NEW YORK (AP) — Derek Jeter kept swinging, from the first pitch to the final out.
Eager to make history and put the hoopla behind him, Jeter quickly doubled for his 2,998th career hit. That was all he got Thursday night as he grounded out the next four times up in the New York Yankees’ 5-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.
“After the first one, I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t think it was attainable today,” Jeter said.
Jeter swung at all 11 strikes he got from starter Jeff Niemann and reliever Kyle Farnsworth while going 1 for 5. Jeter hit a liner to left-center field on the first pitch he saw of the night, and tapped a slow bouncer to end the evening.
“Early on, I thought I’d get a few,” he said.
Niemann (4-4) certainly was a familiar face. Two years ago, Jeter got three hits in a game off the right-hander to tie the Yankees’ career hit record set by Lou Gehrig.
Jeter is set to become the 28th major leaguer to reach 3,000 hits and the first while playing for the Yankees. The Hall of Fame is full of Bronx Bombers, but neither Babe Ruth nor Joe DiMaggio nor Mickey Mantle nor Gehrig hit this mark.
Rays manager Joe Maddon counted himself among Jeter’s many fans.
“If anybody deserves to be the first to do it as a Yankee, it’s him. Not knowing the Babe personally, of course,” he said. “He really epitomizes what it means to be a Yankee, I would think.”
A few hours before gametime, Jeter was asked what advice he’d gotten about trying to reach the hallowed mark
“Hurry up,” he said, smiling.
The 37-year-old captain said a couple of teammates mentioned the milestone as the day progressed, but not too many.
“Maybe they don’t want to jinx anything,” he said.
Jeter’s mom and dad were in the crowd of 47,787 cheering when he came up in the first inning. The fans stood and chanted each time he batted after that, and many streamed toward the aisles after he grounded out to end the seventh.
His last grounder finished off the Yankees’ fourth loss in five games, dropping them below Boston and out of the AL East lead.
Among those on hand to root for Jeter was Dick Groch, the scout who signed the future All-Star in 1992. Jeter was a first-round pick that year after being a Michigan prep star.
Groch was standing the near Yankees’ dugout while New York took batting practice and, while a Jeter montage played on the videoboard, marveled at all the shortstop had accomplished.
Groch has spent more than 30 years in major league scouting and still works for the Milwaukee Brewers. He offered a simple assessment at what he witnessed two decades ago while watching the skinny teenager with the “quick-twitch” reflexes.
“The best I’ve ever seen,” Groch said. “I’ll never see another one.”
Jeter saw Groch before the game and, with a wink, said he intended to get all three hits Thursday night.
“It’s exhilarating, it’s exciting,” Groch said.
Jeter said it equally good to see Groch.
“He’s the first person from the Yankees I ever met,” Jeter said.
Jeter will try again Friday night against rookie Jeremy Hellickson and the Rays as the four-game set continues. Jeter is 1 for 2 lifetime against Hellickson.
“He’s probably going to do it in this series against us, but that’s OK. We can’t get caught up in that,” Maddon said.
Ben Zobrist homered, tripled and singled for the Rays. With a chance to hit for the cycle in the ninth, he walked for the second time.
Niemann (4-4) and the Rays got off to a winning start in an 11-game stretch in which they face division rivals New York and Boston. He pitched a season-high 7 1-3 innings, touched only by Robinson Cano’s home run in the sixth.
Bartolo Colon (6-4) came in 4-0 with a 1.00 ERA in his past four starts, but the 38-year-old right-hander allowed five runs and a season-high 10 hits in 5 2-3 innings.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.