Welcome to Jeter-palooza. Hub Fans Bid Jetes Adieu. Three final sellouts and more eyeballs diverted from the train wreck of the 2014 Red Sox.
The Red Sox are truly blessed. They’ve managed to finish in last place in two of the last three seasons, but everybody’s still having a swell time singing “Sweet Caroline’’ before the home half of the eighth.
Nobody’s mad at the Local Nine. After all, they’ve won the World Series three times in 10 years and they won it last year and they’re going to bring Jon Lester back (OK, I made that one up) and everybody is happy just to enjoy another day in America’s most beloved ballpark.
Fenway fans don’t mind paying the highest prices in baseball to watch the Pawtucket Red Sox stagger across the finish line in the basement of the once-proud American League East. Now, thanks to Derek Jeter, the ready-for-golf Red Sox and Yankees are the feature game on Fox today, and seats behind the Yankee dugout Sunday are fetching something north of $20,000.
If you had tickets to Friday night’s game at Fenway you were out of luck. Jeter was not in the lineup. Yankee manager Joe Girardi said the Captain asked for the day off. When we saw Jeter, at 6 p.m., it was obvious that he needed some rest.
“I haven’t slept,’’ said Jeter, who was still basking in the glow of Thursday night’s magical final scene at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankee captain plans to be in the lineup as the designated hitter on Saturday and Sunday. And he had plenty of good things to say about Boston and the Red Sox and Hub baseball fans. It’s safe to say that if the Yankees were finishing their season in Cleveland or Detroit, Jeter would have hung up his spikes after Thursday’s walkoff win in the Bronx.
“I’m playing here because I have respect for the rivalry and these fans,’’ he said. “If it was anywhere else, I don’t know if I’d play.’’
He said he had lunch in Boston Friday and fans were congratulating him on his Thursday night deeds (“I couldn’t have thought of a better way for it to end in New York”). He said Sox fans have almost always been respectful, but acknowledged things have gotten easier for him here since the Franconamen rallied from the three-games-to-none deficit against New York in the 2004 ALCS.
“[It changed] I think after they won,’’ he said. “I don’t want to say they softened up, but they’ve become a little bit kinder . . . If you get them one-on-one, they’re always respectful.’’
Not when they are in groups, however. Jeter said he took a ride in a golf cart under the stands during the 1999 All-Star festival at Fenway and when the cart dropped him off at the wrong door, “I thought [the fans] were going to kill me.’’
Those were the good old days; days when the Yankees and Sox were kings and princes of the AL East; days when Boston baseball fans had an edge. And expectations.
There’s some nice symmetry regarding Jeter’s final weekend and Ted Williams’s farewell moment 54 years ago. Like Ted, Jeter finished his home schedule in spectacular fashion. Jeter went out on top with a walkoff single to right on an inside-out swing in the bottom of the ninth. That’s what Jeter was about. He was about doing the right thing and winning ballgames. Ted went out with a parabolic blast over the bullpen wall. Typical Kid, Williams was a hardball god to the finish. The greatest hitter who ever lived.
Here are some other parallels: When Ted hit his homer, the Red Sox were in seventh place in an eight-team league. They were 29 games out of first place. All these years later, the Sox went into Friday’s game 25 games out of first place.
The Sox still had three games to play in New York when Ted hit his blast, but it was announced after the Fenway finale that he would not be going to New York. We wondered about Jeter for a brief moment after his dramatic walkoff Thursday, but Jeter did what he always does. He said he’d be going to Boston. He would bat at Fenway. Out of respect to the Boston fans.
Did it cross his mind to close the book after Thursday night?
“No,’’ he answered Friday. “It was always my plan to play here. I’d love to come back and play here one more time.’’
And he will. Saturday and Sunday. Like Ted Williams, the final game of Derek Jeter’s career will take place on Sept. 28.
Fox will work desperately to sell the “rivalry” on Saturday, but we all know that these are two sorry franchises at this hour. For all of his playoff success, Jeter leaves a team that has won only one championship in the last 14 years. And the Yankees are a mess as they go into the offseason — a winter in which they virtually must sign Lester, no matter the price.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, continue to enjoy the widespread notion that they are a perennial contender. They are not. Since losing the 2008 ALCS to Tampa in 2008, the Sox have won a playoff game in only one of six Octobers. They have not made the playoffs in four of the last five years. Since Sept. 1, 2011, they are an aggregate 24 games under .500.
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org