"It's easy to fall into the trap of, 'Oh, it's just Derek being unbelievable in the postseason.' To him, it's just another game," said Yankees slugger Jason Giambi. "I don't know if it's because he started his career young and has been in the playoffs, but he's definitely a special talent, no doubt about it. He's unbelievable. He just gets into those games and bears down and just starts throwing hits all over the place."
Jeter capped off the magical night by belting a solo homer to left-center in the bottom the eighth. Deafening roars cascaded from the packed house at Yankee Stadium. A curtain call followed.
Just another night at the office for one of the great clutch players of the last decade. Jeter extended his postseason hits record to 147 and his Division Series hits record to 64.
Per usual, the least impressed person at Yankee Stadium seemed to be Jeter, who was interested in the win and not much else.
"Not necessarily when I have a night like this, [but] when the team has a night like this, you're able to relax a little bit," said Jeter. "But it's a short series. You can't relax in this series. You come right back [Wednesday]. You want to win the first game, especially at home."
It was as if Jeter was on a mission to get a win. Before he had reached full throttle with the bat, Jeter made a brilliant play with the glove in the top of the third inning. He went into the hole to field a grounder by Placido Polanco, swiftly got it to second base for the force, and watched Robinson Cano complete the 6-4-3 double play.
Then, in the bottom of the third inning, Jeter grabbed a big piece of momentum by smashing a basehit into center and stretching it into a double with all-out hustle. A game that was scoreless up to that point suddenly had Yankees at second and third with nobody out. From there, the Yankees wouldn't be stopped. Bobby Abreu hammered a two-run double. Gary Sheffield slapped an RBI single. Giambi roped a two-run homer and it was 5-0, Yankees.
Jeter had set the tone.
Most hits in a postseason game
|Paul Blair, Bal, 10/6/69, ALCS vs. Min.|
|Paul Molitor, Mil, 10/12/82, WS vs. Stl.|
|Marquis Grissom, Atl, 10/7/95, NLDS vs. Col.|
|Mike Stanley, Bos, 10/10/99 ALDS vs. Cle.|
|Hideki Matsui, NY, 10/16/04, ALCS vs. Bos.|
|Derek Jeter, NY, 10/3/06, ALDS vs. Det.|
"The thing is, every at-bat means something," said Jeter.
Just as the Tigers crept back into it at 5-3, Jeter helped spread it back out. His double in the sixth once again set up runners at second and third with nobody out. And Abreu came through with another two-run hit, this one a single.
"He was awesome as usual," said Sheffield. "He stepped up for us big today, and once we got up big, he kept pouring it on for the rest of the game."
Coming off a regular season that just might win him his first Most Valuable Player Award, Jeter again reinforced that the postseason is what counts most for him.
"Derek is a special player," said Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez. "I'm very proud to be his teammate."
Of course, the Yankee who is linked most often to Jeter is the manager. Joe Torre and Jeter planted roots together in New York in 1996. Ten years later, Torre still shakes his head in disbelief when asked to recap another heroic night by his shortstop.
"I don't want to say he has a plan, but he just seems to relish this atmosphere," said Torre. "He's been so big for us for 11 years here and, you know, again, I can't say I'm surprised. Everything worked well for him tonight. Starting that double play was not an easy play. Swinging the bat tonight, he was on everything."
This was what Abreu saw on television for all those Octobers he was a spectator. Tuesday night, he got to witness the Jeter legend up close.
"That guy is amazing," said Abreu. "Right now, being behind him, watching him play, it's amazing. That guy, he's a gamer, he's a leader and you can learn a lot of things from him. Like I say, it's amazing. That's amazing, watching him play."
Most amazing of all is that such a performance was not entirely unexpected when you consider who produced it.
"He doesn't amaze me at all," said Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. "I've seen it before, and he'll keep doing it as long as he's here."