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|Derek Jeter made one of the greatest catches in postseason history Monday.
NEW YORK -- The superlatives flow freely. Everybody around Derek Jeter keeps gushing about his tremendous level of play, both on the field and at the plate. Monday night, Jeter earned the admiration the hard way.
In a game his team needed to win, the superstar shortstop came up with two hits and an amazing catch. Actually, amazing might not even do that play justice.
In the eighth inning, with one man on and one man out, a galloping Jeter tracked down a twisting foul ball. After gloving it, he tumbled over the wall and landed flat on his back. It was a painful way to get a putout, but his teammates definitely appreciated his effort.
"You don't expect anything else; he does it all the time," Mike Stanton said. "People that don't get the chance to watch him everyday, they're missing something."
"A tremendous play by a tremendous player," said Chuck Knoblauch, who had an excellent view of that catch. "He never ceases to amaze. That's just a combination of talent, concentration and the desire to make a play."
Incredibly, the defensive gem obscured a more significant fact. With his second hit of the night, a sixth-inning double to right-center field, Jeter passed Pete Rose as the all-time postseason hit king.
At the tender age of 27, he already has more playoff hits (87) than anyone who ever played the game. Barring a major injury, he probably has at least half of his career left, which means that he could put that mark way out of reach for anyone who comes after him.
"I don't think I really want to reflect on that until it's over with," Jeter said. "You don't know if you're going to come back. Every chance you get, you should enjoy it. Hopefully, I have a few more hits in me."
Of course, Jeter has played on one of the best teams in baseball history, meaning that he has had an abnormal amount of chances to hit in the second season.
Not only that, but he is playing in a statistically skewed era -- Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle, among others, never had to play in an ALDS, against a wild card team. All of their postseason hits came in the World Series.
Even given that fact, there's nothing that can take away from Jeter's astounding feat.
"He's just a great hitter. It doesn't surprise anybody," Luis Sojo said. "He's still got another seven games against Seattle. If we beat them, he's got another seven games in the World Series. He'll probably get over 100, this year. I don't think anybody's going to touch that."
And that's only half of his game. Jeter's catch on Monday night may have been huge, but it couldn't compare to the play he made on Saturday.
In Game 3, Jeter made an uncanny instinctual play that may have saved the game. And the series, for that matter. In the eighth inning of a 1-0 ballgame, Jeter swooped in from nowhere, scooped up an overthrow and pitched it to the plate in time to tag out a sprinting Jeremy Giambi.
Put that play alongside tonight's, along with his hitting, and you get a glowing assessment -- from George Steinbrenner, no less.
"I have never seen a single athlete dominate a series, in football, basketball or baseball, like Derek Jeter did," said Steinbrenner, the owner of the Yankees. "He's got to be one of the greatest competitors to ever play the game, let alone for me."
If you listened to Jeter, though, he would tell you it's no big deal.
"Good catch, but that's about it," he said. "We were trying to score some more runs. We really couldn't sit around and focus on that too much."
That's fine if he didn't really want to talk about it. Almost all of his teammates weighed in, one way or the other, on his tremendous play.
"It was amazing. You guys can write whatever you can," Jorge Posada said. "You see it over and over again. He makes plays in different situations. That's why he gets paid big money. I was just hoping that he didn't get hurt."
"It was incredible. Not only that play, but also the play he made in Oakland," Alfonso Soriano said. "I think that people are going to remember those two plays for a very long time."
Scott Brosius, who had his sights on the ball before Jeter called him off, had the best angle on the foul-pop play. As a matter of fact, he may have been too close for comfort.
"My perspective was I almost got a cleat in the face," Brosius said. "He came over, and there's just so little ground over there. With the downhill like it is, it's really hard to gather yourself. Once he caught it, there was no was just no way for him to stop. Once he caught it, the wall was so short it just dumped him."
Jeter admitted that it hurt, but he also said it wasn't anything disastrous. Although he landed on his back, he came out of the incident with nothing worse than a scraped elbow.
As a matter of fact, the indignity may have been worse than the actual pain, especially since the Yankee fans in the front row made absolutely no effort to break his fall.
"I had beer fall on me," Jeter said. "They were probably trying to catch the drink."
On a more serious note, Jeter explained exactly what went through his mind when he saw the ball go up in the air.
"When you see it, your first reaction is to catch it," he said. "I called Brosius off -- I knew when I called it I had to catch it."
So where does this leave Jeter, who is perennially ranked among the best shortstops in the game? He may not have the offensive statistics that guys like Nomar Garciaparra and Alex Rodriguez put up, but he does have four World Series rings.
Ask any of his teammates, and they'll tell you it's not a coincidence.
"I don't care about numbers," Sojo said. "I'll always pick Derek Jeter. This guy's a winner."
Spencer Fordin is the site manager of Yankees.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.