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and Foes: With style, talent and verve, Jeter and A-Rod shine in the playoff spotlight

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, October 13, 2000

By T.R. Sullivan

Pitching is dominating the American League Championship Series.

The Seattle Mariners have scored three runs in two games and the New York Yankees have had one big inning, leaving the series tied at one each going into Game 3 tonight in Seattle.

The primary battle is for the right to advance to the World Series, and, in that regard, individual achievements matter little. But played out against the drama is the much-talked-about showdown between the two superstar shortstops, Derek Jeter of the Yankees and Seattle's Alex Rodriguez.

The two marquee players try to downplay the situation, insisting it's Yankees vs. Mariners, not Jeter vs. Rodriguez. However their extraordinary talent, engaging personalities and close friendship have placed them squarely in the spotlight for the duration of the series.

"For baseball, the rivalry certainly is intriguing," Seattle manager Lou Piniella said.

"We're putting on a show for people and these two kids are really worth paying your money to watch play," New York manager Joe Torre said.

Both had their usual exceptional seasons. Rodriguez hit .316 with 134 runs scored, 41 home runs and 132 runs batted in, putting him squarely in the MVP race. Jeter hit .339 with 119 runs scored. Both have already hit a home run in this series.

They are part of an elite group of shortstops in the American League, along with Boston's Nomar Garciaparra, Oakland's Miguel Tejada and Cleveland's Omar Vizquel. But it goes beyond who gets voted in as the American League's starter for the All-Star Game or who wins the Gold Glove. Jeter and Rodriguez, after all, were the ones who were selected to `People' magazine's list of Top 100 Eligible Bachelors.

"It's funny how our careers mirror each other in a lot of ways with the exception of those three rings," said Rodriguez, referring to Jeter's World Series jewelry. "It's very exciting to play against my best friend. But when I look through that scope, I don't care who it is. I'm going to shoot. We're going to have a lot of time in the off-season to spend together. But now, it's time to go to war."

Jeter said: "I keep saying this series is not about me against A-Rod. He's not pitching against me, and I'm not pitching against him. I wish I was because I have a nasty two-seamer."

The two came from different backgrounds. Jeter was a high school sensation in Michigan and Rodriguez was in Miami. Both were first-round draft picks who met in the minor leagues and have become almost inseparable.

When a brawl broke out last year between the Mariners and the Yankees, Rodriguez and Jeter were seen laughing and smiling together on the field. Chad Curtis, then playing for the Yankees, took serious issue with that and confronted Jeter in the clubhouse afterward.

But Jeter must have found it difficult to throw a punch at a guy with a 45-foot yacht, "Sweet Swing." Look for Jeter in the off-season, and he's likely to be found with Rodriguez sailing the waters in and around Florida.

"Years ago, you were not allowed to have that kind of relationship with somebody from another ballclub because it was more or less a war," Torre said. "Now, I think it is more respect. They sort of mirror each other with the way they play. They are a little different player-wise, but as far as the way they carry themselves, and how hard they play, they are very, very much alike."

Yankees first baseman Tino Martinez said: "They are both superstar players, and they handle themselves really well. They treat everybody with a lot of respect, and they are just two great role models."

Rodriguez becomes a free agent after the season, which adds to the intrigue. There has been much speculation he could end up across the town from Jeter playing for the New York Mets. Having them both in New York would bring back memories of the 1950s when Mickey Mantle played for the Yankees, Willie Mays played for the New York Giants, Duke Snider was with the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the whole town endlessly debated who was the best.

The thought of Rodriguez abandoning Seattle clearly worries Piniella, who has already witnessed the departures of pitcher Randy Johnson and center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. He said Rodriguez would be a bigger loss.

"Remember we were able to get [Freddy] Garcia and [John] Halama and [Carlos] Guillen for Johnson," Piniella said. "We were able to get [Mike] Cameron and [Brett] Tomko and a couple of prospects for Junior. In this case here, all you're getting is a draft pick. It's a more serious situation, believe me. Plus, you've got a great shortstop that can swing the bat, one of the leaders of our baseball team. Seattle is going to do everything they can to bring him back."

For now, Jeter is trying to help Seattle reach the World Series for the first time. Pitching has been the most important factor in this series, and starters Aaron Sele for the Mariners and Andy Pettitte for the Yankees will likely have a bigger impact on tonight's game than Rodriguez and Jeter.

There is little doubt, though, that fans get excited about charismatic stars, which means the two shortstops probably will remain in the spotlight until one advances to the World Series.

I am NOT affiliated with the New York Yankees. I am just a fan. I am not Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez or any other member of the Yankee ballclub. This site is mainly for entertainment purposes only.