Derek Jeter was back, and the New York Yankees felt a whole lot better.
The Yankees captain 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 New York beat the Kansas City 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."
Jeter did not speak with reporters before the game.
A 13-time All-Star with a .313 career average, Jeter hopes to jolt a batting order that is next to last in runs in the AL. The Yankees started Thursday fourth in the AL East at 49-42.
Six players have appeared at shortstop in his absence, hitting a combined .211 with two homers and 25 RBIs, according to STATS. Only Seattle shortstops had a lower batting average.
New York hopes to get third baseman Alex Rodriguez back this month following January hip surgery and centre fielder Curtis Granderson next month after his broken pinkie has healed. First baseman Mark Teixeira is out for the season following wrist surgery.
Rodriguez began Thursday 2 for 15 (.133) with one RBI in six minor league games for Tampa and Charleston, both Class A farm teams.
Cashman said Rodriguez will be given the full 20 days of the rehab assignment, which runs through July 21.
"There's a reason he's in A-ball, and there's a reason we were able to put Derek in Triple-A right from the start, because Derek was obviously much farther along," Cashman said.
Kansas City took a 3-0 lead in the first, when Salvador Perez hit a two-run double and Lorenzo Cain had a sacrifice fly. Pettitte has allowed nine runs in the opening inning of his last six starts, with batters going 14 for 31 (.452). The Royals' only other run was unearned, set up by Pettitte's throwing error in the second.
Pettitte gave up eight hits in 5 2-3 innings, and three pitchers combined for two-hit relief.
Santana allowed eight runs and 10 hits in five-plus innings, the most runs off him since July last year against Cleveland. New York closed to 4-3 in the second when Austin Romine hit an RBI double and scored on Eduardo Nunez's single.
After Overbay's two-out, go-ahead hit, Zoilo Almonte and Nunez followed with run-scoring singles for a 7-4 lead.