Derek Jeter peeked down at third base and saw a huge patch of green grass. There it is, he thought, a perfect opportunity to break out of that slump.
So, he took advantage of it. Jeter began the night with a surprising bunt single _ and didn't stop hitting until he tied Lou Gehrig.
With three hits on Wednesday, Jeter matched the New York Yankees record of 2,721, a mark Gehrig held by himself for more than 70 years.
"It's just kind of mind-boggling to have my name next to his," Jeter said on the field during a postgame television interview pumped over the Yankee Stadium public address system.
New York rallied past the Tampa Bay Rays 4-2 on a three-run homer by pinch-hitter Jorge Posada in the eighth inning. The comeback victory made it easier for Jeter to enjoy his accomplishment _ he tied Gehrig with a seventh-inning single off rookie starter Jeff Niemann.
"I'm happy that I was able to do it here at home," Jeter said. "We had so many special moments across the street. Hopefully this is the first of many memorable moments here at the new stadium."
Moments after Posada's homer, Jeter received a booming ovation as he stepped to the plate in the eighth with a chance to break the record. He walked against reliever Grant Balfour, bringing a loud chorus of boos from the crowd.
The Yankees are off Thursday. Jeter gets his next chance to set the mark Friday night at home against Baltimore.
"I wish we were playing tomorrow," he said.
Shut down by Niemann most of the night, the Yankees finished a four-game sweep and sent the AL champion Rays to their eighth consecutive loss. It's their longest skid since dropping eight straight in July 2007.
Already on their feet in anticipation, fans at Yankee Stadium let loose with a roar when Jeter's sharp grounder inside the first-base line got by a diving Chris Richard in the seventh.
Jeter's parents, watching from an upstairs box between home plate and first base, raised their arms and exclaimed in excitement. The ball was saved for Jeter as a souvenir.
"I felt proud. I got goose bumps," said Posada, one of Jeter's best buddies. "It was a perfect moment."
Jeter took off his helmet and twice waved it to the crowd of 45,848 during an ovation that lasted about 2 minutes. Rays players and coaches clapped as Jeter stood at first base.
"I'm very happy for him," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. "He carries himself in a manner that's worthy of passing Gehrig."
Jeter entered the game in an 0-for-12 slide, his longest hitless stretch this season, but ended the skid right away. He noticed that third baseman Evan Longoria was playing deep, so Jeter dropped down a beautiful bunt single leading off the bottom of the first. He beat the play without a throw, prompting the first of several standing ovations.
"He was smart. He took what they gave him tonight. That's the type of player he has been his whole career," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "When you put his name next to Lou Gehrig, it's amazing. It was emotional for me because I wanted it so bad for him tonight."
With cameras flashing all around the ballpark on every pitch to Jeter, he grounded out in the third and drove a ground-rule double to center in the fifth.
On his first chance to tie Gehrig, Jeter came through in fitting fashion _ with an opposite-field hit on the first pitch.
"You don't want to say it was a relief, but afterwards I was pretty excited that I was able to do it tonight," Jeter said. "I'd be lying to you if I said I wasn't thinking about it because pretty much everywhere I've gone this entire homestand I've been hearing on the street, in cabs, at the stadium, 'When you gonna get a hit, when you gonna get a hit? I kept telling them, 'I'm trying.'"
In the middle of the eighth, the large video board in center field showed a replay and flashed "Congratulations Derek!"
"He starts the game off, dropping the bunt down just to get a hit. I mean, nobody else thinks about that except Derek. He shocked the world up there doing that," longtime teammate Andy Pettitte said. "I'm just excited to see him break it and get it over with and now he can head on toward 3,000."
Gehrig's final hit came on April 29, 1939, a single against the Washington Senators. The Iron Horse had held the club record for hits since Sept. 6, 1937, when he passed Babe Ruth.
Gehrig's Hall of Fame career ended suddenly in 1939 because of illness. Two years later, he died at 37 from the disease that would later bear his name.
"I know a lot about the history," Jeter said. "What he stood for, being a captain, he's probably one of the classiest people to ever play the game."