NEW YORK - (AP) - Mobbed by his pinstriped pals after the ballsailed into the left-field seats, showered by ovations from hisfans, Derek Jeter stood alone - the first New York Yankees playerto reach 3,000 hits.
A fitting crown for the captain, on a sunny afternoon when itseemed he could do anything he wanted.
He lined his first home run of the year at Yankee Stadium. Hetied a career high going 5 for 5. He singled home the go-ahead runin the eighth inning. And, for good measure, he stole a base.
"Something I will remember for the rest of my life," Jetersaid.
With a swift swing of his shiny black bat, Jeter jolted himselfinto historic company, hitting a solo home run off Tampa Bay aceDavid Price in the third inning Saturday. He became the 28th majorleaguer to hit the mark and joined former teammate Wade Boggs asthe only players to do it with a home run.
Jeter watched the ball fly as he left the batter's box and gavea big clap as he rounded first base. Rays first baseman CaseyKotchman was the first to salute Jeter, doffing his cap as Jeterpassed by.
"Hitting a home run was the last thing I was thinking about,"Jeter said.
By then, all of Jeter's teammates were already celebrating inthe dugout, raising their arms almost in unison. A special time forNo. 2 - his second hit of the game, and right at 2 p.m.
Plus, a win, 5-4 over the rival Rays.
He looked every bit like a spry 27-year-old with those brightgreen eyes and an even brighter future, rather than a 37-year-oldshortstop with his best days behind him.
The ball, one of the specially marked ones put in play for theoccasion, disappeared into a cluster of fans a few rows beyond thewall. Christian Lopez of Highland Park, N.Y., sitting in Section236, emerged with the valuable prize. He gladly gave the ball backto the Yankees so Jeter can have the memento, and the Yankeesrewarded him with four tickets to every game for the rest of theseason and autographed memorabilia.
"He earned it," the 23-year-old Lopez told the YES Network."I'm not going to be the person to take that away from him."
Jeter 3K merchandise, meanwhile, began flying off the shelves atthe souvenir stands. Hats, pins, shirts and more, all commemoratingNo. 3,000, hadn't gone on sale until it occurred.
True to his nature of staying focused on the game, Jeter brisklyrounded the bases. When Boggs got his 3,000th, he knelt down andkissed home plate.
Not Jeter's style. But there was no way this moment was wouldpass without plenty of fanfare.
Good buddy Jorge Posada greeted Jeter with a bear-hug after hecrossed the plate. Mariano Rivera and the rest of the Yankees wereright behind, swallowing up Jeter before he could reach the dugout.The bullpen gate swung open, too, as New York's relievers camepouring in.
Jeter, still in the midst of a most difficult season, waved tothe crowd several times, then clenched his fist and pointed up tothe box where his dad and steady girlfriend, actress Minka Kelly,were sitting. His dad was in attendance - his mom and sister wereabsent, attending a christening.
"It was tremendous," Jeter's father, Charles, told YES. "Ican't describe how I was feeling. We need a victory, first of all.... Very emotional for me, very happy for him."
All the Yankees greats left their distinct marks. Babe Ruth setthe home run record, Lou Gehrig became the Iron Horse, Joe DiMaggiohit in 56 straight games, Yogi Berra won the most championships,Mickey Mantle launched the longest drives. They all won WorldSeries rings, certainly, with Jeter owning five.
The 3,000 hits, that will be Jeter's legacy forever.
Whenever Jeter retires, a plaque in Monument Park is guaranteedto follow. Someday, he'll surely have a monument, too. Because onthe list of monumental baseball achievements, this ranks right upthere.
Along with 28 players with 3,000 hits, there are 25 members ofthe 500-homer club and 23 pitchers in the 300-win club. And theYankees: They've got 27 World Series championships.
Jeter desperately wanted to achieve the mark at home, and theYankees only had two games left in the Bronx before the All-Starbreak, with an eight-game road trip looming to start the secondhalf.
Manager Joe Girardi wasn't worried about Jeter trying too hard.
"He's never had a problem with pressure in his life," Girardisaid before the game.
As always, Jeter walked to the plate after a recordedintroduction by late, longtime Yankee Stadium public addressannouncer Bob Sheppard. His intonation of "Deh-rick Jee-tuh" hasbeen imitated over the years by thousands of Yankees fans, if notmillions.
Jeter smiled after his first hit as the sellout crowd of 48,103roared.
The crowd sensed history was on deck when Jeter came up next.There was a buzz when he stepped into the batter's box - Jeterloves to put up his right arm to ask the umpire for time.
As the at-bat built, there was a hush each time Price went intohis windup.
After his home run tied the score, Jeter remembered to honor hisopponents. He pointed at Price while many of the Rays applauded theaccomplishment, some of them coming out of the dugout to cheer.
Fans kept chanting and cheering throughout a celebration thatlasted 3-4 minutes, and Jeter montages filled the videoboard forthe next couple of innings.
Far away, the tributes began. Longtime Yankees great DonMattingly, now manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, saw Jeter's shoton a TV in the clubhouse at Dodger Stadium.
"Only Jeet. Everything's like that with him," his formerteammate said.
Having grounded a leadoff single to left field in the firstinning - much like his first career hit on May 30, 1995, againstSeattle's Tim Belcher at the old Kingdome - Jeter achieved themilestone in his next at-bat.
Jeter casually chatted with Rays catcher John Jaso when he cameto the plate, fouled off a couple of full-count deliveries andhomered on Price's eighth pitch. Jeter, in fact, homered when thefuture All-Star lefty made his major league debut in 2008.
Jeter doubled to left his next time up in the fifth inning forNo. 3,001, breaking a tie with Roberto Clemente. He showed off hisJeterian, inside-out swing to right-center for a single in thesixth.
The only thing left, it seemed, was a triple - Jeter has neverhit for the cycle. He settled for a tiebreaking single in theeighth. He tried to steal again, but was thrown out.
Jeter was the first big leaguer to get 3,000 since Craig Biggioin 2007, who reached it with his third hit in a five-hit effort.
Rafael Palmeiro, Rickey Henderson and Cal Ripken were theprevious players to get there.
There was a time when some wondered whether Jeter would have achance to break Pete Rose's career record of 4,256 hits. Jeter, infact, was eight days younger than Rose when he got to 3,000.
But Jeter has been slowing down. He came into the game hittingonly .257 with just two home runs, and recently pulled out of his12th All-Star game to rest the strained right calf that recentlylanded him on the disabled list.
Jeter hadn't homered at all since May 8, and this was his firsthomer at Yankee Stadium since last July 22.