Jeter in vintage form for Anaheim farewell
Yankees captain saluted by Halos, fans during productive Angel Stadium send-off
ANAHEIM -- They sent out their best and brightest -- Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Jered Weaver and Howie Kendrick -- to present Derek Jeter a paddleboard as a token of their affection for what he has done for baseball across 19 memorable seasons. The hugs were sincere and so were the smiles.
And this is the thanks the Angels got: a lazy fly ball by Jeter causing all kinds of residual commotion, a Jeter home run -- his first in 162 at-bats -- followed by an infield hit, and, finally, the sting of a 9-2 defeat in Jeter's final regular-season appearance at Angel Stadium.
"It's good to get one," Jeter said of his first home run of 2014. "I'm not catching Babe Ruth or anything in home runs, but it's good to get one. We got a win; that's what's important at this point."
Reggie Jackson, who played for both teams and was known to launch baseballs, liked the shortstop's aggression at the plate.
"He was feeling it tonight, that's the big thing," Mr. October said. "It's been a year since he's played. He looked like himself tonight, and it was good to see. The great ones enjoy the big moments."
The Halos and their fans would love to see No. 2 of the Yankees play again in their home yard before he moves off into the sunset. That can happen only in October, a destination both franchises used to virtually take for granted in those good old days when they ruled their respective coasts.
It was through the Angels, in a rousing 2009 American League Championship Series, that the Yanks claimed their most recent World Series crown by knocking out the Phillies. Jeter was 35, a .334 hitter that season and third in the AL Most Valuable Player Award balloting. He batted .407 in that Fall Classic with 11 hits in six games. He was Derek Jeter, Captain Clutch, and that's what he did, almost routinely, back then.
Jeter will be 40 in seven weeks. He's pausing to smell the coffee and roses now as he plays shortstop, takes his cuts and tries one last time to help drive his team to and through another meaningful October.
Jeter hasn't shied away from admitting that this is what he has in mind -- and this is a guy who has gotten what he wanted an uncommonly high percentage of the time. So even if you're not all that thrilled with the starting pitching and wonder if the lineup has enough pop, you have to be optimistic if you're a fan of the Yankees.
This, after all, is Derek Jeter's team. This is not some fly-by-night operation. It's the Yanks, and he's the man who makes magic, the man whose 3,344 hits are exceeded by only seven men in history, three among the living. Look what Jeter did Wednesday to Vidal Nuno, turning him into a veritable Whitey Ford for a night by retiring 13 Halos in a row after they'd produced a second-inning run.
Jeter is a once-a-generation player who lives in a world apart, a sage. He is greeted by cheers and ovations in foreign ballparks and handed nice gifts, and he responds by launching home runs and drawing even more favorable applause.
Nobody else with no attachment whatsoever to the Angels gets this brand of treatment at Angel Stadium.
"The fans have been awesome here from the first game [Monday night]," Jeter said. "All three games are what you remember. I appreciate it. Regular season, postseason, I have fond memories here."
Jeter clearly was revved up for this one after his pregame presentation, complete with a video highlight package featuring acts from his extraordinary career.
First time up, facing lefty Hector Santiago, Jeter swung at the first pitch and lofted the towering fly ball that brought Trout and right fielder Collin Cowgill together in right-center. It was Trout's ball, but Cowgill wanted it too, and it bounded free for an error on Cowgill. Mark Teixeira ripped a two-run double, and by the time the inning ended, the Halos were five runs down.
An inning later, Jeter took a strike before wheeling on a Santiago slider and lifting it over the wall in left-center. Trout, who grew up in Millville, N.J., cheering for the Phils and Jeter, watched it sail over his head into an area he frequently visits with his lively bat.
"He's such a great guy," said Trout, whose family has been embraced by Jeter in visits to Yankee Stadium. "He's everything a baseball player should be."
It's a fascinating tale, the kid from New Jersey who wanted to be Jeter standing poised to assume his idol's role as the face of the sport.
Trout was taken by the Angels 25th overall in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, a pick they received as compensation for the Yankees' signing of Teixeira, the Halos' free-agent first baseman.
Before the game, Teixeira talked about his half-season with the Angels in 2008 after they acquired him from the Braves. He helped drive what he called "one of the best teams I've ever been around" to an AL West title before it fell to the Red Sox in four AL Division Series games.
"We couldn't get the big hit," Teixeira said. "I loved my time here; it was one of the best times of my career."
Teixeira, a Maryland native who grew up admiring Don Mattingly, departed Anaheim for pinstripes, then had a hand in putting away the Halos in the ALCS on the way to the parade.
As upset as the Angels were about that, and about losing Teixeira, how do you hold a grudge when you end up with the best player in the world in the deal?
You don't. You count your blessings.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.