeter, who is down to the final 27 of his career. “It doesn’t make a difference if we’re going home or on the road.”