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Derek Jeter's injury leaves a big hole in Yankee lineup and in post-season baseball
For a few moments Saturday night – make that early Sunday morning – I expected Derek Jeter to pop up off the infield dirt, make a sweeping bow and announce “Merely acting” like the old Jon Lovitz SNL skits.
At the very least I expected him to hobble around for a little bit, tell Joe Girardi “I’m great, let’s go,” flash a smile and make a joke, playfully pat Robinson Cano on the head and go back to playing short. Sure, maybe he’d have to DH in Game 2 but….
Seeing Jeter helped off the field, refusing to put any weight on his leg, was akin to the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail finally admitting that he had more than a flesh wound. Jeter always bounced back from injury. Only this time he wouldn’t.
Jeter's previous injuries may have contributed
Jeter has battled injuries to his left leg for several weeks now. An ankle strain. A bruised foot. Mitch Williams of MLB TV speculated that Jeter may have been playing with the fracture for some time. With all the X-rays and other testing the players undergo, I doubt a doctor would have missed even a hairline crack in the bone.
I believe the more likely scenario is that his muscles, ligaments and tendons had been weakened by the previous injuries. He may have been walking and running on it differently to avoid pain and weakened it even further. Then even a fairly routine play put enough stress on the bone to break it.
Absence will leave a big hole for Yankees
Whatever the reason it broke, Jeter’s absence leaves a big hole for the Yankees. There’s his defense, of course, which has been better than most people give him credit for, and his hitting at the top of the order. So far this post-season he’s been one of the few consistent players for New York – in the ALDS against Baltimore he had 8 of the Yankees’ 38 hits (21 percent) and accounted for 38 percent of their 16 runs (four runs scored, two RBIs).
Beyond that, though, the Yankees’ will miss his presence on the field. He’ll eventually be in the dugout, of course, cheering on the team. But it’s not the same as him being on the field. There was always the sense that if a big play needed to be made, in the field or in the bat, Jeter was capable of making it. And no matter how much writers and sabermetricians downplay that, the fact is that players draw strength from that type of player.
Effect of his loss extends beyond Yankees
And beyond that, it leaves a hole in the post-season. Since 1996, Jeter has virtually been the face of the post-season. Detroit manager Jim Leyland said that when he thinks of post-season baseball three images come to mind: The Atlanta Braves' run of 14 straight appearances, Reggie Jackson and Derek Jeter. Three pretty good images.
In his career so far, Jeter has played a full season after the regular seasons – 158 post-season games with 200 hits, 111 runs, 20 homers, 61 RBIs, 18 steals. That’s virtually what his average season has been like.
Girardi noted that he’d never seen the reporters so down about an injury, and he was referring to more than just the New York beat reporters. Tigers players commented about the loss of Jeter, and I believe they were sincere. He has been such a big part of baseball for so long that, love him or hate him, you want to see Jeter on the field on baseball's biggest stage.
Can Yankees bounce back?
So in a season when the Yankees lost the pitcher who was supposed to be their No. 2 starter, Michael Pineda; lost the greatest relief pitcher in baseball history, Mariano Rivera; lost their starting leftfielder, Brett Gardner, for the bulk of the season; missed large chunks of the seasons of Alex Rodriguez, Andy Pettitte and Joba Chamberlain; and had C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Dave Robertson and Nick Swisher miss time with injuries, this will be the biggest loss of all.
Can the Yankees bounce back? Of course they can. The post-season has a way of making stars of relatively unknown players, like David Freese last year, or Raul Ibanez this season. Jayson Nix or Eduardo Nunez might step up in a big way. Perhaps it will inspire Robinson Cano to play the way he did the last 10 games of the season instead of the way he has so far in the post-season. Maybe A-Rod will have a flashback to 2007.
Or they could lose in four straight to the Tigers.
Jeter injury will be the biggest thing in the ALCS
I think one way or the other, this series won’t reach next weekend. The Yankees will either be demoralized and lose quickly, or they’ll all step it up a notch to make Jeter proud and dispatch Detroit quickly.
But regardless of how it plays out, the iconic image of this ALCS will be Derek Jeter lying on the ground, screaming in pain.
And I’ll still be waiting for him to pop up.