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Yankees' Derek Jeter approaches 3,000-hit milestone as he's approached everything else in his career

The 37-year-old shortstop is six hits shy of becoming the 28th member of the exclusive 3,000 club — and the first to do it while playing exclusively for the Yankees. He's reluctant to talk about it, but others aren't.

July 03, 2011|By Ben Bolch and Kevin Van Valkenburg

Jeter's walk-off home run against Arizona's Byung-Hyun Kim in the 10th inning at 12:04 a.m. on Nov. 1, 2001, at Yankee Stadium in Game 4 of the World Series earned him the nickname Mr. November, one of several monikers for a player who also went by Captain Clutch because of his sustained postseason prowess. Jeter has hit .309 in 30 playoff series while helping the Yankees win five World Series.

"He never feared the consequences of failure," Ian O'Connor, the author of the recently released biography on the Yankees' captain, said of Jeter's postseason success. "He also never let the magnitude of the moment get too big."

Not that Jeter has been a slouch during the regular season. He has had 15 consecutive seasons with at least 150 hits, and his lowest career batting average in any month is .296 in May.

Those who marvel at Jeter's consistency say it is partly a reflection of a swing that hasn't changed much since he made his major league debut in 1995.

"Derek has pretty much been the same hitter his whole career," Teixeira said. "You'll see guys who might change their stances, their setup or where their hands are, but their swing is still pretty much the same. Well, Derek hasn't even changed that. His stance, his hands and his setup probably look exactly the same as they did" when he was a rookie.

Though Jeter, 6 feet 3 and 195 pounds, was not endowed with the physical gifts of chiseled teammate Alex Rodriguez, O'Connor said the shortstop was bestowed with something equally impressive: an inner drive to go all out no matter the situation.

"He sort of honored that DiMaggio credo of playing every game as if there's someone in the stands who has never seen you play," O'Connor said.

Jeter's statistics have taken a significant downturn the last two years. He hit a career-worst .270 in 2010 before enduring a contentious off-season in which he signed a three-year, $51-million contract that was widely viewed as more reflective of service rendered than potential future value.

This season, his slump has deepened. Jeter is hitting .260 with two homers and 20 RBIs, putting him on pace for career lows in each category. General Manager Brian Cashman has also acknowledged the possibility of moving the five-time Gold Glove Award winner to center field before his career ends if his range at shortstop diminishes.

Jeter said the increased media scrutiny that followed his new contract has not bothered him.

"I don't know what people write," he said. "I really don't. I really don't sit around and read newspapers. I've got other things to worry about."

One thing that has never concerned him is reaching 3,000 hits. O'Connor, who received some assistance from the shortstop in researching his biography, said Jeter's primary goal since joining the Yankees has been to surpass Yogi Berra's 10 World Series titles, a feat that is probably unattainable for a player only halfway there in his 17th major league season.

Of course, that won't keep Jeter from surpassing the expectations of those who have seen him play.

"He'll be right up there with all the greatest players to ever play shortstop in an atmosphere that expects nothing less than playoffs and World Series titles, which makes it doubly tough," Bowa said. "It's one thing to accept the challenge, but to meet it the way he has is another."

ben.bolch@latimes.com

kvanvalkenburg@baltsun.com

Bolch reported from Los Angeles; Van Valkenburg reported from New York. Times staff writer Dylan Hernandez contributed to this report.

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