Fan returns Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit ball

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23-year-old Christian Lopez couldn’t wipe the smile off his face this afternoon. Of course, he was the lucky fan who caught Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit, a solo home run that landed in the left field seats in the third inning.

Lopez, a Yankees’ fan, attended the game as a gift from his girlfriend. While he could have easily sold the ball for an estimated six figures, Lopez decided to return to the ball to Jeter.

Here was his explanation during an appearance on the YES broadcast of the game, courtesy of the New York Daily News:

“He deserved this,” Lopez said in an interview on the YES Network. “He worked so hard for this. He’s been in the league for so long. I’m not really the kind to take something away from him.

“He earned it.”

While Lopez insisted that he didn’t want anything in return, he hardly walked away empty-handed. He was given four seats in a premium Yankee Stadium suite for the rest of the season – including a potential run at the playoffs and World Series. And according to ESPN New York, he will also get signed baseballs, jerseys and bats, and a chance to meet Jeter.

Not a bad deal, but hasn’t Lopez learned anything from Jeter? He could have dragged out negotiations until they gave him a three-year, $51 million contract with an option for 2014. Sorry, had to do it. In all seriousness, this was a very nice gesture by Lopez and it looks like everybody walked away happy.

Video: Justin Verlander reaches career mark with 270th strikeout

Justin Verlander
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Justin Verlander is approaching the tail end of a fantastic year with the Astros — arguably one of his best in the last decade — and on Saturday, he kicked off his last regular season start at Minute Maid Park with a strikeout, his 270th of the year. While that’s still a few shy of Max Scherzer‘s league-best mark of 290, it was a new personal record for Verlander, who had yet to beat the previous career record he set with 269 strikeouts in 2009.

Verlander’s moment arrived at the top of the first inning on a seven-pitch called strikeout against the Angels’ Kole Calhoun. Cole worked a 2-2 count, then fouled off a pair of 95-MPH fastballs before missing the seventh and final pitch at the top of the strike zone.

Jose Fernandez battled twice as long in the next at-bat, albeit with far more disastrous results. His 14-pitch duel against the Astros’ righty ended when he caught a fastball on his hand and was forced to come out of the game.

After expending a total of 27 pitches in the first inning, however, Verlander returned in the second to strike out the side, then logged another pair of strikeouts in the third. With six strikeouts through three innings, he boosted his season strikeout total to 275 — just a hair above fellow Houston righty Gerrit Cole (and all other AL pitchers), who previously led the team with 272 whiffs on the year.