NEW YORK -- Derek Jeter opened the bottom half of the first inning for the Yankees on Monday night with a long home run into the right-field seats at Yankee Stadium. It was the 3,104th hit of his career. No. 3,105 came an inning later on an infield single. The Yankees captain and shortstop has been on a tear since this past July 9, when he roared past the 3,000-hit mark. And it's not a bit preposterous to believe that 4,000 hits is a real possibility, with that lofty plateau just 895 away. "I wouldn't put it [past] him," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said prior to Monday night's rare 7-3 Minnesota win in New York. "He doesn't look like he's aged. His body is still in fantastic shape and he still moves just fine. I haven't seen any missteps. I haven't seen his swing go too bad. He's the hottest hitter on their team right now.
"I don't know, 4,000 hits is a lot of hits. How far is he away, 900? Good luck, Derek." Fans have learned to expect the unexpected from Jeter. He was a .260 hitter through this past June 13, when a calf injury put him on the disabled list for the rest of the month. Then came the big game against the Rays, during which Jeter took David Price deep for hit No. 3,000. He went 5-for-5 that day and he hasn't stopped hitting. Before that, Jeter couldn't put it together. He tried an adjustment to his stance that included a stutter step in his front foot. That had negligible results. "I thought it would work, and it didn't work," Jeter said prior to Monday's game. "I just wasn't comfortable with it. It might work for some people, but it didn't work for me for whatever reason. Why'd I try it? People try different things sometimes." He went back to his old ways, hitting .387 in August and finishing the season at .297. For the first 10 games of 2012, he's ripping along at .378. Yankees manager Joe Girardi surmises that releasing the emotional pressure of becoming the first Yankee in history to amass 3,000 hits is the big difference. "He's been a different guy since then," Girardi said. "I keep saying it." When asked if it's crazy to consider the possibility of Jeter reaching 4,000 hits, Girardi responded: "I think that's kind of crazy to think about," Girardi said. "You're thinking about five years, and he'd have to get about 200 hits a year. I'm not ready to dive into that one yet." To be sure, only two players in Major League Baseball history have reached and surpassed 4,000 hits: Pete Rose at 4,256 and Ty Cobb at 4,191. Only five players have more than 3,500. Jeter is 19th on the all-time list, and Dave Winfield is up next at 3,110. Conservatively, with good health and a little bit of luck, Jeter should move well past 3,200 this season and perhaps as high as 11th place, where Eddie Murray now sits at 3,255. Jeter has had seven 200-hit seasons in his now 17-year career, the last one as recently as 2009. He had 162 this past season. Predictably, Jeter wouldn't bite at the notion of ultimately chasing 4,000 hits. "Really, I haven't given any thought to it," he said. "I'm just trying to get through today." Jeter, who will turn 38 on June 26, has so many baseball accomplishments, his bio takes up 13 pages in the Yankees 2012 media guide. The last page alone is devoted just to his postseason statistics. Off the field, he's also well accomplished as his pending honorary degree from Siena College attests. When Rachel and Sharon Robinson hugged him during Jackie Robinson Day ceremonies at the Stadium on Sunday night, it was with real affection. Jeter acknowledged on Monday that he still personally funds a $10,000 scholarship through the Jackie Robinson Foundation. He's been doing so for years. "Great players are professional players, and he's right at the top on and off the field," Gardenhire said about Jeter. "He's been the ultimate professional when it comes to playing this game. You just have to admire the guy." This testament comes from a man who has every reason to despise Jeter, who is hitting .326 lifetime against the Twins, with 12 homers and 53 RBIs. Number 12 was the 26th leadoff shot of his career, which, of course, extended his own Yankees record. Jeter has 158 hits against the Twins. "I know I heard last year that his range was [diminishing]," Gardenhire added. "Every time he plays we can't get a ball past him. He never misses one. I don't know whether he's ever made an error against us. He's a great hitter, a great player. Mr. Clutch. He's the whole package, what a baseball player should be." The question is whether 4,000 hits will someday be part of that package.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskieon Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.