You can say Derek Jeter's range at shortstop isn't what it used to be. You can say he's not hitting up to his own high standard in this, his final season. But it's rare you'll find someone questioning Jeter's baseball acumen.
That's what makes a play like we saw Monday night so rare for The Captain. He made a mental gaffe, plain and simple, and by the end of the play, even the New York Yankees' starting pitcher was yelling at him.
In the scorebook, this went down as a "triple to shallow left," but that's really understating what happened. Kyle Seager of the Seattle Mariners hit a pop up down the left-field line. Jeter, who was playing near third base in a shift, and left fielder Brett Gardner gave chase, with Gardner attempting a sliding catch. The ball popped out of his glove and deflected toward Jeter, who almost caught it. When the ball hit the ground, Jeter jogged after it, his back to the rest of the field.
Problem was, Seager was motoring around the bases. It was a fair ball!
Jeter didn't realize and leisurely made his way toward the stands. His teammates were yelling at him, a few fans were too. By the time he realized what was going on, a shocked Jeter fired the ball back in, but Seager was safe at third. Yankees pitcher David Phelps was visibly angry, spotted on camera yelling "Throw the ball!"
After the game — which the Yankees lost 10-2, not so much because of Jeter's gaffe, but because of Seager's four hits and Felix Hernandez's strong outing for the M's— Jeter explained what happened, via Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News:
"Yeah, it was kind of a odd play for me, because I was playing in at third for a bunt and ended up going back for a pop up. The pop up started going foul so I was running in foul territory then came back, so it never even crossed my mind that it was fair. I almost gave it to a fan. I’m glad I didn’t. I thought it was foul at the time because I was in foul territory."
Phelps, meanwhile, dialed down the mad-at-Jeter stuff, because ain't no way a third-year Yankees pitcher is going on record criticizing Jeets.
"He was running down the line and I was trying to scream whatever I could at him to get his attention. I was just hoping he didn’t toss the ball into the stands. It looked like a foul ball ... I don’t fault him one bit. My emotions probably got the best of me, because I saw Seager rounding the bases and I was just hoping he didn’t get to the plate. It’s frustrating at the time, but it’s just one of those freak things that happen in the game sometimes.”
Jeter will inevitably get a pass here, because he's Derek Jeter and he's made more great plays than he's goofed. But don't you wonder just a little bit what the reaction would be if, say, Yasiel Puig did something like this?
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