SAN DIEGO - After spending the last week on the West Coast, the Yankees pulled up stakes late Sunday night and headed to Chicago.
There it appears that they'll finally come face-to-face with the 13-ring circus known as A-Rod.
Hence, even a dispiriting 6-3 loss to the Padres to complete another series loss quickly was relegated to side status in the clubhouse after the game.
"A bit of a circus, I'm sure," Vernon Wells said of what he expects in the Windy City.
But that doesn't concern the players. What they're interested in is whether 38-year-old Alex Rodriguez still can produce.
"We're going to be happy to see him back in the lineup, especially the way we've been playing," Robinson Cano said. "We've been waiting for this moment. Come up and help us win some games."
The clubhouse reaction largely was positive. An exception -- though he wasn't critical of A-Rod -- was Mariano Rivera, who didn't warm to the topic.
Asked if Rodriguez will help the team, Rivera first mentioned the potential "distraction" before adding, "Without that, definitely."
He later said, "I don't want to get involved in that other stuff. If you ask me about me, I answer any questions. But I don't know anything about anything else."
From a pure baseball standpoint, if A-Rod is in the lineup Monday night -- Joe Girardi's stated intent -- he certainly can't hurt.
The Yankees (57-53) did little against Ian Kennedy, a former Yankee who came in with an unimpressive 3-8 record and 5.23 ERA. They were shut out for five innings before driving the righthander from the game with a two-run sixth. But all that did was trim their deficit to 6-2.
They fell into a 5-0 hole after three innings because of another bad outing by Phil Hughes (4-10, 4.87). He allowed five runs, six hits and three walks in 22/3 innings.
"There has to be improvement," Girardi said before addressing the possibility that Hughes will lose his rotation spot: "I don't necessarily think that, but he has to make better pitches. At times we've seen him do it. It's just a consistency thing, and that's what pitching is about."
Austin Romine's first career homer made it 6-3 in the seventh, and the Yankees managed to get the tying run to the plate with one out in the ninth against Huston Street, but Brent Lillibridge and Wells struck out.
The loss left the Yankees without a series victory since July 5-7. They're fading in both the division and wild-card races, and something needs to change quickly.
"It's frustrating," Girardi said. "We had a chance to win a series here and we didn't do it. But we have to do it. If we want to play in October, we have to do it. There's still a lot of time and some of the teams in front of us we're going to play. We're going to play a lot, but you don't want to dig yourself a deep hole."
Rodriguez might be able to help the Yankees dig their way out -- but for how long?
"I just think if Al comes back and he's healthy, he's going to help this team win, and I think he can help us," said Andy Pettitte, Monday night's starter. "Obviously, he's a great hitter. I know he's coming off another hip surgery, but I think he can help us.
"Everything that comes after that, we'll just have to wait and see. I don't think anybody has any idea how it's going to be."