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On his night at Safeco, Jeter delivers win for Yankees

SEATTLE — He was the picture of graciousness as he accepted going-away gifts from the Seattle Mariners and a standing ovation from the Safeco Field crowd prior to Tuesday night's game.

Then Derek Jeter went out and did what he does best -- helped the New York Yankees win.

With Yankee fans among the throng of 28,405 chanting "Der-ek Jet-er!" with every at-bat, the veteran shortstop -- who has announced his retirement at season's end -- went 2 for 3 with a walk and scored two runs in a 3-2 victory.

Batting in his familiar two-hole, Jeter bounced a single up the middle and scored on Carlos Beltran's double in the first inning.

With the score tied 2-2 in the eighth, Jeter ripped a one-out ground-rule double to center, then scored the game-winning run on Jacoby Ellsbury's single to right.

It was enough to make Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon wish Jeter had retired a year earlier.

"He played a nice game," McClendon said. "I wish like hell he didn't, but he played a nice game."

During the pregame ceremony at home plate, Jeter watched a video tribute, then hugged Mariner players Robinson Cano and Felix Hernandez and former Seattle greats Edgar Martinez and Jay Buhner, all part of the presentation.

Jeter smiled and waved to the fans after receiving a commemorative base and chair from the stands of the Kingdome -- site of his first major-league base hit -- along with an engraved watch from former Yankee teammate Cano and a $5,000 check for Jeter's "Turn 2 Foundation."

"It's always fun to come to Seattle," Jeter told the media. "This is where it all began."

It's the latest stop as Jeter -- who turns 40 on June 26 -- makes his way through the big leagues one final time.

At Houston, Jeter was presented with golf clubs and lessons. At Kansas City, personalized pinstriped cowboy boots and hat. From the White Sox, a bench made of bats. From the Angels, a surfboard. From the crosstown Mets, a Subway Series cake.

All along the way, Jeter is greeted like a hometown hero by partisans from the other side.

"The fans have been awesome everywhere we've gone," Jeter said. "I don't expect people to give me gifts. I don't expect anything.

"I'm just trying to come out and help us win games. It's been overwhelming at times how positive fan reaction has been."

Yet you get the sense that, while he is appreciative, Jeter would genuinely prefer to simply play out his final season without all the hoopla and fanfare.

At Kansas City, asked by a reporter how he felt about his farewell tour, Jeter bristled, "I don't like that phrase."

As he met with media before Tuesday's game, guess what was the first question asked?

After rolling his eyes and laughing, Jeter handled it well.

But when it was suggested Jeter experienced what "a farewell tour" is like last season during former Yankee closer Mariano Rivera ride to retirement, Jeter -- who played only 17 games because of injuries -- balked.

"I missed Mo going through it," he said, "and they're completely different. Mo pitched 40, 50 games a year. I play every day. Mo comes in the ninth inning. I have to be ready the first inning. There's no comparison."

Jeter recalled his first major-league game at the Kingdome at age 21.

"Went 0 for 5," Jeter said. "After the game, my dad and I tried to get something to eat and everything was closed, so we ended up walking to a McDonalds.

"He's here again today -- both of my parents. Maybe we'll go to McDonalds after the game."

The next day, facing Seattle's Tim Belcher on May 30, 1995, Jeter got the first of his 3,372 hits -- most by a Yankee, most of any shortstop in history, eighth on the all-time list. Another 59 safeties will move him past Honus Wagner and Carl Yastrzemski into sixth place.

Jeter reached the 200-hit plateau eight times, joins Hank Aaron as the only players with 150-plus hits 17 straight seasons and reached 3,000 in the second-fewest games (behind Tony Gwynn) ever. The American League rookie of the year in 1996, Jeter -- who owns a .311 career batting average -- has won five Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards, is a 13-time All-Star, was most valuable player of the 2000 All-Star Game and World Series and was Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year in in 2009.

More than anything, though, Jeter is a Yankee, and a winner.

During his 20 seasons in the pinstripes -- most of any Yankee -- Jeter has more career regular-season and postseason (200) hits than any player in franchise history, batting .308 in 158 postseason games. Over that span, the Yankees have won five World Series titles. Jeter also boasts the highest win percentage (.597) of any active player.

And he has done it with class. Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said pregame that Jeter has always played baseball "the right way."

"You try to have respect for your teammates, your opponents, the fans, the media," Jeter said. "You try to play hard every day. I've tried to do that my entire career. When people appreciate that, it makes you feel good."

Jeter has also been a great teammate, and in latter years, a role model for younger players to emulate.

"He means a lot to me," said Cano, who formed the Yankees' keystone combination with Jeter for nine seasons. "He taught me to be a hitter. Not only myself, but every rookie who came up, he would always talk to them. He wasn't like a superstar who was unapproachable. It's good to come up with a guy like that."

Jeter is not ending his career the way he would like. It has been a rough go since he broke his left ankle in the opener of the 2012 AL Championship Series against Detroit. He struggled with ankle and calf injuries last season, ending with a .190 average in only 17 games.

It's not been a banner start to this season, either. Jeter is batting .259 with one home run and 12 RBIs. His .626 OPS (on base plus slugging percentage) is worst since his rookie season. The Yankees are 32-31, 5 1/2 games behind AL East leader Toronto.

"We all need to pick it up," Jeter asserted. "We've been inconsistent. There have been some highs; there have been some lows. We need to pick it up."

Jeter said he feels responsibility to help generate offense for the Yankees, who have been offensively challenged.

"I always feel as though any time you're scuffling to score, you have to do a lot of the little things," he said. "Little things are my job.

"It's not the first time I've scuffled. It's not the first time the team has scuffled. You have to keep battling through it. If it was easy, everybody would hit .500 or .600."

Jeter was emphatic when asked if he has had any second thoughts about retirement.

"Not at all," he said. "I didn't just wake up one morning and make that decision. A lot of thought went into it. But I'm trying not to think about it. We have a season to play out."

I've always been a Yankee hater, but an admirer of Jeter, whose modest demeanor and understated approach are what I like to see from a professional athlete.

For a night, at least, the Yankees' No. 2 was No. 1 again.

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Twitter: @kerryeggers