He has been making these Yankees his team for years, but it was on Sept. 29, two days before the end of the regular season, that he stepped forward like never before. Torre held a pregame meeting that night, with the Yankees reeling from 12 losses in 15 games. He ended his short talk by saying, "Does anybody have anything to say?"
Silence hung in the air. Then Jeter stood and addressed the team as a whole for the first time. "Everyone is trying to do too much," he said. "We've always won because guys just did their jobs, and if they didn't, they knew the next guy would get it done. We've always used 25 guys to win. We have to get back to that. People have got to stop trying to do it by themselves." No one else added a word.
This World Series elevated his stature, especially because of what was at stake. In the days leading up to the Subway Series, Mets fans jammed on their car brakes if they saw him exit his Manhattan apartment and shouted, " Jeter, you suck!" Yankees fans would tell him, "Whatever you do, don't lose to the Mets."
"We had a lot to lose," Jeter says. "I'm serious: I would have moved right out of the city if we'd lost. You could have taken our three rings and thrown them out the window, as far as Yankees fans were concerned. I'm glad I played in a Subway Series, but maybe once is enough."
Jeter admitted to bouts of nervousness in this Series, during the times he played shortstop on Shea Stadium's notoriously awful infield. The field is so bumpy that Jeter would tell coaches to quit hitting him practice grounders before games. "You'd start getting scared and lose your confidence," he says. "I'll tell you, they need to cut Bill Buckner some slack. I was out there thinking, You can strike out, get picked off, do anything, but don't let a ground ball go through your legs. I was going to get down and block it if I had to." Characteristically, Jeter didn't make an error in the Series and hasn't committed one in the Fall Classic since '96.
Jeter helped mightily in every Yankees win. In the pivotal play of Game 1, a 4-3 nail-biter that the Yankees won in 12 innings, he threw out the Mets' fleet Timo Perez at the plate in the sixth inning with a spectacular off-balance throw from near the foul line in shallow left. In Game 2 he scored what would be the deciding run in a 6-5 win after he doubled with one out in the eighth inning. He led off Game 4 with a home run off righthander Bobby J. Jones, staking the Yankees to a lead they never lost in a 3-2 victory. He tied Game 5 at 2-2 in the sixth inning with a homer off lefty Al Leiter.
That game stayed even until the ninth. Leiter, working with two outs and two strikes on Jorge Posada, could not put him away. Posada fouled off two pitches, took a ball, fouled off another pitch and took ball four on the ninth pitch of an at bat that drained the last of Letter's energy reserve. He'd thrown 138 pitches. He would never get that third out. Scott Brosius singled and then, on Leiter's 142nd pitch, so did Luis Sojo.
"A 15-hopper," Leiter lamented. The ball wiggled past Leiter and two diving infielders like a pedestrian crossing midtown traffic in the middle of a block. Posada slid home, and when the throw from center-fielder Jay Payton caromed off Posada's thigh and into the Mets' dugout, Brosius scored, too.
Jeter would make one more contribution. The denouement of the Series happened to be a clash of titans: righthander Mariano Rivera, the best reliever in postseason history, facing Mets slugger Mike Piazza with two outs and a runner on. Jeter called timeout and jogged to the mound. Shouting, he still had to press his mouth near Rivera's ear to be heard above the din of the crowd. "You know what he's trying to do here; he's trying to take you out," Jeter said forcefully. "Be smart. Don't be stupid. Don't just lay one over to try to get ahead. Be careful. This guy's not just trying to loop the ball over second. He wants to take you deep. Now let's go!"
Rivera got ahead with a called strike. Then Piazza swung and connected solidly with the next pitch, a belt-high fastball. With the scoreboard clock reading 12:00, it was literally the stroke of midnight. Torre screamed in the dugout, "No!" But a few steps from the warning track, the ball died an innocent death in the glove of centerfielder Bernie Williams. Jeter leaped into the arms of Sojo; he was a champion for a fourth time.