For a brief moment, Derek Jeter’s long fly ball in the fifth inning appeared to have the makings of a home run to left field in the home opener.
Instead, the ball scraped the wall. But that was good enough because on the next pitch he raced in from second and scored a key run in a 4-2 victory for the Yankees.
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“Well I decided to test to make sure my legs were still good,” Jeter deadpanned. “So I waited a little bit and picked up the speed when I needed to — to show my legs were still good. It’s almost a little bit like an audition.
“Maybe you get a little caught up in the moment of Opening Day. I thought it was a home run. I hit it good enough to be one. It just wasn’t and it didn’t go out. You haven’t seen it and probably won’t ever see it again but I was safe. It would have been embarrassing if I was out.”
Jeter was the subject of adulation throughout the day, getting the loudest cheers when he was introduced along the baseline before the game. The applause continued when he participated in a ceremonial first pitch with longtime teammates Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada.
The crowd was excited even when Jeter grounded into a double play in the third which scored the first run. The excitement increased when Jeter opened the fifth by driving an 89-mph fastball to deep left field.
Had the wind been blowing out, the ball might have left the building. Instead it stayed inside the stadium and Jeter raced to second with his 3,321st career hit before scoring his 1,878th run on a base hit by Jacoby Ellsbury.
“Of course [I got some ribbing],” Jeter said. “I thought it was a home run. So when I hit it, I thought it was going to be a home run and then I thought it was going to be foul and then the next thing you know it ricocheted right to the left fielder. There were some guys laughing until a couple of them hit some balls into the wind.”
“I don’t blame him being caught up in the moment,” second baseman Brian Roberts said. “I think all of us were caught up in the moment so we were probably standing there doing the same thing he was doing.”
The Yankees won their 20th home opener in 23 years since 1992 when Baltimore manager Buck Showalter led a 76-win team to a 4-3 victory over the Red Sox. The only ones they’ve lost since Jeter became the starting shortstop were in 2009 to Cleveland and last season to the Red Sox.
Last year was one of three home openers Jeter missed due to DL stints.
“When we watched him last year, he labored all year,” manager Joe Girardi said. “That was the first thing that I looked for when I got to spring training and we never saw it at any point which was encouraging for me.”
This year’s team featured 15 players not on the active roster from the last home opener.
One of the holdovers is Hiroki Kuroda. In his second Opening Day start at Yankee Stadium, Kuroda allowed two runs and eight hits in 6 1/3 innings.
His biggest pitches came after allowing a leadoff double to Chris Davis and a single to Matt Wieters after getting ahead 0-2. Kuroda was unable to get past Nelson Cruz as he gave up an RBI single on a 1-1 slider that stayed right at the knees and wound up in left field.
Kuroda recorded the first out by retiring Steve Lombardozzi on a flyout to a correctly positioned Brett Gardner before the bullpen shined the rest of the way.
While Matt Thornton and David Phelps finished the seventh inning perhaps the biggest pitch was thrown by Adam Warren. Warren reached 95 mph when he fanned Adam Jones and then struck out Chris Davis on a called strike with an 87-mph slider with each hitter representing the tying run.
Shawn Kelley retired the side in the ninth for his first career save.
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.