NEW YORK (AP) — Derek Jeter had a hard time stepping into the batter’s box in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Overwhelmed by the outpouring of love from the fans over the past two weeks and all the final moments at home in a 20-season career, the always cool captain of the Yankees was about to break down.
“I almost started crying driving here today,” Jeter said Thursday night after New York’s 6-5 win over Baltimore. “I think I’ve done a pretty good job of controlling my emotions throughout the course of my career. … Today I wasn’t able to do it.”
What he was able to do was give New York one more amazing moment in a career full of them, driving in the winning run in the ninth with — what else? — an opposite-field single to right field.
Even though he was playing the first game of his career at Yankee Stadium with the team eliminated from the playoff race, Jeter leaped high with both arms raised after touching first base and was embraced by his teammates.
The 14-time All-Star then lingered on the field, seemingly not wanting to give up the only job he ever hoped to have — shortstop for the New York Yankees.
“Sort of an out-of-body experience,” Jeter said.
Jeter’s Core Four teammates — Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada — from five World Series championship teams joined their Hall of Fame manager Joe Torre and Tino Martinez and Bernie Williams on the field. Jeter’s family also came out of the crowd at the urging of manager Joe Girardi.
And the fans chanted “Thank you, Derek!” and “De-rek Jeter!” as they have all the way throughout the Yankees’ last eight games in the Bronx for 2014.
Before he greeted his friends and family, Jeter took a stroll out to the spot between second and third base, waving to the crowd.
In an image seen before nearly every one of his 1,391 games at Yankee Stadium, Jeter faced the outfield and crouched down for a moment of reflection.
“Basically, I just say thank you because this is all I ever wanted to do,” Jeter said of his ritual.
But he wasn’t done. The 40-year-old captain took one more walk to shortstop, this time covering his face with a towel for a moment or two as he took one last look around and acknowledged the crowd.
“I want to take something special from Yankee Stadium and the view from shortstop here tonight is what I want to take home from it,” Jeter said.
The entire Orioles team watched the scene from the dugout.
“Our guys, everybody has a lot of respect for Derek and what his career has been about,” Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said. “We wish him well and I’m sure it was a great moment for him here.”
Jeter said afterward he will not play shortstop over the weekend in his final three games at Boston. But he will serve as the designated hitter, he said. Red Sox great Ted Williams, who homered in his final at-bat at Fenway Park in 1960, didn’t play in his team’s last three games — coincidentally, in New York.
Soon after the grounds crew was out, shoveling a layer of dirt from Jeter’s favorite spot into orange buckets for the memorabilia market.
Jeter admitted after Wednesday’s game the past couple of weeks were beginning to weigh on him and it showed. He appeared a bit stunned by the 100 media members awaiting him at his locker and took several deep breaths when he settled in at shortstop before the first pitch.
He gave several waves to the crowd as they chanted “Thank you, Derek!” in the eighth and ninth innings, but never seemed fully comfortable as it was all coming to an end.
“To be honest with you, I don’t know how I played this game,” Jeter said. “I went up my first at-bat, I forgot my elbow guard. I was throwing balls away. I was giving signs to (Stephen) Drew at second base and there’s no one on base, so I was all messed up.”
Still, as if on cue, Jeter began his last game in pinstripes with a double. He also drove in a run with a grounder in the seventh. And he went out a winner.
“You can’t even dream this stuff up,” Girardi said.