BOSTON -- As he had done 12,601 times before in his career, Derek Jeter stepped into the batter’s box in the third inning on Sunday.
Ichiro Suzuki on third base, one out. Clay Buchholz threw the pitch. Jeter swung the bat. Garin Cecchini couldn’t rope the ball in off a high chopper. There it was, an RBI single and the end of Jeter’s illustrious career.
And to those who were a part of the moment for the Red Sox, the game stopped as each took it all in.
There was Buchholz, who was excited when he was first told he’d get the start on Sunday.
“[Red Sox manager] John Farrell asked me a couple of weeks ago, ‘You know, I have you slated to start that last game,’ and it was a no-brainer for me,” Buchholz said. “That’s definitely somebody that I idolized growing up being a shortstop.”
David Ross, who had asked Farrell to be behind the plate Sunday.
“I owe a lot to John in my career period with the World Series and everything last year. I asked him a few weeks ago if I could catch today’s game, and he gave me that honor. That’s kind of a cool thing for me. You try to mark off some cool stuff in your career, and this is right up there at the top.”
Cecchini, who attempted to make the play on Jeter’s single coming in from third.
“I saw the ball off the bat. We’re taught when it hits right down, you’re supposed to come charging in. I came charging in, and the thing was up in the stratosphere. I tried to make a play, barehand it and throw him out or throw Ichiro out, whichever one wasn’t closest to the base. I’m happy for him, man, he’s had an awesome career, he was my childhood idol growing up. To be on the same field with him, that’s an honor.”
Allen Craig, who was manning first as Jeter reached safely.
“It was kind of one of those surreal moments where you see him chop it off the plate, you kind of knew it was going to be a hit. I wasn’t sure if he was going to stay in the game or come out or whatnot. I saw that he was coming out and just thought, ‘Wow, this is it.’ And I get to be at first base. I was just honored to be out there and be a little part of his special day and special moment.”
And then it was over. Yankees manager Joe Girardi removed Jeter for a pinch runner, and the players had their final interactions with the iconic shortstop as he walked off the field.
Craig at first: “I just told him congrats on an awesome career and thank you. Thanked him for all that he’s done for the game.”
Buchholz at the mound: “He just wished me health and a good offseason and a long career. He didn't have to come up to me, he’s a class act, you know. That’s how everybody knows him throughout baseball. Now he gets to start another chapter. Definitely the classiest person I’ve ever met.”
Cecchini at third: “He didn’t say anything, he just tipped his cap to me and I tipped my cap right back at him. That was pretty cool. I’ll remember that for the rest of my life.”
The entire day was dedicated to Jeter, with a pregame ceremony that had been planned for weeks by team executive vice president Dr. Charles Steinberg and other Red Sox staffers.
It started with a tribute video to the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, cheers erupting with each sighting of the Yankees' captain. The Green Monster scoreboard changed from the date to “WITH RE2PECT 2 DEREK JETER.”
At the start of the ceremony, Jeter ran out to where he would normally stand at shortstop. Then he was met by a procession of Red Sox legends led by Carl Yastrzemski, who was followed by other local sports icons -- the Bruins’ Bobby Orr, the Patriots’ Troy Brown and former Celtic Paul Pierce. Former Boston College baseball captain and ALS Ice Bucket Challenge inspiration Pete Frates would join them after a video of Jeter taking the challenge earlier this year was shown.
Next came third-base coach Brian Butterfield, a former mentor and close friend to Jeter, to present him with custom-made L.L. Bean boots. Behind him, the entire 2014 Red Sox team, led by David Ortiz. Each man cordially shook the hand of Jeter and walked on, Joe Kelly the only exception, as the pitcher who struck him out a day earlier paused to take a selfie with the shortstop. Kelly's wife, Ashley, took to Twitter to share her thoughts.
When I was 12, I thought I would marry Jeter. Instead I married the guy that took a selfie w/ him during his ceremony pic.twitter.com/3BrkWBQHgy— Ashley Kelly (@ashleynicokelly) September 28, 2014
Dustin Pedroia rounded out the pack, presenting Jeter with a pinstriped replica of second base marked with the No. 2 on it.
A check for $22,222.22 was presented to Jeter’s Turn 2 Foundation, and he was given a Green Monster placard that read “RE2PECT” by Ortiz and Xander Bogaerts.
For Bogaerts, who grew up idolizing Jeter and wears the No. 2 in his honor, the moment was unforgettable.
“Special moment, special day,” Bogaerts said. “I got a chance to go and hold the ‘RE2PECT’ sign next to him. Couldn’t have asked for anything more than that.”
And after “The Voice” contestant and Massachusetts native Michelle Brooks-Thompson serenaded Jeter with the tune of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” (Franklin herself was unavailable, as she is ill, ESPN Boston was told), the ceremony was over and it was time for a game to be played.
All in all, it was another successful ceremony for Steinberg and the crew.
“I thought the pregame ceremony played out not to be overstated, probably to reflect the wishes of Derek himself and that’s just assumed on my part,” Farrell said. “It was done with a touch of class.”
If there was a villain to be played on the day, the role belonged to Jemile Weeks. In his first at-bat, Jeter lined a Buchholz pitch to shortstop, which Weeks instinctively leapt into the air to snag.
No regrets from Weeks, either.
“I caught his line drive, and the fans booed me,” Weeks said. “I was like, ‘What, I’ve got to catch it.’ You know what I mean? I got booed, which was fun at the same time.
“The guys in the other dugout were like, ‘Come on, get out of the way.’ So I guess after he got his first hit he was going to go ahead and leave the game. I messed that up a little bit, but he still did it.
“The kind of guy he is, he probably wouldn’t want it like that.”
Giving Jeter what he wanted was what the day was about. The rivalry was put to the side, the game took a back seat and the crowd -- made up of Red Sox fans and Yankees fans alike -- came together to pay tribute to a “gentleman playing a gentleman’s game,” as Weeks described him.
And at the end of the day, every member of the Red Sox was just happy to be a part of it all.
Cecchini: “I’m glad I got to shake his hand, and I told him congrats and thanks for being a great role model for young kids like us.”
Buchholz: “I didn’t really think too much of my season this year, but just being a part of that, it made it worth it for me. To be the last guy that faced him in his career, that’s pretty cool.”
Craig: “It was one of those deals where you get goose bumps and you just feel honored to be on the field. To be a part of his last game and just to be out there. It was incredible.”
Weeks: “You know Derek Jeter is about to have a ceremony and it’s his last game. There’s a lot to be uplifted for. For me to be on the field for his last game for him and with the Boston Red Sox, it was just a great thing.”
Bogaerts: “It was definitely nice to be around him.”
And Ross: “He could have went out in New York and really went out on a high note. He gave respect to these fans and this organization.
“I don’t know if you could ever do too much or not enough for a guy like that. Hopefully he enjoyed it.”