Work in Sports
No average Joe
Just like DiMaggio, Jeter leads Yankees
Updated: Thursday October 26, 2000 4:29 AM
"We've been fortunate the last few years," he said after leading the Yankees over the Mets 3-2 Wednesday night for a 3-1 World Series lead.
Asked to assume the leadoff spot, he homered on the first pitch of the game, then tripled and scored for a 3-0 lead in the third.
Yet, he preferred to look ahead, to finishing this Subway Series, not behind.
"This Mets team isn't going to give up," he said. "In my opinion, they're the best team we've played in the five years I've been here in the postseason."
He is always composed, always polite, always respectful. Just like Joe D was.
When the great DiMaggio came to the majors in 1936, the Yankees won four World Series in his first four seasons.
Jeter is on the verge of helping the Yankees win titles in four of his first five years.
Only three teams before have won three or more in a row: the Yankees from 1936-39, the Yankees from 1949-53 and the Oakland Athletics from 1972-74.
Babe Ruth never did it.
Neither did Reggie Jackson or Thurman Munson.
Jeter is about to join DiMaggio and Yogi Berra in the pinstriped pantheon of baseball.
"You have to play for a lot of years before you can be considered a Yankee great," he said back in July after winning the MVP award in the All-Star game. "I've only played four years. This is my fifth. Hopefully, I can play for a few more years, then start that debate."
In the age of talk radio, the debate already has begun.
The Mets have Benny and the Jets?
The Yankees have Derek and the Dominoes.
He gets hits, and opponents fall like dominoes.
"He makes things happen," a rather drained Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "He's a kid who's only been around five years, and he's got all the qualities of someone who takes charge and leads by example, as opposed to telling anybody he is the leader of this club."
Torre calls him the kid.
Jeter still calls his manager Mr. Torre.
Jeter seems to have perfect timing, at the plate and in the dugout. He knows just the right time for a wisecrack to loosen the tension. When Mike Piazza stepped to the plate in the eighth, Jeter ran in to the mound to say a few words to Mariano Rivera. Piazza grounded out.
He is the Yankees' glamourpuss, the cover boy the girls swoon at, like they were at some Sinatra concert in the '40s.
On Wednesday, he stunned Shea Stadium into silence, sending Bobby J. Jones' first pitch soaring into the left-field bleachers, the first to homer of the opening pitch of a Series game since Pete Rose in 1972.
"You want to take the crowd out of the game," Jeter said. "I've been known to swing at the first pitch. When you're playing these types of games, when runs can be kind of hard to come by, you want to score early.
"It was huge for us."
Jones was shocked.
"I wasn't expecting him to swing," Jones said. "There's some guys that swing first pitch. When I watched him on video, he was in the two-hole a lot."
Jeter led off in the third inning and came through again, tripling to the base of the fence right-center and scoring on Luis Sojo's grounder for a 3-0 lead.
He doesn't have a fluid swing, not like a Ken Griffey Jr. When he slumps, he tends to lunge at balls.
But when he's on, he leads the Yankees, just like Bernie Williams and Paul O'Neill.
Jeter is just 26, with his best years ahead, but he's helped carry them this week, while Williams has gone 0-for-15. Jeter is batting .444 in the first four games of the Series, extending his Series hitting streak to 13 games and raising his career Series average to .347.
But these Yankees think relatively little about individual accomplishments. The only number that counts is the Series rings on their starry fingers.
If he wants to wear them all on one hand, he has one for the index finger, one for the middle finger, one for the ring finger.
His pinkie is waiting.
"We're one win away," he said, "from where we want to be."