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Derek Jeter homers for hit No. 3,000

July 10, 2011

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— This was so Derek Jeter.

Pressure mounting, time running out, all eyes on him at Yankee Stadium.

He delivered — and then some — on a defining day in his championship career.

Jeter homered deep into the left-field bleachers for his 3,000th career hit, making him the first New York Yankees player to reach the mark. He tied a career best by going 5-for-5. And he capped Saturday’s show by singling home the go-ahead run in the eighth inning.

“Just one of those special days,” Jeter said.

Mobbed by his pinstriped pals after the ball sailed into the seats, showered by ovations from his fans, Jeter stood alone in Yankees lore. A fitting crown for the captain, on a sunny afternoon when it seemed he could do anything he wanted in a 5-4 victory over Tampa Bay.

Almost as if he saved his best swing of the season to counter his critics and doubters, to prove that he still was, indeed, Derek Jeter. How else to explain it? His first home run in the Bronx this year, for No. 3,000.

“You want to hit the ball hard,” he said. “I didn’t want to hit a slow roller to third base and have it be replayed forever.”

“It’s a number that’s meant a lot in baseball,” he said. “To be the only Yankee to do anything is special.”

Oh, and for good measure: Jeter stole a base, too. For any hitter, a perfect game. Something out of “The Natural,” really.

“I don’t think you can script it any better,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “This is already movie-ready.”

Added the Rays’ Johnny Damon, a former teammate: “Hopefully he can act very well and hopefully he can play himself in his own movie, that’s the type of day this was.”

In fact, HBO will soon show a documentary about Jeter’s pursuit.

“Nobody better in the clutch,” Yankees star Jorge Posada chimed in. “He looks forward to that moment, and today was a perfect example.”

With a swift swing of his shiny black bat, Jeter jolted himself into historic company, hitting a solo home run off All-Star ace David Price in the third inning. He became the 28th major-leaguer to hit the mark and joined former teammate Wade Boggs as the only players to do it with a home run.

Jeter watched the ball fly as he left the batter’s box and gave a big clap as he rounded first base. Rays first baseman Casey Kotchman was the first to salute Jeter, doffing his cap as Jeter passed by.

“Hitting a home run was the last thing I was thinking about,” Jeter said. “I was pretty relieved.”

By then, all of Jeter’s teammates were already celebrating in the dugout, raising their arms almost in unison. A special time for No. 2 — his second hit of the game, and right at 2 p.m.

He looked every bit like a spry 27-year-old with those bright green eyes and an even brighter future, rather than a 37-year-old shortstop with his best days behind him.

Jeter finished the day with 3,003 hits.

The only thing left, it seemed, was a triple — Jeter has never hit for the cycle. Instead, he singled in the sixth and bounced a tiebreaking single through a drawn-in infield.

“I was expecting the triple,” Yankees closer Mariano Rivera kidded. “That’s the way it is.”

The prize ball, one of the specially marked ones put in play for the occasion once Jeter got to 2,999 hits, disappeared into a cluster of fans a few rows beyond the wall. Christian Lopez of Highland Mills, N.Y., sitting in Section 236, emerged with the valuable memento after it bounced off his father’s hand.

The 23-year-old former football player from St. Lawrence University gladly gave the ball back to Jeter, saying it never occurred to him to keep it. The Yankees rewarded him with four tickets to every game for the rest of the year and memorabilia autographed by Jeter — three bats, three balls and two jerseys.

“Mr. Jeter deserved it,” Lopez said. “It’s all his.”

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