Nobody should have cared. The Baltimore Orioles, led by Steve Pearce, Nelson Cruz, and Adam Jones, had a massive lead in the AL East, and they had clinched the division more than a week prior. The Yankees, meanwhile, were slumping to their worst season since 1992 and had just been eliminated from Wild Card contention. It was hard to find a game that meant less to the standings than this one. And yet, millions of households — not only in New York, but throughout the country — tuned in because it was the end of an era: at 7:05 pm ET, Derek Jeter would don the pinstripes for the last time as he played the final home game of his career.
And despite a season of disappointing baseball in the Bronx, as fate would have it, that night would be one of the most exciting games of the season. So as the story of the 2022 Yankees begins, let’s look back on when Jeter’s own journey came to a close.
Date of Game: September 25, 2014
Final Score: Yankees 6, Orioles 5
Game MVP: Derek Jeter
With the Captain’s swan song getting all the attention, it’s easy to forget that this was Hiroki Kuroda’s last game as a member of the Yankees as well. The veteran righty had spent three years with the Yankees, and although the team had not exactly been all that successful in that time, none of it was Kuroda’s fault. In 97 starts in pinstripes, he posted a 3.45 ERA and 3.68 FIP, never throwing fewer than 199 innings. Over those three seasons, he was the team’s ace (particularly as CC Sabathia battled a multi-year slump).
Things got off to a rough start for Kuroda, however, as he allowed back-to-back home runs to Nick Markakis and Alejandro De Aza to start the game. After that minor hiccup, however, Kuroda was about as electric as he had ever been, striking out nine. Over eight innings, he permitted just one more baserunner aboard — a De Aza single in the top of the third that was immediately erased in a 6-4-3 double play. Not a bad way to go out for the seven-year vet.
For their part, the lineup immediately got to work against O’s starter Kevin Gausman. Brett Gardner led off the game with a ground ball through the right side of the infield for a single. Jeter then proceeded to almost send a 3-1 pitch into the seats, settling “just” for an RBI double off the wall; it was the 544th double of his career, passing Tony Gwyn for 30th all-time. He himself would advance to third on a wild pitch before scoring on an E4 off the bat of Brian McCann. Just three batters in, the score was tied at two runs apiece.
And there the score would stay for a while. Gausman matched Kuroda’s zeroes for four innings, then handed the ball off to T.J. McFarland, who sent Mark Teixeira, Chase Headley, and Chris Young down in order in the sixth. The night began to go off the rails for the Orioles in the seventh, however. After Stephen Drew reached on a passed ball on strike three (because of course he did), Ichiro Suzuki walked to put runners on first and second with nobody out. José Pirela laid down a sacrifice bunt, but managed to reach anyway, loading the bases. Gardner would bounce into a fielder’s choice for the first out of the inning, with the first baseman Pearce cutting down the lead runner at home.
With Ryan Webb coming in to pitch for McFarland and the bases still loaded, Jeter — fittingly, he was in the middle of everything that night — hit a weak grounder to shortstop that J.J. Hardy threw into right field; Ichiro and Pirela came around to score, while Gardner advanced to third. The lefty Brian Matusz then came on to face McCann and Teixeira, and although he allowed one run (a McCann sacrifice fly), he stopped the bleeding and kept the Orioles within striking distance.
The top of the ninth came, and with it, the end of an era. Or so we thought. In his first season as Yankees closer, David Robertson had been absolutely electric, entering into the day with a 2.74 ERA and 38 saves in 42 attempts. On that night, Houdini reminded us that he was not Mariano Rivera, walking Markakis to lead off the inning. After De Aza struck out, Jones launched a two-run shot down into the second deck down the left field line to bring the O’s within one. Robertson got Cruz to strike out, but the noted Yankee killer Pearce silenced the crowd.
Everyone had been chanting Jeter’s name in anticipation of the final out of his home career. Instead, Pearce’s blast tied the score and sent shockwaves through the stands. J.J. Hardy flew out to center field to finish the frame, but the storybook ending for the Captain appeared to be ruined.
Except, of course, for one small fact: Jeter was due up third in the bottom of the inning. Immediately, the Yankees got to work filling out the script. As baseball fans throughout the country were glued to their television sets, Pirela led off the inning against Evan Meek with a ground ball between the shortstop and third baseman for a single before Antoan Richardson pinch-ran for him. Gardner then laid down a picture-perfect sacrifice bunt to move him over to second.
And that brought up Derek Jeter with one out and the winning run on second. For one last time, Bob Sheppard’s voice echoed posthumously through the Stadium, announcing the Captain’s final time coming up to the plate. To quote Michael Kay, “The script is there, the last page is in Derek’s hands.”
Meek reared back and fired. You know the rest.
Jeter laced an opposite-field single past a diving Pearce into right field. Richardson rounded third and raced for home. Markakis came up throwing, a one-hopper to catcher Caleb Joseph, but Joseph didn’t come up with it cleanly — and even if he had, it was half a step too late.
If this were a movie, critics would complain that everything came together to perfectly, that it was too “unrealistic.” Frankly, I wouldn’t blame them. Everything about this ending was poetic. Jeter either drove in or scored every run the Yankees scored in the game. Robertson, the longtime setup man for Jeter’s longtime teammate Mariano Rivera, figuratively setting up the ending by blowing the save. The game just so happened to progress that Jeter’s spot in the order came up third, all but guaranteeing that he would come to the plate, but maximizing the opportunity that the winning run would be in scoring position. Considering the limited circumstances presented by the 2014 Yankees, you could not have scripted it better.
And for that very reason, as an entire generation of fans said goodbye to their childhoods, this random, meaningless game at the end of a very forgettable season will be etched into our memories for the rest of our lives.