Experienced Jeter targets only wins
Postseason veteran disregards recent meetings with Indians
NEW YORK -- Say this about Derek Jeter: At least he's consistent.
As the Yankees prepare for their American League Division Series meeting with the Indians this week, Jeter is keeping his mind even, refusing to tilt one way or the other as analysts and observers dissect every minute particle of the matchup.
The Yankees' 6-0 record against the Indians in play during the regular season? Doesn't matter. The momentum of New York's 73-39 record since May 29? Doesn't matter. The collective statistics of the Major Leagues' most potent offense, which some try to break down and read like tea leaves?
Let us guess. Doesn't matter, right?
"It's common sense -- it's baseball," Jeter said. "Games are not played on paper. If that was the case, we wouldn't be here -- everyone said our season was over with in May. We had a lot of games left, and you play the games for a reason.
"I don't think you have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that you go out and play the games and see what happens."
On that topic, Jeter would appear to be correct, though it probably wouldn't hurt to have a Rocket -- the Yankees believe they will, as Roger Clemens made it through a 49-pitch bullpen session and simulated game in Tampa, Fla., on Monday, lining up for a potential Game 3 start in New York.
Before worrying about that, though, the Yankees need to pack for a trip to Cleveland, where they swept a three-game series in August after taking three from the Tribe at home in April.
The Indians staff as a whole didn't have much success with the heavy-hitting Yankees, compiling an 8.19 ERA over those six games. Those numbers are staggered somewhat because the Yankees didn't see ace C.C. Sabathia -- due to scheduling quirks in the unbalanced schedule, Sabathia hasn't faced New York since July 2004.
But the Yankees did see fellow 19-game winner Fausto Carmona twice in 2007, saddling him with a loss and a no-decision. Surely, a .348 team batting average and 14 homers against Cleveland must do a lot to inspire confidence.
"You can throw every number out the window," Jeter said. "All that stuff doesn't make a difference. It really doesn't make a difference. You've got to play the games, otherwise you can just sit down and write down on paper who's going to win. You have to go to the next round.
"It doesn't matter how you're playing going into it, it doesn't matter how you're playing in the past. It makes absolutely no difference."
So with the blank slate that Jeter insists must be there, the Yankees will prepare for Cleveland on the first dark day of the October schedule. The Yankees have scheduled an afternoon workout for Tuesday at Yankee Stadium, immediately boarding a charter flight that evening to Cleveland, where they will work out once more on Wednesday before opening the playoffs on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. ET.
Jeter, who referred to the Wild Card as a necessary "crutch" that the Yankees would need to use to keep their postseason streak alive into a 13th year, said last week that it was far too early to begin forecasting potential scenarios.
As the Yankees packed their bags in Baltimore and prepared to head north to the Big Apple, wrapping up a six-game road trip that put their final tally at 94 victories, they hadn't yet started whizzing through video breakdowns of Sabathia's delivery compiled on DVD, images offering harder stuff than most and a murderous time for left-handed batters.
In fact, the Yankees had barely had hours to digest the fact that they'd be playing the Indians over the Angels -- the more favorable setup for them, it would seem. Not surprisingly, Jeter deferred to lessons of Octobers past in debunking that thought.
"They're tough," Jeter said of the Indians. "You basically go down every team that's in the postseason and you get the same thing. For the most part, you've got to pitch, and you've got to have guys that can hit. I think you can say that about every team."
In a clubhouse now filled with the youthful exuberance of players experiencing the postseason for the first time, Jeter carries with him veteran lessons, many learned in harsh fashion. New York's first-round exits in 2005 and 2006 still sting, as well as the blown three-game lead to the Red Sox in 2004, when a trip to the World Series seemed assured.
In the playoffs -- particularly in a five-game series -- there are no guarantees.
That win over the Devil Rays -- and, in the bigger picture, over all the doubters who declared the Yankees dead in June -- was memorable. The party was at its wildest. But for the Yankees to really have an accomplishment worth celebrating, they'll need 11 more October victories.
Can they get them? For Jeter, that's what does matter.
"Last year when we went to the postseason, I liked our chances," Jeter said. "I thought we had a good team, but we didn't win. This year, I think we have a good team and I like our chances. We'll see what happens."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.