David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
ST. LOUIS - Brian McCann's part-time gig at first base began years earlier than anyone expected with Wednesday night's start against the Cardinals. That says more about the state of the Yankees' depth at the position than anything McCann has done to deserve such an assignment.
But Joe Girardi's desperate move didn't hurt anyone involved -- not the Yankees, who held on for a 7-4 win at Busch Stadium. And not McCann, who mostly was able to avoid the baseball for three-plus hours.
"With each pitch," McCann said, "I was glad that balls weren't hit to me."
Carlos Beltran, an outfielder by trade, had a similar approach to his three-inning sentence there back on April 13 against the Red Sox. "Please, God, hit it somewhere else," Beltran said at the time.
Seeing a theme here? At this level, you expect a certain degree of competency among the fielders. Not ones that are wishing away grounders like a shy Little Leaguer who would rather be at piano lessons.
Pushed into the unfamiliar role, McCann was not super-thrilled to be handed the first baseman's glove of Kelly Johnson before Wednesday night's game.
"Whatever's going to help the team,:" McCann said before heading out to take ground balls during batting practice. "That's what I want to do."
Back in December, McCann was under the impression he signed a five-year, $85-million contract to be the Yankees' everyday catcher. Then again, so were the Yankees, who identified hin as the power-hitting solution to their backstop void.
Since coming on board, McCann has been asked multiple times by the media about filling in at first, say to give Mark Teixeira a breather or take a break himself from behind the plate.
McCann's typical response? Thanks, but no thanks. He left it open as a possibility, maybe toward the back end of his contract, as McCann approached his mid-30s, the point where offensive production begins to fade for a catcher. But this season? It hadn't entered his mind.
And no wonder. Before Wednesday night, the last time McCann started at first base was high school. After 1,066 games exclusively at catcher in the majors, McCann did the equivalent of dipping his toe in the corner spot Tuesday before taking the plunge for a full nine innings.
He was more lucky than good. The most challenging throw McCann had to handle was a one-hopper from Brian Roberts. Otherwise, it was a relatively drama-free evening.
"It's not as taxing on your body," said McCann, who had an RBI single. "It's a mental break, too. Behind the plate there's so much to think about."
Girardi didn't act like it was a big deal. He knows it's not his job to assemble the Yankees' roster, but he is in charge of winning with the 25 players on it. And if they don't have a viable backup for Teixeira, who missed his third straight game because of wrist soreness, then Girardi will be forced to improvise.
"The way our club is designed," Girardi said, "this is what we're doing,"
That $200-million design is showing a few flaws lately, mostly because of age and "overuse," as Teixeira explained his wrist flare-up Tuesday. First base always had the potential to be a blind spot and now Teixeira has a doctor's visit scheduled for Thursday.
The Yankees don't need any more surprises. If Teixeira is diagnosed with something more serious than post-op soreness, first base then becomes an area that will require some upgrading. At that point, the Yankees would have to look outside the organization, and Kendrys Morales is likely to be available for only the next week or so.
After the June 5 draft, there no longer will be a pick attached to Morales, and there are plenty of teams that should be in the market for his services. With Stephen Drew recently signing a one-year, $10.1-million contract with the Red Sox to set up a bigger payday this offseason, Morales could be looking for a similar deal.
It's a lot of money for Teixeira insurance. But with the Yankees now using their $85-million catcher out of position, that's a costly gamble, too.