BOSTON -- The ball, marked and numbered for the occasion, bounced high off the dirt and down the third-base line, where a rookie who was 4 years-old when Derek Jeter made his major league debut leaped into the air to attempt a barehanded play.
It went off of his palm and onto the grass, and by that time Jeter was safe at first with hit No. 3,465 -- the last of a career in which he established himself as the New York Yankees' consummate captain and, for two decades, the face of baseball.
"It's been a blessing," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said, holding back tears. "To play along with such a great player, to manage a guy that is what you want in every player, what you want every player to care about, what you want every player to fight for, what you want every player to do. It's been a real blessing."
Jeter bid baseball adieu on Sunday with an RBI single, a dugout full of hugs and a final wave to the fans, concluding his Hall of Fame career by helping the Yankees beat the Boston Red Sox 9-5.
Three days after an emotional farewell in New York, pinstripe-wearing fans filled Fenway Park for Jeter's finale, chanting for him and the visiting Yankees and standing for each of his at-bats. After a hard line-drive out in the first inning, Jeter delivered his final hit as part of a four-run third inning, then left for a pinch runner and headed into retirement.
"I felt like the time was right," Jeter said. "My emotions were so all over the place on Thursday in New York, and when I got here I was ready; I was ready for my career to be over with. I'm happy I had an opportunity to come up and play here a couple of games. I'm ready for this to be the end."
Jeter's departure gave some import to an otherwise meaningless game between the longtime AL East rivals, who missed the playoffs together for the first time in 20 years. The last-place Red Sox -- the defending World Series champions -- are the first team in baseball history to go from worst to first and back to last in three consecutive seasons.
Michael Pineda (5-5) earned the victory as the Yankees finished in second place, 12 games behind the division-winning Baltimore Orioles and too far back in the wild-card standings to make the weekend series meaningful. Clay Buchholz (8-11) gave up Ichiro Suzuki's two-run triple in the fourth, then entered trivia history as the last pitcher to give up a hit to Jeter.
After a walk and a single and a wild pitch put runners on second and third, Suzuki lined the ball into the Fenway triangle, the deepest part of the ballpark, where it rolled under the 420-foot marker and stopped. Fans moaned that he was not waved home for an inside-the-park homer, but with Ichiro at third it meant that Jeter would be coming to bat with another RBI opportunity.
The 40-year-old shortstop, in the lineup this weekend as the designated hitter, took a strike, took a ball and then fouled a pitch off before bouncing a high chopper to third.
"I don't know if I make the play if I bare-hand it," said 23-year-old Garin Cecchini, who met Jeter during the pregame ceremony. "I told him when I shook his hand, `Congratulations and thanks for being such a good role model.' I think that's the best compliment anyone can have."
All eyes in the sold-out crowd of 36,879 turned to the Jeter, safe at first, waiting to see if that was it. And when Brian McCann came out of the dugout to replace him as a pinch runner, the Captain's career was over -- 46 years to the day after Mickey Mantle ended his on the same field. And it marked the last appearance in a game of any Yankee with a single-digit uniform number.
Jeter pointed at the applauding Red Sox, hugged pitcher Clay Buchholz and then stopped in front of the Yankees dugout to tip his helmet to the crowd. Buchholz waited behind the mound to give the cheers a chance to subside, and then Jeter disappeared into the dugout.
The final hit raised Jeter's lifetime batting average to .310, gave him 1,311 RBIs and made the score 4-0. The Yankees scored five more in the top of the seventh inning and Boston put five across in the bottom half, but by that time the ballpark was half-empty.
The fans had gotten what they wanted -- even the ones from Boston.
"I don't know how people could really unite a crowd like he did today," Girardi said. "Such big rivals, so much history between the teams, but you would have thought that it was one team, in a sense, today. And I don't know how many players can do that in any sport. But I think it shows you the respect he has even against your toughest rival."
The sun-soaked day began with a 30-minute ceremony in which Jeter was serenaded with "Respect" and presented with some local baubles: second base emblazoned with his No. 2, a pair of Yankees-themed boots and a check for $22,222.22 to his Turn 2 Foundation. Former Red Sox players from Carl Yastrzemski to Fred Lynn came out to greet him along with captains from the other local teams: Bruins Hall of Famer Bobby Orr, the Celtics' Paul Pierce and the Patriots' Troy Brown, followed by the entire 2014 Red Sox team.
Jeter's parents made the trip for his final series, along with thousands of New Yorkers who clogged the MassPike on their way to the game. Fans in Jeter's No. 2 pinstripes milled unharassed inside the ballpark -- a scene unimaginable a decade ago -- mixing with Bostonians showing their esteem for a player who relished the rivalry as much as they do.
"JETUH," said one T-shirt in Red Sox colors and his name translated into the local dialect.
And on the back: "WICKED RE2PECT."
Follow Jimmy Golen on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jgolen
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