David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
BALTIMORE - Before we all start piling on Alex Rodriguez -- and yes, it's beginning to snowball again -- make no mistake, let's take the Joe Girardi approach and accentuate the positive.
Rodriguez is lucky, really, as are the Yankees, that he was able to get these two games out of his system at Camden Yards, nowhere near the borders of the Bronx. Because if this had happened at home, where the Stadium crowd has a short fuse regarding anything that involves A-Rod, this would have been ugly.
On Monday night, Rodriguez did hammer a single and was robbed of another. But he finished his night with back-to-back strikeouts, including the one that sealed the Yankees' 3-2 loss to the Orioles, courtesy of Jim Johnson.
That's five strikeouts in two days for A-Rod, who would have been buried in an avalanche of boos had that happened in the Bronx. Instead, it turned into a celebration at Camden Yards at the Yankees' expense -- and with Robinson Cano, from the on-deck circle, watching A-Rod go down in flames.
"You can't get frustrated," Rodriguez said. "Our objective is to win three games in this series. Obviously, you want to go out and produce. I'm going to keep attacking, and I think our offense is going to keep attacking."
Granted, Rodriguez did hit two balls hard, and he got burned in the first inning when his line drive was stabbed by a diving Robert Andino, who turned it into a double play. Girardi even questioned that it was caught.
"I can't believe he made that play," Rodriguez said. "I thought that ball was by him."
Two innings later, with Ichiro Suzuki at first base, Rodriguez smoked another liner into leftfield for a single. But that rally died when Cano bounced back to the mound.
Perhaps those were signs of bigger things on the way? Some droplets of rain before the thunder?
Not quite. Rodriguez's next three trips yielded all-too-familiar results, and the kind that can't continue if the Yankees are to advance to the ALCS.
In the fifth, A-Rod, so fond of "passing the baton," was the second out of a 1-2-3 inning when he popped up harmlessly to shallow centerfield.
When he came to the plate as the go-ahead run with one out in the seventh, Buck Showalter called on A-Rod's kryptonite, submariner Darren O'Day. Flipping up mid-80s fastballs and Frisbee sliders in the high 70s, O'Day struck out A-Rod, just as he had a day earlier with two on in the seventh.
O'Day is a tough draw, and lethal against righthanded hitters. But Rodriguez is supposed to be a threat, too.
"He's a little bit like Jeff Nelson," A-Rod said. "His objective and job is to get righties out, and he got me the last two nights."
A lot of pitchers have been getting him out in postseason play the last three years. He is 10-for-59 in the postseason in 2010-12. And in one stretch spanning 2004-07, he was 8-for-59 with one RBI.
In between, of course, he went 19-for-52, hit six homers and knocked in 18 runs in 15 games to carry the Yankees to the 2009 world championship.
Rodriguez, sitting on 647 home runs, hasn't gone deep since Sept. 14. Since then, Russell Martin -- the .211 hitter -- has drilled six home runs. That includes a walk-off shot on Sept. 21 that beat the A's in the 10th inning and a go-ahead homer that spurred the five-run ninth in the Yankees' 7-2 win Sunday night.
The argument here is not that Martin is better than A-Rod, even though with some numerical manipulation, anything is possible in comparing them during the past month. But you've got to figure that one of these times, maybe before the Yankees' postseason run is over, Rodriguez will manage to clear a fence.
For now, Girardi seems content to wait. Let Rodriguez coax the occasional walk -- he didn't Monday night, FYI -- to get on base for the scorching Cano. That's fine when the Yankees are winning, and they survived his slow return from a fractured left hand to win 95 games along with the AL East title.
Plus, Girardi surely must think this would be the wrong time to make A-Rod a radioactive topic again by messing with his spot in the batting order. Girardi, a manager prone to over-analysis, shows little interest in this conversation.
"Right now, I don't plan on having any changes to our lineup," he said after the loss. "He squared up two balls tonight."
Girardi talks about "keeping the line moving" and A-Rod loves bringing up "small bites," his way of widening the focus to the rest of the batting order, not just his alarming void. And to an extent, both are right.
The Yankees went 2-for-8 with runners in scoring position Monday night and stranded 10. They failed to hit a home run -- never a good sign -- and also didn't play their sharpest game from a defensive standpoint. But whether he deserves it or not, A-Rod will continue to be a blame magnet for the Yankees' failings.
That will be on display starting Wednesday night, when the series resumes with Game 3 in the Bronx. And if things don't turn around quickly for A-Rod, he might want to be wearing earplugs.