"The whole experience has been overwhelming."
Fittingly, the record-setter occurred in a most typical Jeter style. Lacing a Chris Tillman pitch past diving Orioles first baseman Luke Scott, Jeter singled to lead off the third and stand alone atop the franchise's all-time hits list.
"It was vintage Derek Jeter -- stay inside the ball and hit it the other way," manager Joe Girardi said. "He's been doing it a long time."
Moments later, Jeter's teammates spilled out of the dugout and engulfed him at first base before he took several moments to acknowledge the roaring and chanting crowd -- most of whom sat through a one-hour, 27-minute delay and a steady rain throughout the game for the chance to witness history.
"It wasn't ideal conditions tonight for the fans to stick around," Jeter said. "It really means a lot. They've been here since Day 1, and they've always been supportive. I feel like they are just as much a part of this as I am."
Though Jeter struggled through an 0-for-12 stretch to begin this homestand, delaying history just a bit, he made certain thereafter to sprint past Gehrig. In his third at-bat on Friday, Jeter singled again, immediately putting space between him and one of the game's greatest players.
Exiting during the game's second rain delay, Jeter finished 2-for-4 for his fourth multihit effort in his past seven games.
This one, though, was more special than most.
"He's part of Yankee history now," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "He has the most hits ever for that franchise. He has always represented himself and that organization with class, and he deserves it."
All-time Yankees hit leaders
|Derek Jeter passed Lou Gehrig and now has the most hits by a Yankee. Here are the top 10 Yankees leaders in hits.|
And with that, the accolades began streaming in. More than a celebration of Yankees history, this week has been a celebration of Derek Jeter -- a player who has never won an MVP award and who has actively sought to avoid individual attention throughout his career.
On this night, it was unavoidable. Jeter's oldest teammates -- Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera -- expounded on his merits, swapping stories from their days in the Minor Leagues. Jeter's parents and girlfriend soaked in the moment, sharing with him one of his finest days. The Yankees lost, but hardly anyone seemed to notice.
"He's been my best friend," Posada said, "and a moment like this really tells you what kind of player he is."
Traditionally, Jeter's worth has been measured the old-fashioned way -- in World Series titles. But as he ages and continues to pile up statistics, perhaps that's no longer the only way.
"Forty, 50, 60 years from now, fans are going to read the back of his baseball card and see a lot of hits," third baseman Alex Rodriguez said. "That's pretty amazing, but that won't capture even 50 percent of it."
Jeter's intangibles and leadership have become well documented. The statistics are a bonus. Put them together, and the result is the iconic player of a generation.
Team-by-team hit leaders
|Here is a look at the hit leaders for all 30 Major League clubs, through games of Sept. 11, 2009:|
|Red Sox||Carl Yastrzemski*||3,419|
|Orioles||Cal Ripken Jr.*||3,184|
|White Sox||Luke Appling*||2,749|
|Blue Jays||Tony Fernandez||1,583|
|* Member of the Hall of Fame|
"For those who say today's game can't produce legendary players, I have two words: Derek Jeter," principal owner George M. Steinbrenner said in a statement. "Game in and game out, he just produces. As historic and significant as becoming the Yankees' all-time hit leader is, the accomplishment is all the more impressive because Derek is one of the finest young men playing the game today."
"This kid came with his 'A' personality all the time," Joe Torre, Jeter's manager for 12 seasons, said. "His competitiveness just never stopped. That's something you have to admire."
Gehrig's record stood untouched for seven decades. His final hit came on April 29, 1939, less than two years after he passed Babe Ruth for first place on the franchise list.
Roughly 10 weeks later, at the age of 36, Gehrig announced his retirement due to ALS, the disease now commonly referred to by his name. He made his "luckiest man" speech at Yankee Stadium in July before passing away two years later.
In the annals of Yankees history, Gehrig's name still carries as much weight as anyone who has ever donned pinstripes -- Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and, now, Jeter.
"Lou Gehrig, being a former captain and what he stood for, you mention his name to any baseball fan around the country, it means a lot," Jeter said. "I think passing him makes it stand out that much more."
No Yankees player has ever recorded 3,000 hits -- though at 35 years old and presumably with at least five more seasons ahead of him, Jeter has a fine chance to reach that hallowed mark. In 14 full big league seasons, he has never played in fewer than 119 games or recorded fewer than 156 hits. Six times, he has recorded at least 200 hits, an achievement he is almost certain to attain again this season.
It is perhaps fitting that Jeter recorded his record-breaking hit on Sept. 11, 24 years to the day after Pete Rose recorded his 4,192nd hit, passing Ty Cobb for the most in Major League history. Rose, one of 52 players with more hits than Jeter, finished his career with 4,256. Jeter ranks second among active players, behind Ken Griffey Jr. of the Mariners.
On Yankees lists, Jeter continues to climb. Now leading the franchise with 2,723 hits and 8,593 at-bats, he ranks second with 300 stolen bases, third with 2,120 games played, fourth with 1,564 runs scored and 437 doubles, and fifth with a .317 career batting average. If he remains with the Yankees after his contract expires in 2010 and maintains his usual rates of production, he could conceivably lead each of those categories -- except batting average -- by the time he turns 40.
Friday, though, was the time for neither speculation nor extrapolation. Friday was about history.
"You knew really early that he was a great player -- but not only was he a great player, he took it to another level in big situations and great moments that could be made," Pettitte said. "He's just been extremely special to watch, and he's a wonderful human being."