BOSTON — The ball, marked and numbered for the occasion, bounced high off the dirt and down the third-base line, where a rookie who was 4 years-old when Derek Jeter made his major league debut leaped into the air to attempt a bare-handed play.
It went off of his palm and onto the grass, and by that time Jeter was safe at first with hit No. 3,465 — sixth all-time, and the most in franchise history — along with the 1,311th RBI of a career in which he established himself as the New York Yankees’ consummate captain and, for two decades, the face of baseball.
Jeter bid baseball adieu with an RBI single on a chopper, a dugout full of hugs and a final wave to the fans on Sept. 28th, concluding his Hall of Fame career by helping the Yankees beat the Boston Red Sox 9-5.
“In an era where few heroes exist, over a 20-year span he represented the sport and himself in an absolutely magnificent way. It’s almost hard to believe,” Commissioner Bud Selig said this weekend when he stopped by Fenway for his own farewell tour. “He makes one proud.”
Three days after an emotional farewell in New York, pinstripe-wearing fans filled Fenway Park for Jeter’s finale, chanting for him and the visiting Yankees and standing for each of his at-bats.
After a hard line-drive out in the first inning, Jeter delivered his final hit as part of a four-run third inning, then left for a pinch hitter and headed into retirement.
“I’m ready for it now,” Jeter said after the final out. “The plan was two at-bats. I was lucky I got a hit. I guess I hit the right part of the plate.”
Jeter’s departure gave some import to an otherwise meaningless game between the longtime AL East rivals, who missed the playoffs together for the first time in 20 years.
The last-place Red Sox — the defending World Series champions — are the first team in baseball history to go from worst to first and back to worst in three consecutive seasons.
Michael Pineda (5-5) earned the victory as the Yankees finished in second place, 12 games behind the division-winning Baltimore Orioles and too far back in the wild-card standings to make the weekend series count.
Clay Buchholz (8-11) gave up Ichiro Suzuki’s two-run triple before in the fourth, then entered trivia history as the last pitcher to give up a hit to Jeter.
After a walk and a single and a wild pitch put runners on second and third, Suzuki lined the ball into the Fenway triangle, the deepest part of the ballpark, where it rolled under the 420-foot sign and stopped.
Fans moaned that he was not waved home for an inside-the-park homer, but with Ichiro at third it meant that Jeter would be coming to bat with another RBI opportunity.
The 40-year-old shortstop, in the lineup this weekend as the designated hitter, took a strike, took a ball and then fouled one off before bouncing a high chopper to third. Garin Cecchini, 23, tried to make a one-handed play but couldn’t.
All eyes turned to the Jeter, safe at first, waiting to see if that was it. And when Brian McCann came out of the dugout to replace him as a pinch runner, the Captain’s career was over — 46 years to the day after Mickey Mantle ended his on the same field. The final hit raised Jeter’s lifetime batting average to .310.
Jeter pointed at the applauding Red Sox, hugged pitcher Buchholz and then stopped in front of the Yankees dugout to tip his helmet to the crowd. Buchholz waited behind the mound to give the cheers a chance to subside, and then Jeter disappeared into the dugout.
The Yankees scored five more in the top of the seventh inning and Boston put five across in the bottom half, but by that time the ballpark was half-empty.
The fans had gotten what they wanted.
The sun-soaked day began with a 30-minute ceremony in which Jeter was serenaded with “Respect” and presented with some local baubles: Second base emblazoned with his No. 2, a pair of Yankees-themed boots and a check for $22,222.22 to his Turn 2 Foundation.
Former Red Sox players from Carl Yastrzemski to Fred Lynn came out to greet him along with captains from the other local teams: Bruins Hall of Famer Bobby Orr, the Celtics’ Paul Pierce and Troy Brown of the Patriots, followed by the entire 2014 Red Sox team.
Jeter’s parents made the trip for his final series, along with thousands of New Yorkers who clogged the MassPike on their way to the game.
Fans in Jeter’s No. 2 pinstripes milled unharassed inside the ballpark — a scene unimaginable a decade ago — mixing with Bostonians showing their esteem for a player who relished the rivalry as much as they do.
“JETUH,” said one T-shirt in Red Sox colors and his name translated into the local dialect.
And on the back: “WICKED RE2PECT.”
(JIMMY GOLEN, AP Sports Writer)