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Back again, Derek Jeter ready to put the tough times in 2013 behind him

07/28/2013 10:28 PM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Derek Jeter hopes to put a tough 2013 behind him in the second half of this season.(AP)
Derek Jeter returned to the Yankees lineup on Sunday, going 2-for-4 with a walk and a home run in the Yanks' 6-5 walk-off win over the Rays, playing his first Major League innings at shortstop since that fateful night last October when he was helped off the field.

But, it wasn't the Captain's stat line that was the most important thing; instead, it was just the fact that he was in the lineup and the Yankees got a victory that mattered most to many, including Jeter himself.

"I try to do whatever I can to help our team win, and it feels good to contribute…the first of anything is difficult to get," he said. "First hit, first home run, first RBI - the first game was hard enough for me, really - but it feels great to contribute, and most importantly, we won."

It was thought that Jeter would be activated Saturday, but instead, the team had him play a simulated game. Once Sunday came though, the team had seen, as Jeter noted "whatever they needed to see" to activate him, and there was no concern high enough or no thunderstorm threat big enough to keep Jeter from manning shortstop in an MLB game for the first time in more than nine months.

"We need him to play shortstop," Girardi said, "because we're headed to National League cities and there is no DH for the next five games."

The fans at Yankee Stadium saw what they wanted to see right away too, as Jeter himself drilled the first pitch he saw into the right field seats for his first home run of the season - the team's first since the All-Star break and first by a right-handed batter in more than a month - and the Yankees ended up scoring three runs in the frame.

The Captain himself downplayed any thought that his presence in the lineup would be a spark - saying "my job has always been to get on base, get hits, and help us win games" and that he's "not some savior who comes in and all of a sudden we start winning" - but it's hard to deny that there might have been some kind of "Jeter magic" in the air, and Girardi agreed.

"I think what he's trying to say is that he can't drive in 10 runs every day, he can only do his part, and I think he understands that; he has a grasp about what one guy can do and how you can't try to do too much," Girardi said. "Derek's been a winner his whole career, and he understands what it's like to play in these games down the stretch, so just his presence is important…it's hard to put your finger on exactly why, but he's a winner."

That home run didn't quite require Jeter to bust it down the line, nor did his third-inning single, but his groundout to short in the fifth showed that he may in fact be capable of what Girardi called "running under control" whether he likes the idea or not.

"I don't want to learn how to do it. I understand I have to learn how to do it, especially the first week or two, but I feel awkward doing it," Jeter said of the scaled-back style. "I've run hard my entire career, and I think you can still run hard while under control, so I'm still running hard. I haven't been good at (running controlled) in my career, but I guess I have no choice."

"The only thing I do is continue to preach to him that I know it's not in his DNA, but he's going to have to find a way to run under control when the situation calls for it," Girardi said. "When he has to run hard, go for it, but he has to protect his leg and his body for a few days and get through this."

The Captain did just that while trying to beat out a slower grounder to short in the seventh, but as Girardi noted, plays like that are who the Captain is. He's okay with that, as long as Jeter's bio also includes "active," and said he didn't monitor his shortstop any differently than normal once the game started.

Afterward, Jeter admitted he was tired - joking that his first thought when Soriano got the game-winning hit was "Thank God, because I didn't want to have to go play extra innings" - but even after he rebuffed the thought that he felt or looked better Sunday than he did on July 11 - again saying "I felt the same, I just lasted longer" - his skipper said he thought that was the case.

"I thought he was running better than the first time he came back, and I thought he did a good job of managing (his running); maybe the extra two weeks helped," Girardi said.

And, the skipper added, the day couldn't have gone any more perfectly if it was scripted by Hollywood.

"He's a movie, is what he is," the skipper said. "You think ab out his 3,00th hit, you think about what he did today - we hadn't hit a home run since the All-Star break and hadn't hit a right-handed home run in a month, so to come out and do that in his first at-bat…he's a movie."

Storybook or not, Jeter, as usual, wouldn't play into that.

"I've been here a long time, and I've been through a lot of special moments, but I don't know," he said. "I like to play, and regardless whether it's a game in April or October, I like to help us win."

The Yankees are off Monday, and Girardi said that Jeter will likely play both games in Los Angeles and then at least two of three in San Diego after Thursday's off day. But, in true Jeter fashion, The Captain is only worried about the next one.

"We have to win some games and take it one day at a time," Jeter said. "I don't think about a month from now or two months from now; every day there's a chance to win a game, and that's what I worry about."

And now that he's back, he's most glad he no longer has to worry about wondering what a return will be like.

"I've been here for a long time, and people have gotten used to seeing me, so maybe it's awkward that I've been gone so long," Jeter said when asked about his presence in the lineup. "I've been hurt in my career and missed some games, but I don't know if I've missed this many games due to injury in my career combined. It feels good to hear (his presence may be a spark, but it's not something I necessarily think about."

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