For Derek Jeter, a storybook ending was a near-guarantee

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By JON ALBA
College Contributor Network

It can only happen in baseball.

There are no game-winning goals in a hockey player's final game with the clock expiring. There are no buzzer-beaters for the basketball star playing his last seconds (Jordan came back with the Wizards, remember). Not even a fade route into the back of the end zone to cap a career would be realistic to imagine.

In baseball, anything is possible. And with Derek Sanderson Jeter, something possible becomes a near-guarantee.

No amount of rainbows at 6:47 Thursday night (as the YES Network was careful to point out) or hyperbolic Twitter hashtags could have foreshadowed what was to go down at the ballpark in the Bronx in "Jeter's Last Stand." One could argue fate would say the stars were aligned, but that would be an insult to mystique and aura, whom took those aligned stars into their own hands. They themselves, after all, have been Jeter fans for some time.

As the World Series-contending Orioles get on the board early, ruining his final "roll call" from the fans, there is no fret. He responds with a double that not only nearly clears the wall 399 feet away in left-center, but plates a run as well. After all, it was a near-guarantee he would do so.

With a 5-2 lead, David Robertson was supposed to be the closer for the New York Yankees. Instead, he aces the role of setup man by surrendering a three-run lead on a pair of home runs in the ninth inning to knot the game and send it to the bottom frame.

But rewind 22 years to a time when baseball was far from the "Jeterian Era." The young 18-year-old out of Kalamazoo, Mich. struck out five times and went 0-for-7 in his first game for the Gulf Coast Yankees. As the seasons progressed, management grew frustrated with the "scrawny" kid who couldn't field, and George Steinbrenner agreed to a trade for shortstop Félix Fermín that would have sent a young man from Panama, named Mariano Rivera, to the Seattle Mariners.

He would have regretted that decision, and that's a near-guarantee.

Following Robertson's blown save, a 24-year-old Venezuelan named José Pirela makes his way to the plate. Jeter, in the hole, unquestionably knows the possibilities that lay ahead if Pirela makes it on base.

He reaches on a single.

It's rare to find a man who can encompass so much of what a game stands for. There was the 10-year, $189 million contract prior to the 2001 slate that not only put Jeter amongst the richest men in sports, but made him the certified face of Major League Baseball. By that stage, the now-26-year-old had won four World Series rings, a World Series Most Valuable Player Award and the same honor for the MLB All-Star Game. He was surrounded by some of the most talented men to ever play the game as one cohesive unit, but he was the anchor.

At this point, for Jeter, it was not a matter of if he would win another championship. It was a near-guarantee.

Antoan Richardson, a man Yankees color commentator Ken Singleton describes as "the next Homer Bush" (an allusion to a key part of the best team Jeter ever played for), runs for Pirela. The 40-year-old steps into the on-deck circle, as one of the best bunters in the American League, Brett Gardner, tries to turn what seems to be a fantasy into reality.

The events that followed Jeter putting the ink to that contract could be considered a fantasy, actually. There was that time in Oakland he merely acted as a cutoff man, but in a fashion that few fans had ever seen before. There was the walk-off home run in one of the greatest championship series of all-time that lent him the nickname "Mr. November."

There were even the times where he was perhaps not the star, but the fuel for what was to come. Like Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series, where his opposite-field double opened up a rally that would eventually make it possible for the name "Aaron Boone" to become a staple of October.

If you needed a hit when it mattered and Derek Jeter was up, it was a near-guarantee.

With Richardson at first, Gardner gets the job done and sends him to second on a poked bunt. The baseball world is then exposed to the final appearance of Bob Sheppard's voice, as Jeter makes his way to the plate. It is a poetic moment, straight out of a dramatic 24-frame, slow-motion Nike advertisement. But with Jeter, a moment in time can wait when there is a game to win.

And there were plenty of moments in time. He once met the cold metal of a Yankee Stadium seat face-to-face when trying to preserve a contest against his arch-rivals. No. 2 also single-handedly ushered in a new era, waving goodbye to the old stadium and welcoming fans to the new one he was an instrumental part in constructing. And then the very next year, the fifth ring found a finger to hang off.

There was also the fateful day in July of 2011 when Jeter cemented his already-punched ticket into the Hall of Fame. With David Price on the mound, he launched the first of five balls he'd hit in play on the day into the left field stands for hit No. 3,000. When you put your name next to someone like Wade Boggs in the record books, you know you're in good company.

After a pause to absorb the moment with the game-winning run on second, there is no hesitation. He steps into the box for what will surely be his last at-bat in pinstripes. And as Evan Meek hangs an off-speed pitch over the plate, it was a near-guarantee Jeter would, one last time, inside-out a ball into right field for the walk-off win.

And he did.

Still, there are "fans" of the game that will find ways to knock Jeter. His WAR pales in comparison to other Yankee legends. His defense was nowhere near the levels of a first-ballot Hall of Famer, for some. Even though only a handful in the history of the game have more hits than him, his supposed efficiency still didn't succeed in impressing everyone.

But Thursday night, the sabermetricians had no answer. The shortstop has always chosen to answer his critics not with words, but with actions. And on this evening, even the atheists believed in the baseball gods.

Some will doubt it, but it's true. It can only happen in baseball. And with mystique and aura in the driver's seat, it was a near-guarantee it would happen for Derek Jeter.


Jon Alba is a senior at Quinnipiac University. There he serves as general manager of the school's television station, Q30 Television. Follow him on Twitter: @JonAlbaSFC
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