NEW YORK -- It seemed like the perfect setup for the Yankees. Two men were on, none were out, and the Phillies' erratic bullpen was reeling. For the first time since the third inning, New York had the tying run at the plate, and it was none other than Derek Jeter.
And that's why what happened next was so surprising. After getting ahead of Ryan Madson, Jeter grounded into a tailor-made 6-4-3 double play that, while scoring a run, effectively killed the Yankees' rally. It was a strange moment for Jeter, akin to Montana missing the open man, Bird the winning jumper or Tiger the par putt. Derek Jeter, the man who always came through, did not. Of course, the surprise that greets Jeter's Game 5 shortcoming throws light upon the countless times he has succeeded in those situations, like the leadoff homer he hit in Game 4 of the 2000 World Series or the walk-off one he hit in the same game a year later. Seeing Jeter playing shortstop and getting big hits for the Yankees is as much an October ritual as the end of daylight saving time or Halloween. Jeter himself shrugs off the advantage the Yankees might have in experience, pointing out that the Phillies have played a lot of October baseball themselves the last few years. At the same time, it's hard to underestimate the impact his own postseason experience has had on his teammates. "He's been in this situation so many times, and it's good to look back there and have that guy behind you with all the experience," CC Sabathia said. "It makes you feel calm." Sabathia admitted that Jeter's calming influence was especially important at the start of the playoffs, when he and several other Yankees had postseason butterflies. Jeter doesn't even need to say anything; his presence in the clubhouse is enough.
"It's not like the movies where he goes around and talks to everybody," Sabathia said. "We know what we need to do, and we're all professionals. It's just good to have him in here." Wednesday's Game 6 will be Jeter's 38th start in a World Series game. While that number doesn't crack the all-time top 10 -- a list littered with Yankees greats from the '40s and '50s -- it is the highest number for a player since man first walked on the moon. And as much as people focus on the Yankees' core four of Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte all trying to win their fifth title, it's Jeter that has been the only constant in the everyday lineup since 1996. It's Jeter that is the team's captain and whose No. 2 will likely never be worn by another Yankee. And it's Jeter who is the face of the franchise to an entire generation of fans. It's no coincidence that the new Yankee Stadium has been colloquially called "The House that Jeter Built." "He's Derek Jeter. His name kind of says it all," Nick Swisher said with a smile. "For a guy like him to have all this knowledge of being in the postseason, still having that will -- that will to win -- it's a lot of fun to be playing next to him." Even Jeter's Game 6 opponent and longtime rival, Pedro Martinez, put the Yankees shortstop's name in the same sentence as Babe Ruth, calling him part of "the future of the game." Jeter, though, is simply staying in the present. He's not thinking about things like how a title in the first year of the new Yankee Stadium props up his Yankees legacy in the way winning one in the first year of the old Yankee Stadium did for Ruth. Jeter cares a lot more about adding a 27th banner to the concrete wall in right-center field than his No. 2 to the one in left-center. That talk about legacy is fodder for another time, hopefully years down the road. His focus remains on Martinez, on Game 6, and on the opportunity to celebrate a World Series title for the first time in nine seasons. "That's what you play for," he said matter-of-factly, the simplicity of his words revealing his singularity of focus. "You play for the chance to win a championship."
Tim Britton is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.