Fans holding laudatory signs started showing up at Yankee Stadium when the gates opened at 4 p.m. Monday, an hour early in order to give them a chance to watch the New York captain take batting practice.
They serenaded him with chants of his name throughout the ninth inning.
And in between they burst into ovations when the 40-year-old continued his late-season renaissance with a two-run double and a run-scoring grounder for his first three-RBI game in two years. Jeter's offense backed a one-hitter from Michael Pineda and three relievers in a 5-0 win over the Baltimore Orioles that gave New York a tiny bit more belief.
"You continue to play, and you continue to fight until you're out of games. That's all you can do," Jeter said. "I'm well aware of the situation that we're in."
Likely to miss consecutive postseasons for the first time since 1992 and `93, New York closed within four games of the second AL wild card but must overtake three teams to reach the playoffs. The Yankees have just six games left -- three more at home against Baltimore and three at Boston.
"We have to pretty much win out," manager Joe Girardi said. "But you never know. Strange things happen in sports. We've seen it. We've seen people that were 10 games back come back in a month's time and find a way to get in the playoffs on the last day. Crazy things happen."
About 200 fans were on hand when Jeter walked out of the dugout for the first hitting group at about 4:15 p.m. The crowd of 35,614 stood each time late public address announcer Bob Sheppard's recording introduced the Yankees' last player to wear a single-digit uniform number, and fans remained on their feet throughout each at-bat taking photographs and video.
"It's been awesome. It's what I'll remember most from this season," Jeter said. "It's what's made this homestand extremely fun, was getting an opportunity to play in front of these fans and the way that they've reacted."
Jeter went 1 for 3 with a walk, hitting a deep flyout, a run-scoring groundout that made it 2-0 in the third and a double down the left-field line on the eighth pitch of his at-bat against Wei-Yin Chen (16-5) in the fifth.
Jeter is 9 for 20 with three doubles, a home run and six RBIs on this final homestand, raising his batting average seven points to .256.
"Careers only last so long, especially athletic careers. I'm well aware of that," Jeter said. "I've come to grips with this is the last season."
Jose Pirela was a vibrant counterpoint, displaying the exuberance of a debutante when he became New York's first player in 33 years to triple in his first big league at-bat. The Yankees' team-record 57th player this season, Pirela went 2 for 3 with the go-ahead RBI.
"It's fun to see guys so excited when they get their career first hit," Jeter said.
Pineda (4-5) retired his first 13 batters before J.J. Hardy singled sharply to left field. The right-hander struck out eight and walked one in 7 1/3 innings, lowering his ERA to 1.93.
Pineda got some rare offensive support from the Yankees, who had scored 19 runs in his previous 15 big league starts, and was given defensive help by second baseman Stephen Drew, who made a diving stop on Alejandro De Aza's first-inning grounder. Shawn Kelley, Rich Hill and David Phelps finished as Baltimore was held to one hit for the third time this season.
Pirela, a 24-year-old who spent 731 games in the minors over seven seasons, made his major league debut in the third as a designated hitter. He worked the count to 1-1 and drove a changeup on one hop to the wall in left-center. Pirela ran so hard he stumbled after rounding both first base and second, then slid headfirst into third.
He pounded the ground with his right arm, popped up and clapped five times. The previous Yankees player to triple in his first at-bat was Steve Balboni against Detroit on April 22, 1981.
"When I saw the lineup I felt so excited," a beaming Pirela said.
Ichiro Suzuki, who had reached on third baseman Ryan Flaherty's throwing error, scored from first. Pirela hit an opposite-field single to right in the fifth and advanced on Brett Gardner's walk ahead of Jeter's double.
When it was done, Jeter didn't want to think about what it would take this week to reach the playoffs.
"We need to win tomorrow," he said. "Can't look that far in advance."
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