David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
For all the 46,119 fans who attended Saturday's game in the Bronx, we'd like to convey the message that yes, Robinson Cano heard you. Loud and clear.
The boos, the jeers, the abusive rants.
Cano absorbed every last one. And how'd that work out? Not in the way they were intended, that's for sure.
Cano swatted two home runs off Michael Pineda, and those four RBIs were the difference in the Mariners' 4-3 win over the Yankees. We have no means to measure just how much the hostile environment affected Cano's two swings. There's no analytical formula for that, like there is for ballpark factor or defensive zone rating.
But we do know this. The booing counted for something, especially for a player on the ropes like Cano, who everyone pretty much wrote off in the first half. Cano said a stomach parasite contributed to his slow start, and that's a plausible explanation. Now that Cano is feeling stronger again -- if not yet 100 percent, he said -- Yankee Stadium made for a convenient springboard into a post-break resurgence.
So Cano would like to say thanks for that.
"The more they boo me," Cano said, "I take that as motivation."
The Bronx fans got on him early and often, which Cano has come to expect after signing a 10-year, $240-million contract with the Mariners. We'll never understand the crime of taking $60 million more to bolt the Yankees for the Pacific Northwest -- who among us wouldn't?
But Cano is branded a traitor now, and taking the money is always treated as an unforgivable sin. Even by fans of a franchise that built its championship pedigree by outbidding everyone else for elite free agents -- for decades -- just as Cano was. The same winter the Yankees spurned Cano, they spent nearly a half-billion dollars on free agents.
There's no need going over that again. And Cano certainly wasn't willing to be dragged down the rabbit hole. That part of his legacy is over. What lives on, as far as we're concerned, is the competitive angle.
Who's going to ultimately win this decision? Cano or the Yankees? He's got the money, but is stuck on an underachieving Mariners team (42-49) that is likely to miss the playoffs after opening as a World Series favorite. The Yankees? They're in first place (49-41) and have temporarily replaced Cano's pop with bounce-back seasons from Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez.
Finding a second baseman, however, remains an ongoing process. The rosiest projections for Rob Refsnyder aren't in the same universe as Cano, even as he digs out from a sluggish first half. With Saturday's two homers, Cano only has eight overall, and he's still batting .254 with a .679 OPS -- below that of Chase Headley's .682. It's not going to remain there for long.
"At the end of the day, Robby's numbers are going to be where they're supposed to be," Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said. "He's a great hitter. He was born to hit."
Cano already was starting to warm up before this weekend in the Bronx, hitting .281 (27-for-96) with seven doubles, four homers and 11 RBIs in his previous 24 games dating to June 17. Friday's 0-for-4 should now be considered an aberration, a blip, maybe a faint echo from his early-season tailspin.
Shortly after Cano stepped into the box Saturday, the Yankees were in trouble. In the first inning, with Kyle Seager on base, a fan yelled out to Cano, "How's that .250 average, Robby?" He drilled Michael Pineda's next pitch over the centerfield fence, just to the left of Monument Park.
In the sixth, with Seager on again, Pineda threw another fastball to Cano, who smacked a high-arcing shot into the rightfield upper deck. That turned out to be the ballgame. And personally, a win for Cano. "Honestly, yeah, I'm not going to lie," Cano said. "Anybody would love to have this kind of game."
But this wasn't anybody, and it wasn't just anywhere. Cano's lefthanded power stroke is tailor-made for Yankee Stadium, and to see him do for the Mariners what he did for so long here still seems strange.
Both sides are to blame that it didn't work out with the Yankees. And that's really worth booing, even now.