In the moments before Game 2, during the ceremonies announcing baseball's All-Century team, Derek Jeter stood on the top step of the New York Yankees' dugout, peering out over the railing and applauding as each hero was introduced to the Turner Field crowd. Jeter is wrapping up just his fourth full big league season, but he might well have found more than a few of those greats willing to trade careers with him. For all the honorees' statistical wattage, Jeter, the New York shortstop, has something many of them lacked: a knack for postseason constancy and accomplishment that would make King Midas blush and reduce Ernie Banks to tears. Granted, Jeter's numbers are swelled by extra playoff rounds that didn't exist for most of the century, but they are .staggering nonetheless. He took the field for the 12th time in a World Series and the 43rd time in the postseason on Sunday night, meaning that at the tender age of 25, Jeter, a career .329 postseason hitter, had already played more postseason games than 16 of the 21 position players on the All-Century roster. If the Yankees hold the 2-0 lead they built over the Atlanta Braves last weekend, Jeter would be the first player since divisional play began in 1969 to win three world championships by age 25.
"He's played his whole career in the World Series," says New York designated hitter Chili Davis, who has made three trips to the Fall Classic in his 19-year career. "To him this is just how major league baseball should be, and anything else would be wrong. If he played a year when he didn't go to the playoffs, he'd probably go home and cry and wonder what happened."
"I think it's ironic that my first year, 1995, was [Don] Mattingly's last year," says Jeter, who played 15 games for the Yankees that year but was not on the roster for New York's Division Series loss to the Seattle Mariners. "That was the only postseason he went to. I realize it's difficult to get here. I've just been very fortunate to be on good teams."
Fortunate, yes, but Jeter hasn't exactly been riding coattails. He attacks playoff pitching the way a child prodigy breezes through the PSATs. His performance in the Yankees' 7-2 Game 2 win on Sunday night—2 for 5, two runs scored—extended his postseason hitting streak to 15 games, the third longest in history. ( Hank Bauer of the Yankees holds the record of 17.) With 57 hits in 43 games, Jeter had already roughly equaled the postseason accomplishments of Joe DiMaggio, who had 54 hits in 51 games, albeit all in the World Series. In Series play Jeter had 15 hits in 12 games and was averaging .326 and a run per game. In New York's 10 straight Series wins from Game 3 in 1996 through Game 2 this year, Jeter had gone 14 for 41. After going 4 for 9 last weekend, he was hitting .400 (16 for 40) in the 1999 postseason, with an on-base percentage of .467.
"I don't treat these games any differently from any others," says Jeter, who finished second in the American League batting race this season, at .349. "I just relax because the great thing about baseball is if you strike out or make an error, you come back the next day to redeem yourself."
Or in his case, next October.