Derek Jeter was back, and the New York Yankees felt a whole lot better.
But Jeter left the game early because of a tight right quadriceps, giving fans a whole new reason to worry despite his long-awaited return and a win over the Royals. Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Jeter will be sent for a test and that he thinks the Yankees captain will be ready to play Friday night.
Jeter singled on his first pitch of the season, scored a run and went 1 for 4 with an RBI groundout in his return from a nine-month layoff to help the Yanks beat the Royals 8-4 Thursday for a four-game series split.
Andy Pettitte (7-6) settled down after another shaky first inning to win consecutive starts for the first time since April, and Lyle Overbay hit a go-ahead, two-run single in a four-run fifth against Ervin Santana (5-6) as New York overcame a 3-0 deficit.
Jeter was the designated hitter and batted second in his first big league game since he broke his left ankle during the AL championship series opener Oct. 13. He said after the initial injury he would return by opening day, then fractured the ankle again in April during his rehabilitation and missed the first 91 games of the season.
New York cut short the 39-year-old shortstop's rehabilitation assignment in the minor leagues after just four games following injuries Wednesday night to Travis Hafner and Brett Gardner.
Jeter turned on a 95 mph fastball in the first and sent a three-hopper up the third-base line that fell from Miguel Tejada's throwing hand. Jeter didn't acknowledge the crowd of 40,381, which chanted "De-rek Je-ter! De-rek Je-ter!" as he ran up the line well past first base, then returned to the bag.
Jeter's ankle got more tests when he raced to third on Robinson Cano's single up the middle and came home without a throw on Vernon Wells' sacrifice fly to right.
The Yankees' all-time hits leader grounded out in the second and again in the fifth, when second baseman Johnny Giavotella made a diving stop to prevent an RBI single. Jeter hit a sharp grounder to shortstop with the infield in during the sixth. Alcides Escobar bobbled the ball as Luis Cruz scored from third, and Jeter was thrown out as he jogged up the first-base line.
Jeter had not been introduced at Yankee Stadium by Bob Sheppard's recording in 271 days, since he sprawled onto his stomach while trying to field Jhonny Peralta's 12th-inning grounder up the middle, immobile on the infield dirt and yelled out in pain. He hobbled off the field on his good ankle, one arm draped around manager Joe Girardi and the other around trainer Steve Donahue.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman made the decision to bring back Jeter when he was driving home after New York's 8-1 win Wednesday's and spoke with Jeter by phone. Jeter went 1 for 9 in his tuneup at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, including 0 for 3 with a throwing error during seven innings Wednesday night.
"I think it's easy to say that you would expect with his age and a double break that I think he'd lose a step or two or half a step, but I think he's moving extremely well from what I'm told," Cashman said.
Girardi said Jeter is likely to start at shortstop for Friday's series opener against Minnesota.
"I think Derek would run himself out there the next 70 games if it was up to him," Girardi said. "I mean, that's just who he is. He expects to play every day. So from that standpoint I think we have to guard against rushing him back too much, and we have to pick days off, and we have to pick DH days. In the perfect world, you have a month of spring training, but this has not been a perfect world around here this year."