NEW YORK -- A few hours before gametime, Derek Jeter was asked what advice he'd gotten about trying to reach 3,000 hits.
"Hurry up," he said, smiling.
"After the first one, I'd be lying to you if I said I didn't think it was attainable today," Jeter said.
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Jeter seemed eager to put the pursuit behind him -- he never seems overly comfortable when he's the focus, rather than the team. He swung at all 11 strikes he got from starter Jeff Niemann and reliever Kyle Farnsworth while going 1-for-5.
"Early on, I thought I'd get a few," Jeter said.
Niemann certainly was a familiar face. Two years ago, Jeter got three hits in a game off the Rays right-hander to tie the Yankees' all-time hit record set by Lou Gehrig.
Jeter's mom and dad were in the crowd of 47,787 cheering when he came up in the first inning. The fans stood and chanted each time he batted after that, and many streamed toward the aisles after he grounded out to end the seventh. His fourth bouncer became the final out as the Yankees lost for the fourth time in five games and dropped below Boston in the AL East.
Jeter said a couple of teammates mentioned the milestone as the day progressed, but not too many.
"Maybe they don't want to jinx anything," he said.
Jeter is set to become the 28th major leaguer to reach 3,000 hits and the first while playing for the Yankees. The Hall of Fame is full of Bronx Bombers, but not Babe Ruth nor Joe DiMaggio nor Mickey Mantle nor Gehrig hit this mark.
Rays manager Joe Maddon counted himself among Jeter's many fans.
"If anybody deserves to be the first to do it as a Yankee, it's him. Not knowing the Babe personally, of course," he said. "He really epitomizes what it means to be a Yankee, I would think.
"The Yankees for years have chased records and ghosts," he said.
Among those who have followed Jeter the longest was Dick Groch, the scout who signed the future Yankees captain in 1992. Jeter was a first-round draft pick that year after being a Michigan prep star.
Groch was standing the near Yankees' dugout while New York took batting practice and, while a Jeter montage played on the videoboard, marveled at all the 37-year-old All-Star shortstop had accomplished.
Groch has spent more than 30 years in major league scouting and still works for the Brewers. He offered a simple assessment at what he witnessed two decades ago while watching the skinny teenager with the "quick-twitch" reflexes.
"The best I've ever seen," Groch said. "I'll never see another one."
Jeter saw Groch before the game and, with a wink, said he intended to get all three hits Thursday night.
"It's exhilarating, it's exciting," Groch said.
Jeter said it was equally good to see Groch.
"He's the first person from the Yankees I ever met," Jeter said.
Jeter will try again Friday night against rookie Jeremy Hellickson and the Rays as the four-game set continues.
"He's probably going to do it in this series against us, but that's OK. We can't get caught up in that," Maddon said.
Ben Zobrist homered, tripled and singled. With a chance to hit for the cycle in the ninth, he walked for the second time.
Niemann (4-4) and the Rays got off to a winning start in an 11-game stretch in which they face division rivals New York and Boston. He pitched a season-high 7 1/3 innings, touched only by Robinson Cano's home run in the sixth.
Bartolo Colon (6-4) came in 4-0 with a 1.00 ERA in his past four starts, but was in trouble right away. Zobrist led off the game with a triple and Colon never found his rhythm.
The 38-year-old right-hander allowed five runs and a season-high 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings.
- Jeter is 1-for-2 lifetime against Hellickson.
- Yankees closer Mariano Rivera said he was available to pitch, though he is skipping the All-Star Game on Tuesday because of soreness in his right triceps. Rivera hasn't pitched since Sunday, when he blew a save against the Mets. A 12-time All-Star, Rivera also missed last year's All-Star Game because of injury.
- Rays 3B Sean Rodriguez made a sliding play on his knees to field Jeter's grounder near the line and threw him out in a close play in the fifth. "Hurt my feelings a little bit," Jeter said.