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Jeter etching own legend

Derek Jeter simply does not like talking about himself. Personal numbers are irrelevant. The only ones that matter are wins.

But anyone watching baseball knows where the career of the New York Yankees shortstop is ultimately headed. Cooperstown. Monument Park. The whole legend status. And the numbers are starting to get to epic proportions.

Jeter became the all-time hit leader among shortstops when he passed Luis Aparicio with No. 2,678 in the Aug. 16 game at Seattle. And now another major countdown to catch a Hall of Famer is on: Six more hits and Jeter will tie Lou Gehrig as the all-time leader in Yankees annals.

"You're not really trying to do anything different," Jeter said after going 2 for 5 in Saturday's 6-4 win over the Toronto Blue Jays before 31,295 in Rogers Centre. "It's not like you're trying to hit a home run. Most guys go up there always trying to get a hit so nothing really changes."

Jeter, who sat out Friday with a sprained pinky, singled in the fourth and eighth innings to push his career hit total to 2,715. Gehrig has 2,721.

The 35-year-old Jeter appears to have plenty of good years left and 3,000 seems to be a formality. It's not ridiculous to think he might get in the 3,500 range and only five players have gotten that far. It's an elite list: Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial and Tris Speaker.

The Jeter Watch could end as soon as Monday's day-night doubleheader against Tampa Bay in Yankee Stadium. And he's fine with that. He was just 3 for his last 18 until his fourth-inning single Saturday. Any reflection the record was entering his mind?

"No, not at all," Jeter said. "Especially here. It might be a little bit different once we get home but we're just trying to win games."

Yankees fans are going to be waiting for Jeter's return. Tickets are being hawked online for $2,000-$3,000 and ads are prominently mentioning Jeter's race to pass the Iron Horse.

Jeter brushed off a question about setting the record at home.

"You don't know if I'm going to do it. Hopefully I will," Jeter said. "We're trying to win games and that's the important thing."

Jeter, of course, knows darn well the Yankees start a 10-game homestand Monday and it would be big news if he couldn't squeeze out six measly hits. And maybe fewer given what happens in today's series finale (1 p.m, YES, Radio 1230 AM).

There are those who say that Jeter has never been better. He is fifth in the American League in batting (.330), second in hits (180) and in multi-hit games (55), and he leads the AL in average against left-handers (.416). Over his last 24 games, he's batting .414 and has 14 multi-hit games.

"Couldn't happen to a better guy," 91-year-old Cleveland Indians Hall of Famer Bob Feller told the Associated Press last week. "I knew Lou [Gehrig], I used to go with him and Babe Ruth to some of those rubber-chicken banquets. . . . The way he carried himself on and off the field, he did it right. Derek does the same things."

Jeter was happy to see the Yankees survive a 3-hour, 52-minute affair Saturday that was hardly breathtaking from either side. The Yankees won despite leaving 14 men on base.

"It was a struggle all day for me," said Yankees starter Andy Pettitte (13-6), who went six innings to win his fifth straight. "I wasn't locating my fastball on either side of the plate, was having trouble getting my breaking ball over. I was real fortunate."

Pettitte wasn't nearly as sharp as he was Monday in Baltimore, when he took a perfect game into the seventh inning. But he improved to 5-0, 2.77 over his last eight starts and the Yankees improved to 20-8 this season in games he's started.

"He's pitching so well, it's making it a lot easier on us," Jeter said. "He's working quick, throwing strikes so that makes it easy on the defense."

The Yankees got leadoff home runs in the fourth and fifth, respectively, from Robinson Cano (career-high 23rd) and Mark Teixeira (team-high 33rd). Melky Cabrera had a pair of RBI singles.

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