Sunday, July 01, 2007

Jeter: What, me worry?

Jeter: What, me worry?
05/14/2007 12:27 PM ET
By Bryan Hoch /

SEATTLE -- Derek Jeter flicked the lapels of his sharp silver blazer -- exceeding the standard for team charter flights -- and turned to the gathering of television cameras and notebooks waiting by his locker.

After tough losses, this practice has become a steady standard for the Yankees captain. It has also been far too common an occurrence in the early going, as the 17-19 Yankees sank two games below the .500 mark following their defeat to the Mariners at Safeco Field on Sunday.

So Jeter, the most consistent Yankee this year, coolly dissected the latest installment of a season that has been implicit in its inconsistency. The state of the Yankees address contained an underlying message of hope.

Sure, the Yankees were eight games back of the Red Sox, but, as Jeter cracked, it's better than nine.

"I think what you've got to try to do, when there's a lot of things going on, is try to stay positive," Jeter said before Sunday's game. "I think that's the biggest thing. It's real easy to get caught up in that everything is so negative, negative, negative. That's all anyone's asking about, that's all anyone's talking about.

"I just try to stay positive, regardless of what happens. Even if we're not playing well, you can still try to draw some positives from an individual day. That's what I try to do. I'm still optimistic by nature."

Perhaps so, but the first six weeks of the campaign have presented circumstances difficult for even the most ardent Yankees supporters to swallow.

A starting rotation plagued by inconsistency and injuries seems to finally be rounding into form, but now the red flags have shifted to the offense, which has been held to two runs or less in three of four games leading into Monday's off-day in Chicago.

After Sunday's loss, Johnny Damon fretted that nobody would catch the Red Sox if their current pace continued. Even Yankees manager Joe Torre showed concern that the team was wasting pitching and had lost its swagger.

Yet Jeter kept his brave face, offering compliments to the Mariners' pitching staff and stating that the Yankees would worry about the Red Sox when they unpacked their belongings in a clubhouse across the hall. It was a course of action learned long ago.

"I remember being young, and you'd get caught up in the, 'Here we go again,' thing," Jeter said. "The thing you have to realize is, when we're going poorly, the only way you can get out of it is to forget about what's happened. Once you keep talking about it and keep dwelling on it, it's pretty difficult to get out."

In a lineup plagued by outages among many key contributors, including Bobby Abreu (2-for-22), Robinson Cano (9-for-63), Jason Giambi (0-for-18) and Alex Rodriguez (2-for-17), Jeter's reliability strikes even more of a chord.

The veteran shortstop has never finished a season leading the American League in hitting, but right now he paces the AL with a .375 batting average. His teammate, catcher Jorge Posada, is second with a .365 mark, and neither player appears particularly interested given the Yankees' struggles and the calendar month.

"I'm not chasing him," Posada said. "It's May."

"Individual awards, if I led the league, are great, but you don't think about that," Jeter said. "Especially in May. We're trying to win games. We've got a long way to go."

If nothing else, the statistics reflect a consistent approach. Jeter hit in 25 consecutive games in '06 and opened the 2007 campaign with a 20-game hitting streak, a string that was snapped on May 4, ending a run of 29 at-bats in which he'd batted .552.

Undeterred, Jeter picked up where he'd left off, hitting in his ninth straight game on Sunday.

"He knows what his capabilities are," Torre said. "He's not swinging and missing as much as the first couple of years. The fact that he uses the whole field, he's not going to hit a lot of home runs. Basically, he hits a lot of line drives."

Including the final 37 games of '06, Jeter has hit in 60 of his last 62 regular-season games and has reached base in 67 out of 68 games dating back to last season.

Perhaps most valuable, Torre said, was Jeter's production when pitchers tried to escape innings. With runners in scoring position and two outs, Jeter's success rate has been a staggering .625 (10-for-16) with 11 RBIs.

"That's the bonus, as far as I'm concerned," Torre said. "[With a] man at third base, less than two outs, you're supposed to knock in the run. With two outs, that's what turns into a great at-bat -- two-out RBIs. That's something that really deflates the opposition and perks up your team."

The production might be a bigger statement than any rah-rah speech Jeter could give behind closed doors.

"You don't always have to say something," Jeter said, "and when you say something, guys don't have to know about it. I get a big kick out of people saying that I don't say too much. How do you all know? You don't just run your mouth for the sake of running your mouth. I think you can lead by example, first and foremost.

"We've got 100-something games left. The sky ain't falling yet."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


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