|Derek Jeter runs out his third-inning homer, his 3,000th career hit. He became the first Yankee to reach that milestone. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)|
NEW YORK - Mobbed by his pinstriped pals after the ball sailed into the left-field seats, showered by ovations from his fans, Derek Jeter stood alone - the first Yankees player to reach 3,000 hits.
A fitting crown for the captain, on a sunny afternoon when it seemed he could do anything he wanted.
He lined his first home run of the year at Yankee Stadium yesterday. He tied a career high going 5 for 5. He singled home the go-ahead run in the eighth inning in New York’s 5-4 win over the Rays. And, for good measure, he stole a base.
“Something I will remember for the rest of my life,’’ Jeter said. “It’s a number that’s meant a lot in baseball. To be the only Yankee to do anything is special.’’
With a swift swing of his shiny black bat, Jeter jolted himself into historic company, hitting a solo home run off Tampa Bay ace David Price in the third inning. He became the 28th major leaguer to hit the mark and joined former teammate Wade Boggs as the only players to do it with a home run.
Jeter watched the ball fly as he left the batter’s box and gave a big clap as he rounded first base. Rays first baseman Casey Kotchman was the first to salute Jeter, doffing his cap as Jeter passed by.
“Hitting a home run was the last thing I was thinking about,’’ Jeter said.
By then, all of Jeter’s teammates were already celebrating in the dugout, raising their arms almost in unison. A special time for No. 2 - his second hit of the game, and right at 2 p.m.
The ball, one of the specially marked ones put in play for the occasion, disappeared into a cluster of fans a few rows beyond the wall.
Christian Lopez of Highland Park, N.Y., sitting in Section 236, emerged with the valuable prize. He gladly gave the ball back to the Yankees so the 37-year-old Jeter can have the memento, and the Yankees rewarded him with four tickets to every game for the rest of the season and autographed memorabilia.
“He earned it,’’ the 23-year-old Lopez told the YES Network. “I’m not going to be the person to take that away from him.’’
Good buddy Jorge Posada greeted Jeter with a bear-hug after he crossed the plate. Mariano Rivera and the rest of the Yankees were right behind, swallowing up Jeter before he could reach the dugout. The bullpen gate swung open, too, as New York’s relievers came pouring in.
Tampa Bay tied the game at 4 in the top of the eighth against David Robertson (2-0).
Johnny Damon led off with a triple and scored when Ben Zobrist grounded a single through a drawn-in infield.
Eduardo Nunez, perhaps Jeter’s heir apparent at shortstop, doubled to start the Yankees’ half against Joel Peralta (2-4). Brett Gardner dropped down a sacrifice bunt to push Nunez to third.
Tampa Bay brought the infield in and Jeter poked a two-strike pitch up the middle, giving New York a 5-4 lead and prompting “De-rek Je-ter!’’ chants.
Rivera got three quick outs for his 22d save in 26 chances.
It was his first outing since blowing a save last Sunday against the Mets. Rivera was out of action for three days because of a sore right triceps before pronouncing himself available to pitch Thursday night.
B.J. Upton hit a two-run homer for Tampa Bay.