NEW YORK — Puddles soaked the warning track and ponchos dotted the stands when Derek Jeter stepped to the plate in the third inning, hoping to give the soggy Yankee Stadium crowd a reason for showing up in all this rain.
With one of his classic, inside-out swings, Jeter sent a sharp grounder skimming through the infield. And there it was, the hit that pushed him past Lou Gehrig.
Jeter broke the New York Yankees' hit record held by Gehrig for more than seven decades on Friday night with an opposite-field single against Baltimore.
It gave Jeter 2,722 hits, one more than Gehrig, whose Hall of Fame career was cut short by illness in 1939. The captain kept right on going, too, with an RBI single in the fourth that put New York up 4-1.
Jeter's record-breaking hit was remarkably similar to the one that tied Gehrig on Wednesday night, a well-struck grounder inside the first-base line. After this one, Yankees players poured out of the dugout and engulfed Jeter at first base with hugs and pats on the back.
"For those who say today's game can't produce legendary players, I have two words: Derek Jeter. Game in and game out he just produces," Yankees owner Georger Steinbrenner said in a statement. "As historic and significant as becoming the Yankees' all-time hit leader is, the accomplishment is all the more impressive because Derek is one of the finest young men playing the game today.
"That combination of character and athletic ability is something he shares with the previous record holder, Lou Gehrig," the statement said.
Jeter spread his arms wide after rounding first base on his record-breaking hit and gave an emphatic clap as he headed back to the bag.
Rain-drenched fans, many wearing bright ponchos, roared during an ovation that lasted about 3 minutes. Jeter twice waved his helmet to the crowd of 46,771 – just as he did after tying the record. Fans chanted his name and the ball was taken out of play as a souvenir.
When his grounder got past diving first baseman Luke Scott, Jeter's parents raised their arms in excitement. Joining them in an upstairs box filled with family and friends were his sister and steady girlfriend, actress Minka Kelly.
Jeter was still smiling moments later when Orioles rookie pitcher Chris Tillman tried to pick him off first. Jeter easily beat the throw and flashed a playful grin – ever alert, he wasn't about to let himself get wrapped up in the moment and caught off-guard.
Jeter tied Gehrig's mark Wednesday night, snapping an 0-for-12 slump with three hits against the Tampa Bay Rays. The Yankees were off Thursday, and Jeter resumed his pursuit Friday at soggy Yankee Stadium.
The start was delayed 87 minutes by heavy rain that had tapered off by the third inning. Jeter struck out swinging against Tillman in his first at-bat, but came through his next time up.
Gehrig's final hit came on April 29, 1939, a single against the Washington Senators. The Iron Horse had held the club record since Sept. 6, 1937, when he passed Babe Ruth.
Gehrig's career ended suddenly in 1939. Two years later, he died at 37 from the disease that would later bear his name.
Jeter got his first hit on May 30, 1995, at Seattle and set the Yankees mark with 14 seasons of splendid consistency. His two singles Friday night gave him 1,363 hits at home and 1,360 on the road.
Now, No. 2 in Yankees pinstripes is number one in the record book for baseball's most storied franchise.
The 35-year-old Jeter also moved past Gehrig for 53rd place on the game's career hit list. Roberto Alomar is 52nd at 2,724.
It was Jeter's 268th hit against Baltimore, his most against any opponent.
It was a special night at Yankee Stadium in several ways. Both teams and the umpires wore red caps with stars and stripes inside the logos to commemorate the eighth anniversary of 9-11. Pregame ceremonies included a moment of silence to remember those who died in the attacks.
Dorine Gordon, president and CEO of The ALS Association Greater New York Chapter, also congratulated Jeter in a statement that was passed out in the press box at Yankee Stadium.
ALS, of course, is the disease that afflicted Gehrig.