- Associated Press - Thursday, July 7, 2011

CLEVELAND (AP) - He’ll be back in Bronx, in his ballpark, the place where he’s thrilled fans from almost the first day he donned Yankee blue.

Derek Jeter’s headed home _ to swing for history.

New York’s captain picked up his 2,997th career hit Thursday night, hitting a double to right in his final at-bat to move within three of 3,000. But the Yankees couldn’t figure out Cleveland starter Justin Masterson’s nasty stuff during a 5-3 loss to the Indians.

Jeter’s next at-bats will be in Yankee Stadium, where fans are certain to cheer his every move.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Jeter said. “I wish I would have gotten more today, but it wasn’t the case. I’m definitely looking forward to going back to New York.”

The Yankees were blanked for eight innings by Masterson (7-6) before scoring three runs in the ninth to make things interesting. But closer Chris Perez came on and ended the rally, striking out Brett Gardner for the final out as Jeter stood near home plate, resting his bat on his shoulder.

He was on deck _ just as he is for 3,000 hits.

Jeter, who had to talk Yankees manager Joe Girardi into letting him play his third straight game since returning from a calf injury, went 1 for 3 and also drew a walk from Masterson, who was backed up by two sensational plays from All-Star shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera in the eighth.

Jeter’s bid to become the 28th major leaguer _ and first purebred pinstriper _ to reach 3,000 will resume Thursday night against Tampa Bay at Yankee Stadium, his professional home since 1995. The famed ballparks, both the new and old versions, have never hosted any player getting his 3,000th hit.

Jeter would be the first, perhaps fitting for the only player to reach the milestone having spent his entire career as a member of the Yankees. Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, DiMaggio and Berra didn’t get nearly as close as Jeter, the team’s career hits leader and one of the most popular players in history.

And now, he’s just three solid swings from standing alone among the Yankees’ legion of Hall of Fame sluggers.

Jeter said earlier this week that his journey to 3,000 has been tough because of the injury and the negative comments directed at him because he’s not played up to his lofty standards. However, Jeter left Cleveland eager to celebrate a moment that at times only seemed to get farther away.

“Our fans have always been pretty good when they have an opportunity to witness something that hasn’t happened,” Jeter said. “They care a lot about the history of this organization, so I anticipate them being pretty animated. I don’t know, but I would think it would be kind of fun.”

Girardi and Jeter’s teammates would love to see him hit the record books during the four-game series against the Rays.

“As you get closer to 3,000 _ no matter where you are _ you’re probably a little more anxious to get it done,” Girardi said. “He’s three hits away. Let’s just hope he gets all three tomorrow.”

Rookie Lonnie Chisenhall hit his first career homer for Cleveland, which took two of three from the AL East leaders. The Central-leading Indians scored two runs in the first off starter Phil Hughes (0-2), who came off the disabled list to make his first start since April when he was sidelined with shoulder inflammation.

Masterson allowed three hits, struck out six, walked two and got just his second win since April 26. New York’s left-handed hitters went 0 for 19 against him.

Hitless in his first three appearances, Jeter doubled _ his second extra-base hit of the series _ with one out in the eighth. He went to third on a sharp grounder that Cabrera ran down on the first-base side of second, spun and threw out the speedy Curtis Granderson. Cabrera, who almost didn’t play because of a sprained right ankle, wasn’t done.

With the Indians shifting right for left-hander Mark Teixeira, Cabrera ranged into short right field before making a sliding stop of a hard-hit grounder. He popped to his feet and threw out Teixeira, punctuating his second defensive gem in minutes by pumping his fist.

Cabrera has been a human highlight reel all season.

“Nothing he does surprises me,” Masterson said. “It never gets old.”

Jeter came in 5 for 12 in his career against Masterson, but went 0 for 2 with a strikeout and walk before his 479th career double, a Jeter-esque shot on an inside-out swing to right field.

“It seems like his ball moves as much as anyone we’ve seen,” Jeter said of Masterson. “He’s throwing 95, 96 all night with a lot of movement. He pitched outstanding.”

Jeter had to talk his way into staying in Girardi’s lineup so as not to interrupt his chase of 3,000.

Following Tuesday night’s game, Girardi was leaning toward sitting his captain, thinking a day of rest would be wise. However, Jeter changed his manager’s mind. Girardi said his talk with Jeter and a night to sleep on his decision gave him a greater appreciation for the player’s twisted journey to 3,000.

“He wants to get this done with so he can go on and be Derek Jeter, not Derek Jeter pursuing 3,000 hits,” Girardi said. “That’s the sense I got from him. If I was going for 3,000 hits, I don’t know if I would want a day to think about. I would want to get back out there.

“I really did sleep on it. And, no, I didn’t dream about it.”

There shouldn’t be any doubt about Jeter playing the next few days in New York, where fans have been critical of his game over the past two years. He said he would like to reach the 3,000 plateau at home, and he’ll have four games to get there before the All-Star break.

“There will be a lot of flash bulbs going off, I’m sure,” Girardi said. “I think it’s going to be great. People have anticipated this for a while, the countdown had started, so people are pretty excited _ I know we are in the dugout _ for him to get it done.”

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