NEW YORK - The thunder from the Yankee Stadium stands began in the bottom of the third inning as he made his way to the plate, one hit shy of 3,000 for his career. The organ played and the crowd chanted his name.
"Derek Jeter, Derek Jeter."
There was a sense among them that something big was about to happen, another magical Derek Jeter moment.
On the mound, Tampa Bay Rays pitcher David Price held a baseball with the logo "J3" identifying it as one used during one of Jeter's at-bats. Price also sensed the magnitude of the moment and took a short walk on the grass behind the mound.
"I was just spinning out there," Price said.
The crowd continued chanting Jeter's name as he and Price battled to a full count. A foul ball and another special baseball, this one marked "J1."
And then it happened.
Price hung a curveball, and Jeter pulled it a long way into the bleachers in left field.
Baseball history. Yankee history.
Jeter became the 28th player to collect 3,000 hits and, remarkably, the first Yankee.
He became only the second to reach the milestone with a home run, joining former Devil Ray and Tampa resident Wade Boggs.
"He's got that flair for the dramatic," Rays first baseman Casey Kotchman said.
The historic clout was one of Jeter's five hits. The last was an eighth-inning single through a drawn-in infield that drove in the winning run in the Yankees' 5-4 victory in front of 48,103 appreciative fans.
"If I would have tried to have written it and given it to someone, I wouldn't have even bought it," Jeter said. "It's just one of those special days."
Jeter began his tour around the bases, slapping his hands as he reached first base. Kotchman tipped his cap as Jeter went by.
"I just thought that that was the right thing to do, out of respect," Kotchman said. "It was a privilege to witness something like that."
The Yankees poured out of the dugout and ran in from the bullpen to congratulate their captain.
The Rays, led by designated hitter Johnny Damon, stepped outside their dugout and clapped.
"It was a great moment for Derek and his family and for the history of the Yankee franchise," said Damon, a teammate of Jeter's in the Bronx for four years. "Obviously we wanted a different hit and not that good of a game from him, but Derek stands for the good stuff in baseball. I'm proud of him."
Price walked to the dugout during the celebration. Pitcher James Shields approached him and said, "Don't worry dude, that was a bomb."
The tension broken, Price playfully slapped his teammate in the face.
Shields, who faces the Yankees this afternoon, was happy to not have to pitch through the hype and glad to no longer have to answer questions about what it might be like to give up Jeter's big hit.
"And I'm not going to be on the highlight reel for years to come," Shields said.
For weeks, Jeter said he felt little pressure to get his 3,000th hit. He admitted Saturday he was lying. And it didn't help when Friday night's game was rained out and rescheduled for Sept. 22 rather than for Saturday night as part of a day/night doubleheader.
The Yankees open the second half of the season in Toronto, so time was running out as Jeter tried to get No. 3,000 in front of his adoring fans.
He woke up Saturday needing two hits. He left the stadium with 3,003.
"It means a lot," Jeter said. "It's a number that has meant a lot in the history of the game, because not too many people have done it. To be the only Yankee to do anything would be special. If I was the leader in strikeouts, I'd be happy about it because so many have played here. This is the only team I've wanted to play for, and to be the only one to do something like this, I don't know if I can describe it."
Jeter fever was everywhere, from posters around the stadium that invited fans to a post-3,000-hit party complete with free cake to a Jeter Meter that counted down the hits Jeter needed to start the partying.
As Price made his way to the visitor's clubhouse Saturday morning, he found himself walking past boxes of T-shirts commemorating the moment that would go on sale as soon as Jeter got the big hit.
"I'd rather have not done that," Price said. "But he's Derek Jeter. He's done that to a lot of guys."
The Rays were resigned to the fact Jeter would get the hit during this series. In fact, they were openly rooting for him.
"I didn't really care if he got it off me as long as he didn't drive in a run or score a run," Price said, "and he did all of those things in that one at-bat."
"I looked up at the scoreboard and I saw that right before I threw that last pitch," Price said. "It was unreal."
Jeter has had plenty of big hits and big days and unreal moments in the Bronx, but few will top Saturday.
"Absolutely it was a great day at the new Yankee Stadium," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "It's unfortunate that he had such a wonderful day. Two hits would have been fine. To get all five and then drive in the winning run that's a little bit above and beyond."
But Jeter's career is defined by the above and beyond.
"This is definitely a storybook game for him," Damon said. "Hopefully he can act very well and hopefully he can play himself in his own movie. That's the type of day that this was."
Tampa Bay Rays