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Jeter set to lead Yanks into postseason

Jeter ready to lead Yanks in playoffs

NEW YORK -- As if fouling off pitch after nasty pitch, Derek Jeter sat at his locker early Tuesday afternoon and deflected the mandatory postseason questions. No, he doesn't prefer the Tigers or the Twins. Yes, he thinks Alex Rodriguez will be valuable in October. No, he still can't put a finger on precisely why he's so clutch.

Jeter, you see, has done this all before. He's the old guy now, the guy who has lost more postseason games in his career -- three dozen and counting -- than many of his teammates have played in their lives. Combined.

So when the clubhouse doors burst open Tuesday and the reporters and well-wishers came rushing through, Jeter was the one sitting at his locker and reflecting -- or, rather, ignoring -- postseasons past.

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"Our goal when we come into the season is to win a championship," Jeter said. "That's how it is every year. You don't go home and celebrate regular-season championships. You don't go home and celebrate getting to the World Series. Our goal is to win it. That's been my mind-set since I've come up and it never changes."

It's a nice mind-set for a shortstop that spent his first 12 big league Octobers playing baseball and usually winning, taking home four titles over his first five seasons. Then came last season, the bad one for Jeter and the Yankees, his first on the outside looking in.

The Phillies won that World Series, but Jeter didn't see it happen.

"It's like when you're a little kid and your parents don't let you go outside and play," he said. "You're not going to sit in the window and watch."

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Yankees at a glance
2009 record: 103-59
2008 record: 89-73
AL champions
World Series matchup:
Phillies at Yankees
Postseason tix: Information

WHO ARE THESE GUYS?
Girardi: Confident in moves
Vet quartet: On the verge
Damon: Got his groove back
Teixeira: D offsets slump
Rivera: Has no equal
Robertson: Invaluable
Jeter: Legend grows
Teixeira: Dependable
Girardi: Fresh cup o' Joe
Damon: What, me worry?
Rivera: Stoic and steady
Gardner: Finds his niche
Teixeira: Fully adjusted
Hughes: Difference-maker
Chamberlain: Happy in 'pen
Jeter: Ready to lead
Sabathia: Deserves Game 1
Swisher: A year wiser
A-Rod: Nothing to lose

This October, his parents are letting him outside again. And that's good news for the Yankees -- especially considering Jeter's recent success. Not since 2006 has he held a higher batting average than this season's .334 mark, and never in his career has he committed fewer defensive errors (just eight).

For all the talk of free-agent acquisitions Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, Jeter's career year at age 35 is one of the primary reasons why the Yankees won a league-best 103 games.

And that was in the regular season. Generally, Jeter's aura only expands during the playoffs -- a time for flip plays and game-winners and .309 lifetime averages.

"I grew up a Red Sox fan, so I hated him," setup man Phil Hughes said, laughing. "He's certainly a guy that is very important to our team."

It's impossible to say that Jeter is more or less important than Sabathia or Teixeira or Rodriguez this season, just as it was impossible to determine his worth amongst Bernie Williams or Paul O'Neill on the Yankee teams of old. He's very, very valuable, and that will have to do.

But in a clubhouse full of players such as Hughes and Burnett, and others who have never before touched postseason turf, Jeter is a calming influence. More than Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera, the other three members of the four-time champions club, Jeter has become the franchise's face and spokesman over the past 14 seasons.

He is all business, a baseball tuxedo in a sea of street clothes. Most players have pictures of family member or Yankees logos on the computer monitors that dot their lockers. Jeter has an AccuWeather forecast.

He is the leadoff hitter for the best team in baseball, and the player most trusted to come through in the moments when the Yankees need it most.

"I try to get better every year," Jeter said. "I try to contribute and I try to be consistent."

And with that, Jeter pulled on a hooded sweatshirt, slipped into a pair of sneakers, grabbed a bat and jogged out to the field. It was time for batting practice, in the final moments before the 13th playoff appearance of his career.

"This is what you play for," Jeter said. "That's what your goal is, and now everything starts over. This is the first step of hopefully a few more steps."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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