NEW YORK (AP) — A player stood at shortstop at Yankee Stadium, yet the shortstop was missing.
For 16 years and 158 consecutive games, Derek Jeter had been in the New York Yankees’ postseason lineup, the Lou Gehrig and Cal Ripken of October.
“When you think of postseason, you think of Derek Jeter,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said.
And now Jeter was absent for Game 2 of the AL championship series against the Tigers on Sunday, off undergoing tests after his left ankle cracked during another stressful moment in another sapping game. Taking the captain’s place was Jayson Nix.
Jeter’s body gave out Saturday on one of those autumn nights that has defined him, transformed him from a strong-willed student to revered statesman.
Trailing the Tigers one game to none, the Yankees faced the troublesome task of regrouping without their longtime leader.
First Mariano Rivera, whose knee tore during batting practice in May. Then Jeter.
Not since Game 6 of the 1981 World Series had the Yankees played in the postseason without both Jeter and Rivera
“We had to move on from a lot of different things this year,” manager Joe Girardi said. “We’ve lost the greatest closer of all-time, where people left us for dead. People left us for dead in August and September, said we were panicking. And we laughed at it, and we said no, we’re going to be fine. We won more games in the American League than anyone.”
Moving on minus the slumping Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees did that.
But this is Jeter, as much a part of Yankee Stadium as the pinstripes, monuments and 27 World Series banners. Not since rookie Mickey Mantle’s knee buckled during Game 2 of the 1951 World Series had such an integral part of the team gotten hurt so severely during a postseason game.
“He’s indestructible,” former Yankees manager Joe Torre said in front of Detroit’s dugout.
Maybe at 25. Maybe at 30.
But not at 38, when more gray can be seen around the temples, when the muscles get more sore and the bones become more brittle.
Jeter had scans Sunday, which confirmed the fracture. He was in a splint and on crutches, and will soon see foot specialist Dr. Robert Anderson in Charlotte, N.C. Jeter will not accompany the Yankees to Detroit, and his recovery is expected to take three months.
Jeter also texted Nix, hoping he would produce in this unexpected opportunity.
“He just said good luck,” said the understudy, thrust into a lead role. “He said he believes in me, and go get ‘em.”
This wasn’t the first time Jeter had trouble with his left leg in the last month or so.
Girardi pulled him from a game at Boston on Sept. 12 because of what Jeter said was a sprained ankle. Jeter was a designated hitter for the next four games. Jeter fouled a ball off his left foot in Game 3 of the division series, again was taken out early, and was at DH the next day before returning to shortstop.
Without Jeter, there’s little core left in the Core Four, with only Andy Pettitte still in uniform and Jorge Posada watching from retirement.
Jeter’s injury literally changed the sound at Yankee Stadium, and not just because he caused a collective gasp when he sprawled on his stomach, immobile on the infield dirt.
His ankle broken, yelled out in pain. He also had some words for Girardi when the manager and a trainer rushed out to check him.
“Even when I went to the field and I was going to carry him in, and he said ‘No, do not carry me.’ That is the kind of guy he is,” Girardi said.
Instead, with one arm draped around Girardi and the other around trainer Steve Donahue, Jeter hobbled off the field on his good ankle as fans chanted his name.
And because Jeter was absent Sunday, so was voice of Bob Sheppard, the public address announcer who died two years ago at age 99. His recording is used to introduce Jeter for all of his at-bats.
Jeter has 200 postseason hits. Nix started Sunday with four postseason at-bats.
Girardi hoped for a repeat from New York’s baseball past — and not just the Bronx part of town. Light-hitting infielders have made lightning strikes in October.
Bucky Dent brought down Boston when he homered over Fenway Park’s Green Monster in a one-game tiebreaker for the 1978 AL East title. Brian Doyle hit .438 as a replacement for injured Willie Randolph in that year’s World Series
And over in Queens, .219 career hitter Al Weis batted .455 as the 1969 Miracle Mets shocked Baltimore.
Two hours before the game, Girardi spoke of Jeter’s attitude, the one that has pushed the team to five World Series titles since 1996.
“What would Derek say? ‘I’m great. Let’s go.’ And that would be his message.” Girardi said. “And we have to find a way. We have done it all year long, and we’re going to have to do it again.”