NEW YORK -- Derek Jeter was given a supporting role in the celebration of Mariano Rivera on Sunday, helping to carry a custom-made rocking chair to the mound for the all-time saves leader. A few hours later, he would be the first to greet Andy Pettitte with a warm hug at the top step of Yankee Stadium's dugout.
Jeter wishes that his sore left ankle had allowed it to be different. He would have loved to be pounding his glove at shortstop for what was likely Pettitte's final inning wearing home pinstripes, as well as for Rivera's emotional eighth-inning entrance, but the captain's lingering injury problems made that impossible.
Now, as Rivera counts down the last six regular-season games of his career and Pettitte also prepares to head home, Jeter said that all of these extended ovations and celebrations have made it sink in that the "Core Four" is about to be whittled down to just one.
"Those two guys are like brothers to me," Jeter said. "It's pretty emotional at times, because I'm not playing any more this year. I've played my last game with those two."
Jeter, 39, said that he loved Sunday's tribute for Rivera, calling it "an outstanding job of recognizing one of the best players who ever played," and he said that the extended Yankee Stadium ovation Pettitte received "was just as good as they did for Mo."
Watching a pinstriped No. 42 be unveiled in Monument Park, it's impossible not to let your mind wander. Jeter's No. 2 is a lock to hang there, taking up residence with the all-time greats, but Jeter believes he still has many more afternoons to play before the Yankees give him a "Day."
Jeter has said that he plans to return in 2014, and that is completely within his control, as he has a $9.5 million player option for next season. The Yanks have expressed hope that with an offseason training regimen, Jeter will regain the strength in his legs that can permit him to play a full season at shortstop.
But there will be no Pettitte, whom Jeter recalls first meeting in 1992 with Class A Greensboro, when they were assigned lockers that were close to each other. Jeter chuckled when Pettitte would give himself a tongue-lashing on the mound, but they did not have many other conversations until they were teammates at Triple-A in 1994. Jeter explained that he had been "scared to death when I was in Greensboro."
And there will be no Rivera, whom Jeter recalls meeting in 1993 with Greensboro, playing together that full season and for every year since. The crushing day that they were sent down to the Minors together in 1995, Jeter and Rivera rolled across the George Washington Bridge back to their New Jersey hotel, making a tearful pact that they would return to the big leagues as soon as possible.
"It seems like it was a long time ago," Jeter said. "It seems like it was yesterday in some sense. We experienced a lot of things together, and these are guys that our personalities clicked right away. It's not like we hung out every single day, but we had the same mindset. That's probably one of the reasons why we've been able to play here for so long."
That, and they were successful. Four World Series championships in five years have a way of keeping groups of young players together, and that was an absolute necessity with George M. Steinbrenner still in his full-on "The Boss" bluster.
"You have to remember, when we came up, we felt as though if we didn't do our job, we were gone," Jeter said. "We felt as though we had to prove ourselves each and every year. We never had an opportunity to get comfortable.
"We played for an owner that would get rid of you, and in my opinion, that was a good thing. We always felt as though we were competing for our jobs, and we had to prove ourselves each and every year, and that's what we continued to do."
It has long been a refrain of Jeter's that the Yankees cannot waste time thinking about who is not in their clubhouse; the goal is to win with the players who are there. So as he did with Bernie Williams and then close friend Jorge Posada, Jeter said he will understand when time marches on, but he acknowledged that 2014 will create a new set of experiences in that realm.
"Jorge left the last couple years, but you still had the other two," Jeter said. "Mo was hurt last year, but Andy was still here. So  would be the first time all three of them are gone. It'll be a little different, but I can't tell you how it's going to be, because I haven't done it."
The Yanks decided two weeks ago that Jeter would be placed on the disabled list for the rest of the year, for the good of both him and the team. That ended what Jeter called a "nightmare" season in which he hit .190 with one home run and seven RBIs in 17 games, serving four stints on the DL.
At the time, Jeter said that he would get out his "pom-poms" and help the team by cheering his teammates toward the postseason. The chances of October baseball in the Bronx have diminished greatly, and Jeter said that it has also been frustrating to watch from the sidelines as the rest of the "Core Four" fades into the history books.
"You're talking about four guys that played together in one place," Jeter said. "You're not going to see that again, I don't think. I could be wrong, but it's pretty difficult for one guy to stay with one team for that period of time, let alone four guys."