CLEVELAND – Derek Jeter's bid for one of baseball's most hallowed milestones, the 3,000-hit club, a place none of the New York Yankees' other greats ever reached, is almost complete.
It's right there, right in front of Jeter, the 37-year-old whose game may have faded but who remains one of the game's biggest stars. He'll get to 3,000. It's not a matter of if, but when. And, where?
Jeter got two hits -- an infield grounder and two-run double -- giving him 2,996 in his superb career and CC Sabathia took out any anger for being snubbed as an All-Star by striking out 11 in seven shutout innings Tuesday night, leading the Yankees to a 9-2 victory over the Cleveland Indians.
Jeter's ascent on history is nearly over. He's one, maybe two or three games away from becoming the 28th major leaguer -- and first in pinstripes -- to reach 3,000 hits. The journey has been a challenging one for the 12-time All-Star, whose game has been scrutinized as never before, and who recently missed three weeks with a calf injury.
He's having the worst statistical season of his career, and following the game, Jeter candidly said the criticism has robbed some of the enthusiasm from what should be a celebration.
"You'd like to enjoy it. It has been difficult, you know, when you're constantly asked questions that are a little different," Jeter said as two dozen reporters and an HBO camera crew surrounded his locker. "But, to be honest with you, I'm going to try to enjoy it from now on and keep things as positive as we can."
Jeter doesn't know yet if he'll play Wednesday in the series finale. Yankees manager Joe Girardi wants to give Jeter some rest and might sit his captain before the team returns to New York to open a four-game series against Tampa Bay on Thursday. If it were left up to Jeter, he'd be in the lineup every day. He'd also love to face Indians starter Justin Masterson, who has given up five hits in 12 at-bats to Jeter.
"I've sat for three weeks," Jeter said. "It would be hard to sit if I had no hits today or six hits. I want to play."
Girardi will consult with Jeter, "sleep on it" and then make the final call.
"I want to talk to him, think about it and I'll go from there," said Girardi, who seemed to be leaning toward sitting Jeter on Wednesday. "He's four hits away, and as I've said, my concern is us winning ballgames and him being healthy."
Girardi said he has not gotten any pressure to keep Jeter out until the team gets to New York, so he can get his 3,000th hit at Yankee Stadium.
"No one has ever said a word to me about where he should do it," Girardi said.
Curtis Granderson hit a two-run homer in the second and a solo shot in the fourth off Carlos Carrasco (8-5) for the Yankees, who had eight players with at least two hits.
Sabathia (12-4) allowed five hits, walked two and overpowered the team that drafted him in 1998 and traded him 10 years later. Despite leading the league in wins and going 9-1 in his last 10 starts, Sabathia was left off the AL roster for the July 12 All-Star game in Phoenix.
Sabathia dominated the Indians, who put two runners on to start the fifth before Sabathia struck out the side on 10 pitches.
He also struck out three in the fourth and seventh, and has 33 Ks in his last 22 2-3 innings.
"I wasn't thinking about the All-Star game, not at all," Sabathia said. "I just wanted to help my team win."
Sabathia saved New York's bullpen, which was without closer Mariano Rivera. He missed his second straight game because of a sore triceps muscle and hopes to be back for the series finale.
Indians All-Star shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera left in the fourth with a sprained right ankle
Jeter returned to the lineup on Monday after missing three weeks with a calf injury. He went 0 for 4 in his return, but looked more like one of the game's superstars in his second game.
The Yankees' captain singled in his first at-bat, hitting a slow roller toward third that Orlando Cabrera charged but couldn't make a barehanded pickup as Jeter barreled down the line. In the second, Jeter doubled home two runs off Carrasco, who had pitched seven shutout innings against New York on June 13.
The double had to be pleasing to Jeter, who hasn't hit many balls with authority this season.
"I don't care how I get hits; I have no ego whatsoever," he said. "It did feel good to hit the ball good. It's the hardest-hit ball I've hit in three weeks."
Jeter also made a nice defensive play in the sixth, stabbing a grounder behind second before making a spin and throw to first to get Orlando Cabrera.
"It's great to see him get into the flow," Sabathia said about Jeter. "That double was hit hard. Going for 3,000 hits in the same uniform, the Yankee uniform, is big, exciting. We've all been pulling for him, actually, every time up the whole year. It is just exciting to see him back. That play he made where he went behind second base was big, too."
Granderson's two-run homer in the second made it 5-0, and the slight but powerful center fielder led off the fourth with his 25th homer, surpassing his total from last season. He's just the fifth Yankee in the past 50 years to hit at least 25 homers before the break, joining Mark Teixeira (25, this season), Alex Rodriguez (30 in 2007), Tino Martinez (28 in 1997) and Jason Giambi (27 in 2006 and 26 in 2003).
Jeter's two-run double highlighted the Yankees' five-run second off Carrasco, who nearly worked his way out of the big inning without giving up anything.
New York loaded the bases with one out before Carrasco got No. 9 hitter Francisco Cervelli to hit a tailor-made, inning-ending double play ball to shortstop. Asdrubal Cabrera flipped it to second for the force, but second baseman Cord Phelps threw a one-hopper that first baseman Carlos Santana couldn't handle.
One run scored on the play, and instead of being in the dugout, Carrasco had to face Jeter, who made it 3-0 by lacing a two-run double into the gap in left-center.
Jeter could get to 3,000 in his next game. He's had plenty of four-hit games before -- even a pair of five-hit games.
In any event, he knows how many he needs for baseball immortality.
"I've been sitting on six for three weeks," he said. "I've always been good at math. We'll see what happens."