Derek Jeter did not want to be the savior but it’s fair to say Sunday he was the igniting force for an offense that had gone two weeks without a home run.
All it took was one pitch, as Jeter drove one the opposite way over the right-center field fence in the first inning of Sunday’s 6-5 win decided on Alfonso Soriano’s ninth-inning single.
"I'll do what I always have — try to help us win," Jeter said before the game. "My job is to get hits, get on base, score runs and help us win. We've been scuffling a little bit scoring runs so hopefully I can help in any way. But we need contributions from a lot of people, not just me.
Jeter’s first home run since Sept. 9, 2012 at Baltimore and first at home since Aug. 27, 2012 against Toronto came on his signature inside-out swing. He drove the ball into the first row of the seats behind the auxiliary scoreboard and adjacent to the Yankee bullpen.
“I just wanted to get a pitch to hit,” Jeter said. “Fortunately it was a fastball away.”
“He’s a movie,” manager Joe Girardi said. “That’s what he is. You think about his 3,000th hit, how he did that, and think about what he did today.”
“I played with him 2001 to 2003 and nothing’s changed,” Soriano said of Jeter’s dramatic return.
Jeter’s memorable home run also was the first by a right-handed hitter since June 25, a span of 28 games.
“We hadn’t hit a home run since the All-Star break; we hadn’t had a right-handed home run in a month,” Girardi said. “For him to come out and do that — that’s his first at-bat — he’s a movie.”
The Yankees fielded a lineup without a .300 hitter, but there was a different sense with Jeter’s second return, at least early on. Jeter, Soriano and Ichiro Suzuki were a combined 10-for-13 with two homers and five RBIs.
Jeter’s second return came after he suffered a strained right quadriceps trying to leg out an infield hit July 11 against Kansas City. The Yankees, specifically manager Joe Girardi, did his best to try to get Jeter to restrain his hard running on certain plays.
Jeter didn’t have to restrain himself in his first two at-bats. After the home run, he had a clean single just out of the reach of second baseman Kelly Johnson and then trotted home on Soriano’s first home run since re-joining the Yankees.
In his third bat, Jeter restrained himself a bit since he hit a ground ball that was cleanly fielded by shortstop Yunel Escobar for the final out of the fourth. On his fourth at-bat, Jeter ran the same way on a ground ball that required Escobar to move a few steps.
The other difference in this return came defensively as Jeter started at shortstop as opposing to being the designated hitter the last time. He started there after doing fielding drills in Saturday’s simulated game in Staten Island and also because the Yankees play interleague games at Los Angeles and San Diego this week.
“It was fun,” Jeter said. “I’m tired. That wasn’t a quick game by any stretch of the imagination but it was fun. It was fun to be back. I haven’t played short in quite some time here. I worked hard to try and get back on the field. I’m happy we were able to win a game and it was uneventful.”
Jeter’s first opportunity defensively came on the final out of the fourth inning when he moved about three steps to his right to field James Loney’s ground ball. He easily jogged a few steps to the second base bag and completed the play.
His second chance was on the second out of the fifth when he covered second base and caught the throw from David Adams on a ground ball by Jose Lobaton.
The early excitement from Jeter’s home run eventually settled down as the Yankee offense, one day after getting two hits in a 97-pitch complete game shutout by Chris Archer, went quietly after Soriano’s home run until the ninth.
“I try to do whatever I can to help our team win,” Jeter said. “Even if I didn’t hit a home run, if we won this game, I’d feel the same. It feels good to contribute. The first of anything is difficult to get — the first hit, the first home run, the first RBI, the first game.
“It feels great to contribute but more importantly we won. I wouldn’t have felt great if we lost.”
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.