The heart and soul of the Yankees is back

07/12/2013 1:17 PM ET
By Doug Williams

Derek Jeter went 1-for-4 on Thursday afternoon in his return to the Yankees.(AP)
It's 1 p.m. on the afternoon of July 12, and we don't yet know if Derek Jeter's new injury is going to keep him out of tonight's game.

Yesterday, the Yankees' captain returned after months of rehabbing his broken ankle. And while us Yankees fans are optimists, especially when it comes to Jeter, it's impossible to deny that we all succumb to Father Time eventually.

And we knew that before he left Thursday's game early with tightness in his quadriceps.

There's undeniably more good news than bad, though. You're kidding yourself if you think that this recent injury is serious enough to keep him out of the lineup. Knowing Jeter, he'll probably push hard to play tonight. But even if he does miss a game or two, the heart and soul of the Yankees is back. As long as his name is on the lineup card, everybody wins.

General manager Brian Cashman has done a great job putting talent in the lineup this season. The Yankees acquired veterans who have resurrected their careers because of the motivation that the pinstripes bring, some young guys have stepped up nicely, and returning players like Chris Stewart, Jayson Nix, Brett Gardner and Robinson Cano have carried the load.

But what Jeter's return does to this team is bring back the core of the Yankees' clubhouse. If Jeter hits .260 and is a shell of his former self, the Yanks are still twice the team they were without him. He has a presence about him in the lineup that will give everybody else better pitches to hit. He'll make opposing pitchers nervous, he'll make Yankee Stadium come to life and he'll bring a career of winning with the Yankees unlike anything this roster has seen.

I won't count this Yankees team out as long as Jeter is playing, and neither should you. Reinforcements will come, trades will be made, but the important thing is that the captain is back on the field.

You know what's funny? I don't even think of Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera as old. Yes, they're 39, 41, and 43 years old, respectively. But to me, their age is counterbalanced by their experience. They have each won five championships. They've seen everything. They've won with teams that ooze talent, and they've won with relatively unskilled and scrappy teams. Regardless, they've played a lot of baseball in October.

But Jeter's presence is arguably even greater than the other two, because he's the captain. If you don't think that seeing No. 2 in the lineup motivates everybody else, you're wrong. About half the hitters on the Yankees' roster have never played in the regular season with Jeter. They're about to find out how much a champion can motivate them.

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