Jeter is trying to enjoy the record

His next hit will break Gehrig's mark of 2,721 with Yankees

The Associated PressSeptember 11, 2009 

— Winning streaks and World Series titles. Those are the only things Derek Jeter ever talks about chasing, the only achievements he seems comfortable celebrating.

And for most of his career, Jeter has been lauded mainly for those sorts of selfless attributes. He's the guy who makes the clutch play, who's always in the right spot, who leads in the clubhouse, who rises to the occasion under pressure in October.

It's never been about the numbers with Jeter. It's always been his intangibles.

Well, now the captain is on the cusp of a stat that certainly stands out: most hits in a New York Yankees uniform.

Jeter tied Lou Gehrig for the team record Wednesday night, getting three hits against Tampa Bay for a career total of 2,721. It was a mark the Hall of Famer held more than seven decades.

"Hard to believe," Jeter said. "My whole career I've only cared about one thing, and that's trying to help us win. I think if you play long enough and you are consistent enough, that great things are going to happen. I've been told to enjoy these things while they are going. It's still kind of hard."

Of course, all the fuss about this record has less to do with the number involved than it does the Yankees greats Jeter caught along the way: Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth and now Gehrig.

In fact, 16 of the 30 major league teams boast a franchise hits record that tops 2,721. While the Yankees are the most successful squad in baseball history, several stars had their careers curtailed by war, illness or injury.

Still, to many, Jeter's latest feat is a well-deserved testament to everything he's represented during 14 marvelous seasons in pinstripes.

"All the players that came through here and he's going to be the only one with 3,000 hits," longtime teammate and close pal Jorge Posada said. "That tells you right there."

With his lithe build and inside-out swing, Jeter has never been a power hitter. He doesn't hammer out home runs like Ruth and Mantle or pile up RBIs like Gehrig and DiMaggio.

So, despite a .317 career batting average, detractors say Jeter is overrated. The big offensive numbers are missing. Perhaps he has four World Series rings and 12 playoff appearances mostly because the players around him have been great, not because Jeter is.

But Jeter's job at the top of the lineup is to get on base for the boppers behind him. Hit line drives, draw walks and score runs.

He's done it all splendidly since taking over at shortstop in 1996, and that's how he reached this milestone.

"It means a lot," Jeter said. "I try to be consistent year in and year out. I think this is the only way you are able to attain some of these records or have your name next to some of these guys. I take a lot of pride in that."

The Yankees were off Thursday, holding up history. Jeter's next chance to take sole possession of the record comes tonight at home against Baltimore.

The 10-time All-Star did have an opportunity to pass Gehrig on Wednesday night, but he walked against reliever Grant Balfour in the eighth inning.

"When he came up his last at-bat, everyone jumped up in the dugout," New York manager Joe Girardi said. "You can see how much he's adored by his teammates."

Waiting another day is not what the 35-year-old Jeter had in mind.

Always reluctant to talk about personal performance, his pursuit of Gehrig has been no different -- except for that 0-for-12 slump he snapped with a bunt single on the first pitch he saw Wednesday.

Indeed, Jeter acknowledged it would have been much more difficult to enjoy his record-tying hit Wednesday night if the Yankees hadn't rallied for a 4-2 victory.

Posada's three-run homer in the eighth inning, a pinch-hit shot, made it a perfect night.

"These are the things that you are going to remember for the rest of your life. I was real happy for Jorge, and I will definitely remember that tonight, when I was able to tie this record, that he hit a big home run," Jeter said.

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