Yanks know how to win, and nobody does it better than Jeter
Posted: Sunday September 19, 2004 7:22PM; Updated: Sunday September 19, 2004 7:22PM
Derek Jeter is hitting .417 this month and .303 since the All-Star break.
NEW YORK -- There are a lot of reasons that the Yankees are the Yankees and the Red Sox are not. It begins at the top with The Boss, who spends the money and sets the tone for a franchise that sees first place as the only place, and losing it as high treason.
The Yankees shell out for the talent, whenever the urges strike, and land players like Mike Mussina, the right-hander who so brilliantly shut down the Sox in the coda to a three-game showdown series Sunday. Mussina went seven innings and allowed just a run in an 11-1 Yankees win over the Sox, who strutted into the Bronx with thoughts of the American League East title and left, again, muttering under their breaths.
The Yankees pony up for guys like Gary Sheffield, too, who is looking more and more like the AL MVP, and third baseman Alex Rodriguez. Sheffield started things Sunday with a two-run homer off Pedro Martinez in the first inning and Rodriguez, last year's MVP while with the Rangers, ended them with a two-run blast in the eighth.
But the Yankees are not the only team in the majors with a big checkbook. The Red Sox spend, too, you know. They get their fair share of hired talent. To say that the Yankees win by simply spending their way to pennants -- this will be their seventh straight AL East title, the way things look now -- is something only a Yankees hater would say.
The Yankees win, more than anything else, because they know how to win. It's something the Sox still have to learn.
Which brings us to Derek Jeter.
"Jeter," said Sheffield, "is our catalyst. Where he goes, we go."
It's hard to quantify exactly what Jeter, a Yankees original, brings to his team. Sunday, he crunched a solo home run off of Martinez in the third. Earlier that inning, he made a twisting, back-to-the-infield grab of a popup in the swirling Stadium winds to rob Johnny Damon of a hit. In the fifth, he did something similar with a basket catch of a Manny Ramirez fly ball.
And in the sixth, with Mike Timlin in for Martinez, he took advantage of a sleeping Sox defense -- and, maybe, a too-trusting one -- by dropping a bunt down the third base line for a base hit.
The Yankees, remember, had walloped the Sox 14-4 on Saturday afternoon. With a 7-1 lead in the sixth inning Sunday, bunting to get on base looked a little like piling on. Maybe especially so to Red Sox fans. Maybe so to the Sox, too, who hit Rodriguez with a pitch after Jeter's bunt.
But that's Jeter, and no one would have him play any other way.
"I have no hesitation at all about trying to continue to score runs there," said manager Joe Torre.
"It was the sixth inning," said Jeter, who was seen jawing with Timlin -- Jeter said it was playfully -- after the bunt. "No lead is safe against that lineup."
Nothing on the field is ever a given for Jeter. He began this season in a horrible slump, going 0-for-32 at one point and hitting just .172 in April. Critics were saying he'd never be able to get back to being himself.
After a 3-for-5 game Sunday, he's hitting .417 this month and .303 since the All-Star break. Overall, he's hitting .290 with 22 homers and 74 RBIs. Since that slow start, he may be playing the best baseball of his career.
Jeter is the Yankees' captain, the unquestioned front man on a team that won't allow itself to finish second.
"It's not something he hits you over the head with: 'I'm in charge here,'" said first baseman John Olerud, a Yankee pickup at midseason. "But you can see, I think, he's very comfortable in his role. And everybody knows it."
If not for a fluke of a ninth-inning comeback against closer Mariano Rivera on Friday night, the Yankees would have made a clean sweep of this series. Boston had gone 9-0-1 in its last 10 series.
Saturday and Sunday marked the first time the Sox had dropped back-to-back games since early August, too. And in three games against the Yankees, the Red Sox scored a wimpy eight runs. The Sox had averaged more than seven runs a game in their previous 10.
If you're wondering how in the heck that happened, how the best Red Sox team to roll into Yankee Stadium in a decade came into the weekend 3 ˝ games behind the Yanks and left 4 ˝ games back, there are a lot of reasons. And, sure, the high-priced free agents are one of them.