Imagine attending, say, your favorite musician’s farewell concert and all of a sudden comes a brand new, legendary hit.
Or you need not imagine it. You can just rewatch Derek Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium.
Jeter, the beloved Yankees captain and shortstop, will learn officially on Tuesday that he has been elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, in his first year on the ballot. The only remaining suspense concerns whether he will follow longtime teammate Mariano Rivera to become the second unanimous selection ever by the writers. To date, as per the aggregation of Ryan Thibodaux (@NotMrTibbs on Twitter), every publicly disclosed vote has included a checkmark next to Jeter’s name.
Tuesday’s news will generate another round of appreciation for Jeter, now the Marlins’ CEO, and his playing greatness, which included not only Hall of Fame numbers (3,465 hits, sixth all time; and 1,923 runs, 10th all time in modern ball) but a plethora of Hall of Fame moments. The very last one occurred long after the flip play, the “Mr. November” walk-off homer or Jeffrey Maier’s unscheduled moment of glory — which amplified its fit in Jeter’s drama-heavy narrative of coming through in the clutch at all times of his career, from start to finish.
As his first major league manager Buck Showalter put it this past week, when describing Jeter’s status on Sept. 25, 2014, in The Bronx, “He wasn’t having the type of year that you would walk [him].”
Yes, Showalter, to add a layer of fun, sat in the visitors’ dugout running the Orioles, who already had clinched the American League East title. The Yankees had been mathematically eliminated from postseason contention the prior day, missing the playoffs for the second straight year after qualifying in Jeter’s first 18 campaigns.
It had proven a trying 2014 for Jeter, who announced before spring training that this would be his final lap. After missing the bulk of 2013 due to complications from the left-ankle fracture he had suffered during the 2012 AL Championship Series, he started 144 games, 128 of them at shortstop, in his age-40 season. He batted second in the lineup for 619 of his 634 plate appearances. And, to be blunt, he performed terribly, tallying a .256/.304/.313 slash line while fielding his position below replacement level. Giving him so many reps on both sides contributed heavily to the Yankees’ empty October.
Alas, what could the Yankees do, right? Jeter had led the charge to five rings and 13 other playoff appearances. Moreover, his retirement heads-up had increased Stadium attendance for the first time since 2010 and, we’d see, the only season from 2011 through 2016. Hence the Yankees’ last home game of the season became an unconditional Jeter love-fest.
“You kind of became a spectator, a fan” said Antoan Richardson, a speedy outfielder whom the Yankees recalled from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre earlier that month.
“I’ve always prided myself in enjoying the moment, slowing the game down, and guys had heard me talk about Derek,” Showalter said. “They understood the respect we should show for him. He had a Hall Of Fame statistical career, but he may have had a better career as a person, and that’s so hard to do.”
After the game’s first two batters, Nick Markakis and Alejandro De Aza, homered off Yankees starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, the Yankees counterpunched quickly, as Jeter doubled home Brett Gardner and scored the tying run when O’s second baseman Kelly Johnson booted a grounder by Brian McCann. No more scoring would occur until Jeter came up with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh, potentially his last at-bat in the pinstripes … and stroked a grounder to shortstop J.J. Hardy, who threw the ball away as he tried to get the force at second base. With two runs scoring on the play and three in the inning, the diminished Jeter would receive credit for the game-winning RBI. Good enough, you’d think.
Except then David Robertson, Rivera’s successor as closer, entered in the top of the ninth and served up a two-run homer to Adam Jones and a game-tying, solo shot to Steve Pearce. Due up third in the bottom of the ninth? Jeter.
Against Orioles right-handed reliever Evan Meek — Showalter was resting his best late-inning arms like Zack Britton and Andrew Miller — Jose Pirela, a utilityman who man who made his major league debut three days earlier, singled to left field.
“When Baltimore tied the game, for a second I had to lock it back in and I had to recognize I was a part of this team,” said Richardson, now the Giants’ first-base coach. “… Jose is pretty fast himself, but [Yankees manager Joe Girardi] looks down at the dugout and signals to me, ‘You got him.’ ”
Gardner bunted Richardson over to second. Enter Jeter … and the conspiracy theories. Why not just walk Jeter, his run being irrelevant, and create the force?
“Who’s was on deck?” Showalter asked The Post. The answer was McCann.
“And after that?” Mark Teixeira.
“There you go,” Showalter said. He added: “I’m not thinking, ‘I’m gonna go ahead and pitch to Derek so he can go out on a great note.’ That’s not true.”
With the crowd chanting “Derek Je-ter!” Meek threw a first-pitch cutter that Jeter punched into right field, past a diving Johnson.
“I take off,” Richardson told The Post this past week, “and I knew we had one out. I didn’t think [third-base coach] Rob Thomson was going to send me home because it was such a hard-hit ball. I get to third base, and I see Rob Thomson waving me home. I’m thinking, ‘Oh my goodness!’
“At that point in time, you kind of recognize in the moment, ‘Hey you’d better score. These fans are not going to be happy if you don’t score.’ I was so anxious and desperate to get to the plate. I never dive headfirst, but in my desperation to make sure I score, [I did].”
He beat the throw home from Markakis, and the Stadium rocked.
“I was so anxious and desperate to get to the plate.”
“You recognize you won the game — pretty cool — and then actually, I didn’t know what to do,” Richardson said. “I didn’t know how to celebrate. Everyone’s running to first base [to mob Jeter]. I was like, ‘Hey, I might as well join the party!”
What a party, with Rivera and other Yankees greats appearing on the field and the Orioles applauding Jeter. While Jeter made a pair of cameo appearances in the season-ending weekend at Fenway Park, his last full game — at home, at shortstop — sent him into his five-year waiting period on the highest of notes.
“I didn’t mean to blow that game, but I’m sure glad I did!” Robertson, now with the Phillies, wrote to The Post in a Twitter direct message. “A magical moment in baseball history. Derek was the greatest teammate anyone could ask for and I’m so happy for him.”
The waiting period ends Tuesday, and with that, Jeter’s greatest hits will reemerge. That he produced one of his best when he was at his worst makes everything all the sweeter.