TORONTO — The calendar said August 26. It was the first time Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez have been in the lineup together for the New York Yankees all season. Imagine that.
The Yankees started their series Monday in Rogers Centre against a team that was essentially the Toronto Bisons somehow only 3½ games out in the wild-card race. Jeter, Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira had combined for eight homers and 24 RBIs but the Yankees were still in range. Pretty amazing I’d say.
This was Jeter’s third comeback of the season, just his sixth game. As manager Joe Girardi glumly pointed out before his team’s uninspired, 5-2 loss, “He’s played in five games and been hurt in three.”
This time, after yet another rehab stint in Scranton, Jeter said he was good to go — for this game and for the 31 more that follow. What version of Jeter the Yankees will get is anyone’s guess.
When reporters pointed out the piece of A-Rod trivia to him before the game, even Jeter acknowledged what a wacky year it’s been.
“It is hard to believe,” he said. “I’ve missed more games this year than the last 20 years combined. In that sense, I’ve been very fortunate. It seems like everything has happened to me in a year. It’s hard to believe but you move forward. You can’t change everything that has happened.”
Jeter, of course, suffered a broken ankle during last year’s ALCS against Detroit. Then he fractured a new bone during spring training. He was out until July 11, but strained a quad in his first game and went right back on the disabled list.
He returned on July 29 and felt tightness in his calf the next day. He played two more games before going back on the DL again with a calf strain. He’s called the season “a nightmare.”
The Yankees are 12-6 in their last 18 games so Jeter doesn’t need to be a savior anymore. It had to feel that way the last two times he came back and couldn’t stay on the field while the Yankees were still reeling from the losses of Teixeira, who is gone for the season, and Granderson, who has returned.
“He was the first one coming back in a sense,” Girardi said. “We had lost Tex and Grandy and he was the guy that was closest. We were struggling, not hitting any homers right-handed and there was not a lot of excitement. Now we’ve got a lot of other guys back and it’s more like you’re adding another good piece to the puzzle.”
Jeter didn’t do much out of the gate Monday. He grounded out twice, once into a double play, struck out and walked. But his limited forays on the bases seemed uneventful and he said afterward he felt fine.
Jeter got huge applause when he was introduced before the game and each of his at-bats as the Yankee fandom from the 716 seemed well-represented in the crowd of 35,241.
Jeter has been told to run gently, which is just not who he is. But he can’t be that all-out guy at this point, at least not for the rest of this season. And in a surprising admission Monday, the guy who always says he’s all right came clean and said he hasn’t been.
“I haven’t been able to work out since October because you’re trying to let a bone heal,” he said. “You think about it, it’s probably not surprising something happened.”
The Yankees had won 10 straight against the Blue Jays/Bisons and were 12-1 against them this year. Ultimately, it was a law-of-averages kind of game as the Yankees were due for a clunker against the Blue Jays.
Other than A-Rod’s opposite-field home run to right in the fifth — his third of the season and 650th of his career — there wasn’t much for the Yankees in this one (no idea what A-Rod thought of Jeter’s return since he took the quick exit-stage left and dodged reporters).
The Yankees struck out 11 times and went 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position. Ichiro Suzuki butchered a fly ball in right field that contributed to two runs. Girardi has to put someone — anyone — in the rotation in place of Phil Hughes (4-13).
The ex-Bisons did the job against Hughes. Ryan Goins had two hits and dropped a perfect sacrifice. Kevin Pillar looped a two-out RBI single in the second. Anthony Gose walked and stole a base. Nice contributions overall.
For the Yankees, the top news was that Jeter emerged unscathed. Still, the prospect of a now-breakable Jeter at age 39 is unnerving to Yankees fans. He’s been a constant since 1996. They’ve never seen this before.
“I’m hoping I have no more problems. I can’t tell you what I’m going to do,” Jeter said. “I’ll try to be smart but I guess the game will dictate it. I don’t think you can play not to get hurt. That’s when you get hurt.”