5/10/2008 01:09:00 PM

The Yankees Need The Captain's Bat

Posted by Mark McCray |

Wallace Matthews/Newsday.com:

Derek Jeter had a poor night Friday, going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. The second came in the eighth inning on a check swing that had the normally stoic Jeter jawing briefly with plate umpire Brian Gorman.

"It's frustrating whenever you lose," Jeter said, although in his case the frustration may run deeper than that. Counting last night, Jeter has now gone 120 at-bats this season without a home run, the second-longest homerless drought of his career, not counting the 2003 season when he was knocked out on Opening Night with a separated shoulder.

That leaves him just six at-bats short of the only slower start of his career, in 2001, when it took him 126 at-bats to hit his first homer. He finished that season with 21, the second-highest total of his career, but that was a 27-year-old Jeter, not the 33-year-old whose power numbers have dwindled over the past three seasons.

"I realized a long time ago that I wasn't going to catch Babe Ruth," Jeter said. "So it doesn't really concern me."

Then he added, "I haven't hit many fly balls, period, this year. I think my best shot is the inside-the-park homer."

Despite his attempt to make light of his early-season power outage, there is no disputing that over the past few seasons, some of the pop has gone out of Jeter's bat. He hit a career-high 24 home runs in 1999, and 23 in 2004, but since then, his power has steadily trended downward: 19 in 2005, 14 in 2006, only 12 last season. He stroked the most important hit of the 2000 World Series against the Mets, a home run to lead off Game 4, robbing the Mets of any momentum they might have gained after winning Game 3, but lately hasn't seemed like much of a threat to start a game off with a bang.

"I've never really concerned myself with hitting home runs," he said. "I'm more of a situational hitter."

He has mostly excelled at that, but the long ball is a dimension of his game that has gone missing. And without Rodriguez and Posada, someone has to step up into the void and provide a reason for opponents to not just respect the Yankees' bats, but also fear them.

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