NEW YORK -- Over the past two decades, there probably has been no player who has caused the Orioles more heartbreak than Derek Jeter. And in his final game at Yankee Stadium, he found a way to beat them one last time.
This wasn’t the infamous "Jeffrey Maier home run" in the 1996 American League Championship Series or those 14 straight losing seasons in which Jeter and the New York Yankees used the Orioles as a division punching bag.
Times have changed. When the teams took the field for Jeter’s final game wearing pinstripes at Yankee Stadium on Thursday night, it was the newly-crowned AL East champion Orioles -- not the Yankees -- who were playing with something at stake.
Jeter’s Yankees had been eliminated from postseason contention a day earlier, but the future Hall of Fame shortstop still provided one final dramatic act fit for Broadway.
After the Orioles rallied from a three-run deficit to tie the game in the top of the ninth, Jeter hit a game-winning single to right field off Orioles right-hander Evan Meek to give the Yankees a 6-5 walk-off win.
The atmosphere at the ballpark rivaled that of a playoff game with a loud, announced sellout of 48,613, all focusing on Jeter. Cameras flashed throughout the seating bowl during the entire game, building to a paparazzi pace every time Jeter stepped to the plate.
And when Jeter’s final hit at the stadium won a meaningless game for the Yankees, his teammates stormed out of the dugout for a celebration similar those seen during the five World Series championships the Yankees won with Jeter.
"Our guys, everybody has a lot of respect for Derek and what his career has been about,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “You never like to lose a game, but you try to keep a grip on reality and the whole gamut of it. We wish him well, and I'm sure it was a great moment for him here. And it will be a great moment for us as we go forward to continue to play."
Fans in the outfield threw their Yankees caps onto the field, littering the warning track in their way of tipping their caps to Jeter. And after beating the Orioles one more time, Jeter’s parting with the Orioles was not only cordial, but classy.
Orioles players and coaches stood along the dugout railing and applauded while Jeter walked out to shortstop for a final curtain call. And then in the on-field postgame interview that followed, Jeter -- his eyes watering -- looked into the opposing dugout and wished the Orioles well in October.
"I want to congratulate the Orioles and wish them luck in the playoffs,” he said. “They deserve it."
After the game, Meek said: “Just shows what kind of guy Jeter is. This guy’s last game here, he’s doing an interview on the field, and he looks over at our dugout and says, ‘Good luck. You deserve it.’ It just shows the kind of class he has.
"He looked over in our dugout and said good luck, and he meant it sincerely. He’s a legend. He’s done everything right. Not many people can do what he did and went out the way he did. You just can’t be upset about it.”
Meek allowed a leadoff single to Jose Pirela in the ninth, and pinch runner Antoan Richardson went to second base on a sacrifice bunt, bringing Jeter up.
Afterward, Jeter said he was "all messed up" throughout the game. And asked what was going through his mind as he stepped into the batter's box for the final time at Yankee Stadium, Jeter said he told himself "Don't cry."
Few fans had left, and they collectively stood as Jeter stepped to the plate for the final time at Yankee Stadium. Jeter wasted no time, slapped a cutter on the outer half of the plate past a diving Steve Pearce at first base and into right field. Nick Markakis threw to the plate, but Caleb Joseph couldn’t corral the ball as Richardson slid across with the winning run.
The Orioles (95-64) still left New York with their first season series win over the Yankees since 1997. They went 13-6 against the Yankees this year, but their hopes of having the AL’s best record is bleak. With three games left to play, the next Orioles loss or Los Angeles Angels win will give the AL West team home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
“We needed to win a game,” center fielder Adam Jones said. “That’s what it was. Obviously it was Jeter’s last home game. The emotions were for them. As a fan of the game, as a player, it’s cool, but we want to win the game.”
The Orioles overcame an uncharacteristically sloppy game defensively -- they committed three errors on the night -- by hitting four home runs against Yankees pitching, including two in the top of the ninth off Yankees closer David Robertson. It was the Orioles' first loss in 27 games this season in which they hit three or more homers.
Right after Robertson came high and inside to Jones, the center fielder hit a 2-2 high fastball into the second deck of the left-field seats for a two-run homer, his 28th of the season.
Down to their last out, first baseman Steve Pearce -- making his first start since last Friday because of a right wrist injury -- jumped on a first-pitch delivery and sent it into the left-field seats for his 21st homer of the season to tie the game at 5.
The Yankees took a 5-2 lead with three unearned runs in the seventh in an inning that included a costly throwing error by sure-handed shortstop J.J. Hardy and began with a third-strike passed ball.
Left-hander T.J. McFarland opened the inning with a strikeout of Stephen Drew, but Drew reached first on a passed ball that went beyond Joseph. Ichiro Suzuki walked and Pirela dropped a bunt single to the left of the mound to load the bases.
Pearce charged a grounder by Brett Gardner and threw home for a force play and the first out of the inning. Jeter then hit a grounder to shortstop, but Hardy threw the ball wide of second base. Two runs scored on the play and a third came home on Brian McCann’s sacrifice fly to right.
The Orioles were ready to ruin Jeter’s night early as Markakis and Alejandro De Aza quieted the home crowd with back-to-back solo homers to open the game off Yankees right-hander Hiroki Kuroda.
Right as the Yankee Stadium bleacher creatures’ roll call of players reached Jeter, Markakis hit a 1-2 pitch into the second deck of the right-field stands.
Three pitches later, De Aza, a late-August trade acquisition who has found a regular role in left field, homered into the right-center field gap. It marked the first time the Orioles opened a game with back-to-back homers since June 6, 2001, when Jerry Hairston Jr. and Mike Bordick did it at the old Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees responded in the bottom half of the inning. Orioles right-hander Kevin Gausman needed 35 pitches to get out of the first inning. After Gardner singled to right field, Jeter stepped to the plate to a rousing ovation, cheers that got louder when he hit a double off the left-center field fence -- missing a homer by just a few feet -- to drive in the first run.
After a wild pitch by Gausman that moved Jeter to third base, McCann hit a ball into the shift, but second baseman Kelly Johnson -- who was positioned in shallow right field -- bobbled the grounder and his throw to first was late for a fielding error to tie the game at 2-2.
Gausman settled down, holding the Yankees hitless for the next four innings and allowing just two base runners.
"A lot of pitchers [need] that first inning to get their feet on the ground, but he pitched real well after that,” Showalter said. “Like I said, the defense cost him a bunch of pitches, and that's something we're going to have to make sure we get back to playing defensively like we need to."
Kuroda allowed just one hit after allowing the back-to-back homers in the first inning. Following De Aza’s third-inning single, Kuroda retired the next 16 batters.
Showalter compared the experience to what will lay ahead for the Orioles in the postseason on the road.
“Hopefully, it's a good preparation for what's ahead of us in some ballparks,” Showalter said. “But the guys handled themselves well.”
Gausman, the 23-year-old who hasn’t played in a postseason game, shared that sentiment.
“When Jeter hit that [first-inning] double and scored Gardner, and I was behind home plate, I could feel the entire place shaking,” Gausman said. “Obviously something that can only be what happens in playoff games or big games like this.
"I think obviously the crowd was very, very excited for him and for that moment. I think that’s how most playoff games are going to be like.”