Jeter makes Yanks and Red Sox one

BOSTON -- As grand exits go, this was not in the same ballpark with Thursday night in the Bronx. In the middle of a football Sunday, Derek Jeter was playing the Pro Bowl at Fenway Park three days after he was named Super Bowl MVP.

That's how it felt, anyway. For the first time in his life, Jeter didn't want to spend a couple of sunshiny days playing baseball games.

He was there in body, but not in spirit. He only put on his New York Yankees uniform and took his final four at-bats over the weekend out of respect for the game, the Red Sox rivalry, and the fans who had paid their hard-earned money to see him.

Fans on both sides of the aisle.

"A few people thought I shouldn't play here," Jeter said. "I said I was going to play, so that's why I played."

The full house chanted his name throughout the day, and no, the ovations weren't driven only by the New Yorkers who had made their way up I-95.

Fans in Red Sox jerseys and caps were fully engaged in the celebration too, joining in the rhythmic clap-clap-clapping in between the four-syllabic chants of the Yankee captain's name.

It was a surreal scene for sure, given the barroom nature of the slugfests between these two franchises over the decades. Munson and Fisk. Sweet Lou and everyone. Nettles and Spaceman Lee. Pedro and Zimmer. Varitek and A-Rod.

On one playoff night in 1999, after the Fenway fans hurled bottles and cups and coins onto the field to express their displeasure with the Yankees and the umps, Jeter was left rattled to the core.

"Man," he said, "people were animals out there."

He defanged them over the years. They weren't chanting "Nomar's better" anymore, and they weren't mocking him with garden-variety profanity. On Sunday, as a postscript to the ninth-inning fairy tale that was his Yankee Stadium goodbye, Jeter managed the impossible:

He built a bridge from the Bronx to Boston.

"I don't know how many people could really unite a crowd like he did," Joe Girardi said. The Yankees manager said it felt like one team was playing at Fenway, not two.

"Obviously I got a lot of great stories to tell my kids and grandkids," Girardi said before the emotion overtook him.

This was one of those great stories, the day Fenway treated Jeter the way Madison Square Garden treated Michael Jordan at the end. Times two.

It all started with a pregame ceremony Jeter would call "unbelievable." He jogged out to shortstop, waving his cap to all corners of the crowd, before the Red Sox paraded out the golden-oldie likes of Carl Yastrzemski and Luis Tiant to stand with him. Bobby Orr headed out there in his old Bruins jersey, and Paul Pierce followed in his old Celtics jacket.

The Red Sox put Jeter's name on the old school scoreboard beneath the Green Monster, and they made a $22,222.22 donation to his Turn 2 Foundation. Peter Frates, the ALS victim and former Boston College baseball player who inspired the Ice Bucket Challenge, entered the field in his wheelchair; Jeter, an Ice Bucket participant, ran from his position onto the infield grass to greet him.

Boston was responding to Jeter as if he'd helped Orr win the 1970 Stanley Cup. Before the game, Red Sox manager John Farrell called it "a special day" and went on about Jeter's integrity and dignity and bar-setting ways. He said his young shortstop, Xander Bogaerts, had to be hurting physically to stay out of the lineup.

"His idol is playing his last game," Farrell said.

The Boston manager didn't spit tobacco juice all over the notion that Red Sox minor leaguers could've learned a thing or three over the years by observing Jeter's professionalism.

"Everybody would love to have a Jeter," Farrell said.

The Yankees had him for the final time Sunday, and Girardi found it hard to believe. Even though Jeter told him Saturday he nearly blew out both of his 40-year-old hamstrings grinding out his infield single, Girardi didn't bother to ask his man how he felt for his last game.

He wrote his name into the lineup as the designated hitter instead.

"It was kind of neat, actually," Girardi said.

The manager said he would miss hearing Jeter's voice, miss watching his playfulness in batting practice, and miss leaning on the last and strongest pillar of the dynastic teams that Girardi played on.

"I think it's the end of an era," Girardi said.

It ended officially at 2:26 p.m. Sunday, top of the third inning, after Jeter reached first on a high chopper to third baseman Garin Cecchini that scored Ichiro Suzuki, a legend in his own right, and went in the books as his 3,465th career hit. From the top step of the dugout, Girardi threw out his arms as if to say, "Now?" and Jeter nodded his head to affirm that his 20-year career was complete.

Brian McCann replaced him at first. Jeter hugged his coach, Mick Kelleher, before walking to the mound to shake Clay Buchholz's hand. During the pregame ceremony Jeter had exchanged pleasantries with every member of the Red Sox except the pitcher, who was busy preparing for his start. Jeter didn't want Buchholz to think he'd forgotten about him.

The captain embraced third-base coach Rob Thomson, Mark Teixeira and Brett Gardner before waving his helmet to the fans, whose last ovation for him covered 1 minute, 52 seconds. Later on, with two outs in the ninth, Fenway chanted Jeter's name one last time.

The Yankees won the game, 9-5, for one of the greatest winners they've ever employed. Jeter did a few interviews on the field, waved to the fans, signed a few autographs, and then disappeared down the dugout tunnel for good.

"I felt the time was right," Jeter said about the moment he took off his Yankees uniform. "I was ready for my career to be over with."

He was wearing a blue suit and a lavender tie in his peace-in-the-Middle-East-sized news conference, and as he was sitting there saying he wanted to be remembered as a Yankee, nothing more, it was hard to imagine him never again wearing the pinstripes.

He said four home runs over two days at Fenway wouldn't have topped his walk-off single Thursday night. As for the people worrying that this weekend in Boston might detract from the beautiful endgame that was in the Bronx, Jeter told them to relax.

That magical memory, he said, "is never going away."

This Sunday won't fade to black either. Jeter was raised in the Yankees organization to hate the Red Sox and everything they stood for, and here he was being respected and admired by their players, coaches, and crowd.

"This is a place where we've been an enemy for a long, long time," Jeter said. "For them to flip the script, it made me feel extremely proud to be a part of it."

Jeter wasn't a part of the event; he was the event. For his final act, the captain of the New York Yankees became the de-facto captain of the Boston Red Sox too.

Let's see someone come along and do that in the next 50 or 100 years.