David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
CHICAGO - How dead did the Yankees look by the time the eighth inning rolled round Wednesday at Wrigley Field?
Even the Cubs' fans, a tortured group that anticipates disaster like no other, thought they were finished. When Derek Jeter lined to rightfield for the second out, the loyalists still in their seats -- along with some wearing pinstriped No. 2 jerseys -- gave the Yankees' captain an extended standing ovation.
That was supposed to be Jeter's official Wrigley farewell. No one knew at the time Jeter would get three more -- in the 10th, 12th and 13th -- thanks to the offensive futility displayed by both clubs over four-plus hours in the Yankees' 4-2 victory.
From the Cubs, however, it's expected. We've been led to believe the Yankees, with $60.5 million of their 2014 payroll occupying the 3-4-5 spots in the lineup Wednesday, are relatively immune to prolonged power outages. What we've seen so far suggests otherwise.
Missing Carlos Beltran hurts, obviously. The switch hitter was signed to help balance the Yankees' revamped attack. But there are a few big, expensive pieces who aren't picking up the slack like big, expensive pieces are supposed to do. The Yankees built redundancy into the lineup to avoid being crippled by an injury or two. Instead, even in the late innings -- after Jeff Samardzija's dominant day was over -- it took a throwing error by Darwin Barney to tie the score in the ninth inning and more help from the Cubs to go ahead in the 13th.
It was a cute story, with Preston Claiborne's superb bunt teeing up Brandon Ryan to score on a wild pitch. Joe Girardi likes to stress how every player on the 25-man roster must contribute in some fashion, and by that measure, Wednesday's win was a manager's dream.
But some are more important than others, and Jacoby Ellsbury had been pretty much a bystander of late. When he showed up for Wednesday's matinee, Ellsbury was in a 1-for-23 skid, which prompted some extra sit-down time that morning with hitting coach Kevin Long.
As Long explained the session, the two watched recent video of Ellsbury's swing and noticed that he had been wrapping the bat -- sort of hooking it -- more around his head. In Long's view, that was making Ellsbury's bat slower to the ball, and messing with his timing.
"It stuck out like a sore thumb when I saw it," Long said.
Sounded good to us. But Ellsbury was reluctant to pin his struggles on this mechanical glitch -- or even admit to there being one.
Sure, Ellsbury worked with Long. As for any significant corrections, that seemed to be going too far in his mind. Maybe Ellsbury didn't want to cop to a blemish in his approach. Maybe he disagreed without saying so.
"It's something we talked about," Ellsbury said. "But I felt like I was still swinging at good pitches and I was still taking quality swings. I don't want to change too much because that's when you get out of sync."
Understood. While Long spends hours analyzing video frame-by-frame of his players' mechanics, scrutinizing it for the smallest clues to a slump, making suggestions to a major-league hitter is a delicate art. In the end, all that mattered to Long was to see Ellsbury get some results in Wednesday's win -- even if the two of them had to wait awhile.
Ellsbury didn't hit a ball out of the infield through the first eight innings, but was robbed in the eighth on a nice play by Starlin Castro on a grounder back through the middle. In the 10th, Ellsbury snapped his 1-for-27 slump with a two-out single to center, then followed it up with another base hit in the 12th.
"All I needed was extra innings to get it going," Ellsbury said, laughing.
After what he'd been through, Ellsbury was probably the only one on the field -- or in all of Wrigleyville for that matter -- who wanted to keep playing. The game took so long that Ellsbury went from ice cold to scorching hot in a single afternoon, and for a $155 million player trying to help cover for Beltran's absence, it had to happen.
"I thought about that," Girardi said. "A lot of guys ended up with decent days after a while."
We'll see what it leads to. Better to end on a positive note, with a win and a couple hits, than the alternative. Especially with White Sox ace Chris Sale next up tonight.