Yesterday was the last day of Major League Baseball's regular season, and it included a game between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.
And, competitively speaking, it was meaningless. Think of the odds you could've gotten on that on March 31 of this year.
Before the game, the last of Derek Jeter's career, the Red Sox had a ceremony featuring several Boston sports legends. Carl Yastrzemski, the greatest living Red Sock, and (like Jeter) 1 of only 4 living men with at least 3,400 hits, was there. So was Rico Petrocelli, Yaz's teammate from the 1967 "Impossible Dream" American League Pennant and the 1975 Pennant. So were Jim Rice, Fred Lynn and Luis Tiant, also from the 1975 team. All but Petro were on the 1978 team that played the Yanks in that year's AL East Playoff, the Bucky Dent game. So were Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield from the 2004-07 * Sox. And, of course, the still-active David Ortiz -- who, for better or for worse, essentially becomes "The Face of Baseball" now.
Bobby Orr of the Bruins, on the short list for the title of "Greatest Hockey Player Who Ever Lived," was there. (I recently read his memoir, Orr: My Story. What it lacks in originality of title, it more than makes up for in respect for the game, great stories, and sometimes painful honesty. I highly recommend it.) Representing the Celtics was Paul Pierce, from their 2008 NBA Championship, now with the Washington Wizards. And representing the Patriots was Troy Brown, a receiver who played in 5 Super Bowls, winning 3. (Tom Brady, still active, was unavailable. I'm surprised the Celtics didn't send Larry Bird, who is a good friend of Orr's.)
"I hadn't met most of them. I got a brief moment to thank them for taking the time to come out, but hopefully I'll get a chance to talk to each and every one of them a little bit more throughout the years. I know I'll have some time."
Red Sox coach Brian Butterfield, who had been one of Jeter's minor-league managers and helped him straighten out his fielding, presented him with a very New England-style gift: A pair of L.L. Bean "duck boots," with the Number 2 on them. Dustin Pedroia gave Jeter a base with the No. 2 on it, to commemorate the 153 games he played at Fenway. He was given a large metal sign with "RE2PECT" written in Fenway's font, signed by the '14 club. The Red Sox also made a $22,222 donation to Jeter's Turn 2 Foundation.
The Red Sox played Jeter's "Ice Bucket Challenge" video that was taken earlier this year in the Yankees' clubhouse, then introduced former Boston College baseball captain Pete Frates, one of the driving forces behind the successful fundraising effort.
As Frates' wheelchair moved onto the diamond, Jeter greeted him on the grass. Frates then took his place alongside Orr, Brown and Pierce as Massachusetts native Michelle Brooks Thompson performed a rendition of Aretha Franklin's "Respect," and then the national anthem.
During the 7th Inning Stretch, the Red Sox brought Bernie Williams on the field to play "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" on his guitar, creating the strange scenario where Yankee Legends Jeter and Williams both heard their names chanted at Fenway Park.
Whatever I can say about certain Red Sox players, their organization, and their fans, handled this with class and dignity. Let's hope some of the players learn from this -- on both sides.
Oh yes, there was a game. As has usually been the case in his career, Jeter batted 2nd; unlike most of his career, he was the designated hitter. So, while this past Thursday night wasn't his last game, it was his last home game, and it was his last game at shortstop.
In the 1st inning, he hit a line shot that should have gone for a hit. Ironically, it was the Sox shortstop, Jemile Weeks, who made a great play to rob him.
In the 3rd, Ichiro Suzuki hit a 2-run triple, to put the Yankees up, 2-0. (Was this also Ichiro's last game? Or his last game as a Yankee? Hopefully, it was neither. Stay tuned.) Jeter came up, and hit a looper to 3rd that was misplayed. Tough a play as it was, it was rather generous to give him a hit on it. Ichiro scored, giving Jeter 1 more RBI. 3-0.
It was then that Yankee manager Joe Girardi asked, "Do you want to come out?" He did. He was replaced by Brian McCann -- a very slow runner, but probably the right guy to take his place as DH. Besides, aside from Jeter, the game was meaningless. He came off the field for the last time, to a standing ovation from a crowd with a good mix of Red Sox and Yankee Fans.
September 28, 1960: Ted Williams hits a home run in his last at-bat, at Fenway Park.
September 28, 2014: Derek Jeter hits an RBI single in his last at-bat, at Fenway Park.
Brett Gardner doubled McCann over to 3rd. Mark Teixeira, probably the new leader of the Yankee attack (presuming he can stay relatively injury-free in 2015), hit a sacrifice fly to plate McCann. 4-0 Yankees.
Each team scored 5 runs in the 7th inning, although neither hit a home run. Clay Buchholz, the Sox starter, had already been removed before the Yanks made their tallies. Esmil Rogers allowed most of the damage for the Yankees, in relief of Michael Pineda, who pitched very well again.
Final score -- of the season, and of Jeter's career -- Yankees 9, Red Sox 5. Not really a big deal, but always good to beat The Scum. WP: Pineda (5-5). No save. LP: Buchholz (8-11).
The final totals on Jeter's career:
Seasons: 20 (a Yankee record).
Regular season games: 2,747 (a Yankee record).
Batting average: .310.
On-base percentage: .377.
Slugging percentage: .440.
Hits: 3,465 (6th all-time and a Yankee record).
Home runs: 260.
Runs batted in: 1,311.
Stolen bases: 358 (a Yankee record).
Gold Gloves: 5.
All-Star Game appearances: 14.
Postseason games: 158 (a major league record).
Postseason appearances: 16 (a major league record).
World Championships: 5.
Pete Rose was fond of saying he played in more winning games than any other player. I don't know if Jeter broke that record, but Rose appeared in the postseason only 8 times. (Still more than most players today will.) 6 Pennants, 3 World Championships.
Now, the active player with the most World Championships is David Ortiz, with 3. Albert Pujols, formerly of the St. Louis Cardinals and now with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, has 2, and has a decent shot at a 3rd.
He was named AL Rookie of the Year in 1996, but never won a Most Valuable Player award. He was, essentially, robbed of it in 1998, 1999, 2006, 2009, and arguably 2012.
As Red Smith once wrote of Bobby Thomson's Pennant-winning home run, so now we can say of the baseball career of Derek Sanderson Jeter: "Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again."
Days until pitchers and catchers report to spring training: Not yet announced, but if, as usual, it's February 20, then it's 144 days. A little under 5 months.
Days until the Yankees play another regular-season game: 189, on Monday, April 6, 2015, at Yankee Stadium II, against the Toronto Blue Jays. A little over 6 months.
But it will be without Derek Jeter. And Mariano Rivera. And any of the other legends of the 1996-2003 Yankee Dynasty. And with only a few holdovers from the 2009 World Champions: Teixeira, Gardner, CC Sabathia, David Robertson and Francisco Cervelli. And, maybe, Alex Rodriguez, but who still wants to see him? Not me.
It will be a new era.
Some of us, myself included, remember previous eras. The Dark Age of Donnie Regular Season Baseball. The Reggie-Thurman-Catfish Era before that. Some of us, not including myself, are old enough to remember the Dark Age of CBS, or the Mantle-Maris-Ford Era, or the Mantle-Berra-Ford Era, or the DiMaggio-Rizzuto Era. Some of you may even be old enough to remember Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth (although people that age tend not to be computer-savvy, frequently by choice).
But for a Yankee Fan born in 1989 or later, the Jeter-Rivera Era is the only one you know.
It could be painful. But it is time to move on. The game always moves on. The true greats leave, and get replaced by new greats.
As Nick Hornby said of another sport, "The truth is, it comes again and again. There's always another season. It's actually pretty comforting, if you think about it."