On Wednesday, the veterans offered a reminder that they'll rule by example as well. Pettitte pitched seven strong innings and Jeter hit a milestone home run, and the Yankees rolled to a 5-1 victory over the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.
Warding off Toronto's challenge to move into a tie for third place in the American League East, Pettitte limited the Blue Jays to just a sixth-inning run, scattering five hits over seven frames. The left-hander won for the first time in four starts, walking none and striking out four.
"I feel like it's my responsibility," Pettitte said. "I expect a lot out of myself. I'm extremely disappointed with the way I've pitched, and it was nice to throw a good game tonight. We have a lot of big games ahead of us. I hope down the stretch here, we can get a lot of wins."
In support of that common goal, the Yankees rapped rookie left-hander David Purcey for five runs in four innings, including a two-run homer by Jeter. The shot moved the shortstop past Bill Dickey and into a tie with Roger Maris (203) for 11th place on New York's all-time list. He is also two hits shy of 2,500 for his career.
"Derek has been a spectacular player here for a long time," manager Joe Girardi said. "You don't reach those individual accomplishments without being consistent, staying healthy and playing every day, and just being a great player. That's what he's done since 1996."
As the Yankees attempt to pull off an improbable comeback and reach the postseason for the 14th consecutive season, they are reminded of the stalwarts who have helped keep that run alive.
Only four players from the championship clubs of 1996 through 2000 remain in uniform: Jeter, Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and the injured Jorge Posada.
The message that those players are spurred to spread is to relax, and recognize that past Yankees clubs have overcome long odds. As long as there is a mathematical chance, there is hope.
"Nothing is insurmountable," Pettitte said. "If people think you're out, you want to prove them wrong more. We understand we put ourselves in a tough position. You try to be positive in here with everybody -- pat them ... and kick them in the rear."
"We've been here for a while," Jeter added. "Mo's the same way, Jorge is obviously hurt. But we've been around for a lot of things -- good times, bad times. We understand there is a sense of urgency, but I think everyone understands that."
For the third straight game, the Yankees scored in the first inning, putting a quick pair on the board. Facing Purcey, the Yankees loaded the bases on three singles to open the game, with Jason Giambi logging a sacrifice fly and Xavier Nady stroking a run-scoring single.
That gave Pettitte enough cushion that he could take the mound with a relaxed attitude, working freely with batterymate Jose Molina.
"My command was good early on," Pettitte said. "It helped to go out there and be relaxed a little bit and pitch my game. Me and Jose had a great rhythm, and that was good. It gives you a lot of confidence, especially when you're locating."
Three more runs came across in the fourth, as Robinson Cano walked, moved to third on a Molina hit-and-run and scored on a Johnny Damon fielder's choice. Jeter followed with his eighth home run of the season, a shot over the right-field wall and his third hit of the game.
The Yankees had a patient approach against Purcey, who watched his pitch count rise to 79 as he finished after four innings, allowing seven hits while walking two and striking out two.
Pettitte allowed just two hits through the first five innings before he was touched for three consecutive singles in the sixth, with Alex Rios driving in Toronto's only run of the evening.
"When he's on the mound, we always have a lot of confidence in him," Jeter said. "He's pretty much been in every situation you could think of. He's had so much success. When he takes the mound, you feel as though he's going to have success again."
The veteran threw 83 pitches before yielding to reliever Brian Bruney, who helped pick up the workload with two scoreless innings.
There were also encouraging signs from Hideki Matsui, who legged out an eighth-inning double off reliever Jason Frasor and showed no ill effects from his troublesome left knee, and from Damon, who reached base in his first four plate appearances after flubbing two fly balls on Tuesday.
"Johnny is the guy that really gets us going," said Girardi, who added that the Yankees held their breath "a little" watching Matsui chug into second base.
New York has split the first two games of the series in Toronto, part of a six-game road trip that will take the team to Baltimore this weekend. New York is playing 21 of its final 37 games of the season away from Yankee Stadium, including 14 of 15 against AL East opponents.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.