The iconic captain ranged toward the second-base bag for a play he's probably made hundreds of times during his career. But in the 12th inning of the Yankees' 6-4 loss in 12 innings to the Tigers in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday night, Jeter's ankle buckled as he fielded the ball.
Jeter fell down, and couldn't get up on his own. He has a fractured left ankle and won't play baseball again until 2013.
"For him to lay down on that field, I knew something was broke or torn completely," said Yankees lefty Andy Pettitte, who worked 6 2/3 innings of two-run ball. "You know, when I saw him not get up, I knew he was done, really. It's terrible."
The Yankees expect Jeter to return by Spring Training.
"I don't know the exact medical terms, but I'll just call it a broken ankle," said Yankees general manager Brian Cashman. "He has a fracture in his ankle and he's going to be down for this series and the remaining series, and it's about a three-month minimum recovery, from what the doctor tells us."
Captain's postseason log
The loss wasn't nearly as painful to the Yankees as the realization that they will have to try to get to the World Series without Jeter.
"When Derek Jeter needs help to get off the field, you know it's bad," said Cashman.
That had happened only one other time in Jeter's career -- back on Opening Day 2003, when he separated his left shoulder in Toronto.
Never had Jeter been knocked out of action in October.
This is the second enormous blow the Yankees have had to an active legend this season. Closer Mariano Rivera tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee while shagging fly balls during batting practice back on May 3 at Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium, and the right-hander was lost for the season.
"That's kind of crushing, you know?" said right fielder Nick Swisher. "It's tough; it's really tough. We've got to keep pushing along and keep playing our game, and hopefully we can pull it out."
Jayson Nix will take over at shortstop in Jeter's absence. Eduardo Nunez will take Jeter's place on the roster, effective for Sunday's 4 p.m. ET Game 2 on TBS.
Once the Yankees got the official diagnosis, there wasn't much to say in the trainer's room. Jeter was there, surrounded by Cashman, members of the medical staff, former manager Joe Torre -- now an executive with Major League Baseball -- and Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson.
"There were about five or six people in there," Cashman said. "Our game was still going on."
How was the news relayed to Jeter?
"Just that he has a fracture and, 'It's something you can't play through,'" said Cashman. "I think the doc had to emphasize that in talking to Derek, who is as tough as they come."
Jeter has battled left foot problems for weeks, and perhaps general weakness in that area made his ankle more susceptible to the fracture that occurred.
"I'm not in a position to answer that," said Cashman. "It very well could be related. He's been banged up with that foot, so I would say yeah, I would think it is related."
Now the Yankees will be in a most unfamiliar role of trying to win at the most important time of year without their unquestioned leader.
"The way to honor Derek mostly more than anything else, and these guys all know this, is to get the job done in his absence," Cashman said. "That's what everybody in here intends to do, and that's what we'll focus on, just like when we've lost anybody else.
"The most analogous would be Mariano. We lost Pettitte for a period of time. We lost Mo for the season. We've lost Derek for the season. Nix is capable and he'll be plugged in there tomorrow, and we look forward to getting even with this Tigers team tomorrow."
The Yankees had stormed back in Game 1, rallying back from a 4-0 deficit in the bottom of the ninth on two-run homers by Ichiro Suzuki and Raul Ibanez. But by the end of the night, they lost the game and their captain.
"It's a tough moment for all of us because of what he means to our team," said Ibanez.
For the rest of this postseason, Jeter will be reduced to the role of cheerleader.
"It doesn't matter," said Cashman. "The job is to overcome every obstacle that comes our way. We have one team standing in our way to get to the World Series."