In the moments before Game 2, during the ceremonies announcing
baseball's All-Century team, Derek Jeter stood on the top step of
the New York Yankees' dugout, peering out over the railing and
applauding as each hero was introduced to the Turner Field crowd.
Jeter is wrapping up just his fourth full big league season, but
he might well have found more than a few of those greats willing
to trade careers with him. For all the honorees' statistical
wattage, Jeter, the New York shortstop, has something many of
them lacked: a knack for postseason constancy and accomplishment
that would make King Midas blush and reduce Ernie Banks to tears.
Granted, Jeter's numbers are swelled by extra playoff rounds that
didn't exist for most of the century, but they are staggering
nonetheless. He took the field for the 12th time in a World
Series and the 43rd time in the postseason on Sunday night,
meaning that at the tender age of 25, Jeter, a career .329
postseason hitter, had already played more postseason games than
16 of the 21 position players on the All-Century roster. If the
Yankees hold the 2-0 lead they built over the Atlanta Braves last
weekend, Jeter would be the first player since divisional play
began in 1969 to win three world championships by age 25.
"He's played his whole career in the World Series," says New York
designated hitter Chili Davis, who has made three trips to the
Fall Classic in his 19-year career. "To him this is just how
major league baseball should be, and anything else would be
wrong. If he played a year when he didn't go to the playoffs,
he'd probably go home and cry and wonder what happened."
"I think it's ironic that my first year, 1995, was [Don]
Mattingly's last year," says Jeter, who played 15 games for the
Yankees that year but was not on the roster for New York's
Division Series loss to the Seattle Mariners. "That was the only
postseason he went to. I realize it's difficult to get here. I've
just been very fortunate to be on good teams."
Fortunate, yes, but Jeter hasn't exactly been riding coattails.
He attacks playoff pitching the way a child prodigy breezes
through the PSATs. His performance in the Yankees' 7-2 Game 2 win
on Sunday night--2 for 5, two runs scored--extended his postseason
hitting streak to 15 games, the third longest in history. (Hank
Bauer of the Yankees holds the record of 17.) With 57 hits in 43
games, Jeter had already roughly equaled the postseason
accomplishments of Joe DiMaggio, who had 54 hits in 51 games,
albeit all in the World Series. In Series play Jeter had 15 hits
in 12 games and was averaging .326 and a run per game. In New
York's 10 straight Series wins from Game 3 in 1996 through Game 2
this year, Jeter had gone 14 for 41. After going 4 for 9 last
weekend, he was hitting .400 (16 for 40) in the 1999 postseason,
with an on-base percentage of .467.
"I don't treat these games any differently from any others," says
Jeter, who finished second in the American League batting race
this season, at .349. "I just relax because the great thing about
baseball is if you strike out or make an error, you come back the
next day to redeem yourself."
Or in his case, next October.
COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON Tone-setter Jeter stole off Maddux in the Series' first inning.
"He's played his whole career in the World Series," says Davis