He is the captain, the shortstop, the leadoff man, the spiritual center of this entire operation. He is the embodiment of the best of what being a Yankee represents. He is a winner. He has class, but he is without airs or pretensions. He is having a terrific year at age 38. For another player that would be a semi-miraculous development. For Jeter, it is just part of the package.
He is singular, he is unique, and there is nobody more important to the New York Yankees than The Captain.
But there was Derek Jeter going to his left for a grounder in the 12th inning, and his left leg crumbled underneath him. Jeter was on the ground, grimacing in pain and he was not getting up. This was what was completely wrong about this picture: Derek Jeter always gets up.
"It was kind of a flashback to when Mo [Mariano Rivera] didn't get up," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "And it brought me back there. Oh, boy, if he is not getting up, something's wrong."
Jeter's left ankle had already suffered two separate injuries, but this was something more. X-rays showed a fracture. Girardi said he was told by doctors that this injury would not jeopardize Jeter's career and that recovery time was estimated at three months.
But here and now, one series away from the World Series, there isn't going to be any Derek Jeter playing in a Yankee uniform. Even apart from this news, it was a lousy night for the Yankees. They lost to the Tigers, 6-4 in 12 innings. The only pitcher they could score against was closer Jose Valverde, and he's in a world-class slump. The whole thing took four hours, 54 minutes. Still, the Jeter injury was worse than all the rest of it put together.
So what do the Yankees do next, other than activating Eduardo Nunez, and starting Jayson Nix at short? A brave face had to be put on. What do you expect these people to say? "That's it, give the Tigers the pennant, tell them good luck against the National League, because we're obviously history?" No, not quite.
General manager Brian Cashman said what had to be said about the best way to pay homage to Jeter. "The way to honor Derek more than anything else it to get the job done in his absence," Cashman said.
Completely true. And Girardi pointed out that these Yankees had overcome a very serious injury already, the one that knocked Rivera out for the entire season.
"Just like Mo said, we have to move on," Girardi said. "We have to find a way to get it done. I think some people left us for dead when Mo went down, and here we are in the ALCS. And 'Jeet' is going to tell us, 'Let's go.' That's what he's going to tell us.
"I'm sad for him because I know how much he loves to play and play in these type of situations, but he would tell us, 'Let's go.' "
This is true, too. It would be a wonderful story if the remaining Yankees could win one for Jeet, The Captain, the heart and soul of the Yankees, a five-time World Series champion. But there are obstacles.
One basic problem would be the other guys. The Tigers are a tougher postseason opponent than the Orioles club that took the Yankees to the limit in the AL Division Series.
True, the Orioles had a better record than the Tigers. But the Tigers underachieved for much of the season. They are not underachieving now. They have better front-line pitching than the Orioles. Justin Verlander, any one? The Orioles don't have anybody like Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera. Or slugging first baseman Prince Fielder. Or Austin Jackson leading off.
The Tigers' vulnerability at the moment is at the back of their bullpen. Valverde was 49-for-49 in save opportunities last season, and was named the Major League Delivery Man of the Year. That guy isn't in right now, but at some point, the Yankees are going to have to be able to hit some Detroit pitchers not named Valverde.
But the bigger question is: Who are the New York Yankees without Derek Jeter? We don't know. And they don't, either. Derek Jeter has been at the center of this team since last century. The Bronx Bombers don't have much practice being Jeter-less.
They're going to have to continue to pitch superbly. They're going to have to hit more than they have hit so far in October 2012. And they're going to have to rally without the services of their captain, the emotional, spiritual, competitive center of this club.
This is the biggest single loss that the Yankees could suffer. Now all they have to do to show that they can overcome it, is take four of the next six games from Detroit.