Somehow the Yankees lost last night, even though Raul Ibanez had tied yet another game with yet another ninth inning home run, and the loss was not even the worst thing that happened. Derek Jeter is done. Twenty-four hours ago I could not have imagined how deflating it would be, even if you'd laid out the exact sequence of events. But here we are. It's a mess.
Jeter is the rare athlete who makes insane people even more insane. Depending on who you talk to, Jeter is either baseball's Jesus Christ or the devil. Here is his baseball-reference page, you can judge for yourself. Because of this rift between folks, I've always tried to keep an open mind about Jeter. Alex Rodriguez's status as the anti-Jeter was always irritating to me, because A-Rod is clearly better at playing baseball. And because New York is a self-congratulatory media market, I have to acknowledge that Jeter's play has made more noise than it would have in some other, quieter, shittier town.
But I always come back to this: Jeter is in New York and he has done all those things that people overpraise him for doing. To say Jeter is "clutch" is to say the single most annoying word in sports. To say Jeter is "lucky" is probably more accurate, and Jeter has been lucky a lot. A lot. He has hit big in the playoffs, sometimes home runs, sometimes his usual opposite-field slaps. He did make that crazy-ass flip play in Oakland. He did dive face-first into the stands to catch a foul ball against the Boston Red Sox. Maybe those things were all blown out of proportion to you because It's The Yankees, but they were pretty fucking spectacular and important from my seat. Sorry you had to hear about them on SportsCenter all the time, but that doesn't change the fact that that they happened. Whether by luck or some sort of supernatural calmness, it doesn't matter, Derek Jeter has had an impressive career, littered with indelible individual moments.
Now there's another one, but it's no good for the Yankees. In a few hours from now, the Yankees and Tigers turn around to play again, and the Yankees seem to have finally run out of luck, despite Raul Ibanez. Not because they lost Derek Jeter, but because Alex Rodriguez is a disaster and Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher, and Robinson Cano are even worse. The Yankees will replace Jeter on the roster with Eduardo Nunez and Jayson Nix will replace him on the field and in the lineup. The Yankee lineup has one foot in the grave.
When the purple prose describes the ghosts of Yankee Stadium or "angels in the outfield," as Ron Darling put it last night, it just means luck. Like clutch, it's a way to explain the inexplicable so that it means something. Derek Jeter became an infield-roaming, unnecessary-jump-throwing, embodiment of the outcomes, a figure that made for a more meaningful writeup than "Yanks, Jeter Get Lucky Again." That's what makes his loss so deflating. He's just a player, a very good player, but he was the luckiest player on a team that seemed to always need, and get, more than its fair share of luck.