(PhatzRadio/ USA Today) - NEW YORK -- Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees has faced a legion of critics all season who've doubted his ability to hit, to retain his customary place at the top of the Bronx Bombers' batting order, even to play shortstop any more.
The Yankees captain quieted such talk Saturday with a dramatic bit of history. He became the 28th player in Major League Baseball history to reach or surpass 3,000 career base hits. Jeter did it in style too, becoming only the second player after Wade Boggs to get his 3,000th hit on a home run. It was part of a 5-for-5 day he capped by driving in the go-ahead run in the Yankees' 5-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.
That makes Jeter the first Yankee to achieve 3,000 hits in pinstripes. With 3,003 hits he's baseball's active hits leader and only four behind Al Kaline (3,007) of the Detroit Tigers for 26th place on the all-time hits list that includes baseball legends ranging from Hank Aaron and Willie Mays to Stan Musial and Ty Cobb.
Afterward, Jeter admitted he's been nervous and pressing as he tried to reach 3,000 hits at home. "It was one of those special days. Coming in, I've been lying to (the press) for a long time saying I wasn't nervous and there was no pressure…I felt a lot of pressure to do it here while we're at home."
Jeter said he getting hit No. 2999 helped.
"It was huge," Jeter said. It was a 3-2 pitch. He could have thrown it in the dugout and I would have swung. I was not trying to walk."
After picking up that hit, "I was able to relax," Jeter said.
He's the first player to reach the 3,000-hit plateau since Craig Biggio of the Houston Astros in 2007. At 37 years, 13 days old, he's the fourth-youngest player to achieve 3,000 hits after Cobb, Aaron and Robin Yount.
Jeter has struggled at the plate and with injuries season after hitting a career-low .270 last season. During the off-season, contract negotiations that were expected to be a formality took a nasty turn as the Yankees weighed Jeter's contributions to the franchise against his projected production in coming years. After some acrimony, Jeter eventually signed a new $51 million, 3-year deal with the club.
Jeter's last few rocky months were forgotten, however, as he took the field at a sunny Yankee Stadium only 2 hits shits of 3,000. He got things started in a hurry by bouncing a groundball single through the hole in the 1st inning to reach No. 2,999.
Then fans looking to witness history rose to their feet as Jeter battled Rays left-hander David Price in the 3rd inning. On a 3-2 count, he crushed a curveball deep into the left field stands for No. 3,000 and his first home run at home since last July.
The fans went wild chanting "DER-EK, JE-TER." His teammates, led by close pal Jorge Posada mobbed him as he crossed home plate. Jeter went on to drive in the game-winning run with the last of his five hits.
"I don't think you could script it any better," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi. "It's movie ready to get your 3,000th hit on a home run that ties the game and then to get 3,003 a game-winner. It's just remarkable the day he had."
A 24-year old fan named Christian Lopez caught the home run ball. Eschewing the opportunity to sell it, Lopez gave the ball to Jeter. The Yankees rewarded him with season tickets for the rest of the year and several pieces of memorabilia.
Jeter's five hits were his 2011 season high. Posada said Jeter's performance showed how good he is under pressure. "There's nobody better in the clutch. You guys have seen it in the post-season. It's amazing what he's able to do. For him, he looks forward to that moment."
Closer Mariano Rivera said he was only surprised Jeter didn't hit a triple to complete the batting cycle. "I was hoping for that one," he said with a smile.
With 3,003 hits, Jeter has passed Roberto Clemente for 27th place on the all-time hit list. Of the 28 players in the 3,000-hit club, five have played for the Yankees at some point in their careers: Jeter, Dave Winfield, Wade Boggs, Ricky Henderson and Paul Waner. He's the 11th player to record all of his hits with a single club.
The Yankees didn't become the richest team in baseball for nothing. Almost immediately after Jeter's historic hit, the club started hawking commemorative merchandise on their high definition digital scoreboard in center field.
New York politicians got into the act too. Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued a statement saluting a Big Apple "icon." Said Bloomberg: "New York has a greater baseball tradition than any other city, but we've never had a player get all 3,000 hits in a New York uniform until today. Congratulations Derek – you've made all of New York City proud."