In his return from a broken ankle on July 11, Derek Jeter singled in his first at-bat to give New York Yankees fans some new found hope before quickly exiting with an injury to his right quadriceps.
Three weeks later, I guess we can now say that was merely a dress rehearsal for something much bigger to come. In his latest return to the Yankees lineup on Sunday, "The Captain" delivered a solo home run off Tampa Bay Rays starter Matt Moore on the very first pitch he saw to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead in their eventual 6-5 victory.
For Jeter, it was another feel good moment as the 47,714 at Yankee Stadium remained standing from Bob Sheppard's classic pre-recorded introduction right through his curtain call from the dugout. But what else would we expect? Jeter's storied career has always centered around his ability to step up when the stage gets bigger and the lights get brighter. And right now, for the Yankees, it doesn't get any bigger or more important than having Jeter back in the lineup.
For further evidence of just how important his presence is and will be, consider that the Yankees were the only team in baseball without a home run since the All-Star break — a stretch covering nine games — until Jeter broke the string.
In another startling stat, you had to go all the way back to June 25 to find a Yankees home run from a right-handed batter. That's a month and three days with absolutely no power and very little production from the right side. The Yankees knew that couldn't continue, which is part of the reason they acquired Alfonso Soriano earlier in the week. And wouldn't you know, Soriano followed suit on Sunday, hitting his first home run since his return and 99th overall in a Yankees uniform.
Always the trendsetter, that Derek Jeter.
Of course the Yankees can't and won't rely on Jeter for power numbers. He's a get on base guy to set up the thumpers behind him, which is exactly what he did ahead of Soriano's blast. He was also a part of New York's game-winning rally in the ninth as Tampa Bay intentionally walked him with the winning run in scoring position. Again, it was Soriano who came through in that situation with a walk-off single.
It was actually a perfect showcase of what Jeter means to the New York lineup. His ability to have good at-bats in critical situations and the respect he commands makes him an invaluable asset and a tremendous upgrade over Jayson Nix and Eduardo Nunez. Their offense is clearly more dangerous now than it was 24 hours earlier, and with more reinforcements possibly on the way, a run at the postseason may not be so far away.