Jeter is a .317 career hitter, and his 2,137 hits since the start of the 1996 season are the most in the majors. However, he has never finished a season as league batting champion.
The Yankees captain batted a career-high .349 in 1999, but finished second in the AL to Boston’s Nomar Garciaparra (.357).
After going 3-for-3 in Saturday’s 6-5 defeat, Jeter increased his season average to .345—second place in the league behind Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer’s .346.
“I think it would be a hell of a feather in his cap, and yet I don’t think it’s the most important thing to him,” Yankees manager Torre said of Jeter’s quest for the batting title. “I certainly believe that (will) come Tuesday, you’ll see what’s important to him.
“But he certainly isn’t going to back off from a challenge, seeing if he can do it.”
New York (97-64), which clinched its ninth consecutive AL East title on Sept. 20, owns the best record in baseball and will open its division series against the wild-card winner—either the Twins or Detroit Tigers—on Tuesday at Yankee Stadium.
Torre announced before Saturday’s contest that Gary Sheffield will be the starting first baseman for the Yankees in the playoffs, with Jason Giambi the designated hitter. Sheffield, who began the year as New York’s starting right fielder, has played nine games at first base since returning from wrist surgery and committed one error there.
“I’m comfortable with Sheff over there,” Torre said. “He’s fearless. He’s not afraid to make a mistake, and if he makes a mistake, it’s only in trying to do the right thing, not out of trying not to make a mistake.”
The Yankees send Jaret Wright (11-7, 4.39 ERA) to the mound for the regular-season finale. Wright would also be the likely starter for Game 3 of the division series on Friday if Randy Johnson’s lower back injury prevents him from pitching.
Wright has pitched effectively recently, going 2-0 with a 2.92 ERA in his last four starts. The right-hander defeated Tampa Bay on Monday, limiting the Devil Rays to one run over six innings in a 16-1 rout.
He is just 2-6 with an 8.79 ERA in 11 career starts versus Toronto, although he allowed one run in five innings to beat the Blue Jays on Aug. 1, a 5-1 win for the Yankees.
Torre will let Bernie Williams manage the Yankees on Sunday, continuing his tradition of having a veteran player manage the regular-season finale if nothing is at stake.
“I don’t think Bernie has sat on the bench for nine straight innings in 11 years, so this will be a first,” Jeter said. “I can’t really see him sitting on the bench all nine innings (Sunday), either.”
The Blue Jays (86-75) pulled one game ahead of the Boston Red Sox for second place in the AL East with Saturday’s victory, securing their first finish higher than third since they last won the World Series in 1993.
Toronto used a four-run seventh inning to rally from a 4-1 deficit, with Alex Rios’ two-run triple the key blow.
“We battled hard and we played hard,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “It was a big win for us—big clutch hits.”
Dustin McGowan (1-2, 7.66) will make the final start of the season for Toronto. The right-hander has lost his only two starts this season, allowing seven runs in just 6 1-3 innings in those outings.
McGowan started but lasted only two innings Tuesday at Detroit, allowing two unearned runs, two hits and a walk. He was charged with the loss in the Jays’ 4-3 defeat.
In four relief appearances against the Yankees, McGowan has yielded five earned runs in 5 1-3 innings.