David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991. Show More
We don't know exactly how much dropping Derek Jeter in the lineup would improve the Yankees' increasingly long odds of making the playoffs.
But things couldn't be any worse for this team when it comes to scoring runs. And Joe Girardi has tried everything else, going as far as to use Brett Gardner in the No. 3 spot for Tuesday night's 9-4 loss to the Red Sox.
Now it's up to Jeter.
The only way Girardi is going to move the Yankees' captain -- with 26 games left in his Hall of Fame career -- is if he gets the green light from Jeter himself.
Girardi may not say it directly because of the delicate nature of the subject. But that's the vibe he's been giving off by defending Jeter's spot in the order when the inevitable questions start, as they did again Tuesday.
So now would be as good a time as any for Jeter to take the pressure off his manager, maybe by pulling Girardi aside to say, "Don't worry about the farewell stuff, Joe. Do what you have to do."
Sounds logical, right? With the Yankees' season on the brink, and Jeter's reputation as a team-first guy, we decided to ask him Tuesday about broaching that topic with his manager. Is it something that he had considered? Would he give that go-ahead to Girardi?
"My job is to play," Jeter said.
Not an unusual response from Jeter. He's been pretty consistent with that over the past two decades. So we tried again, thinking Jeter may have misunderstood the question.
With all the focus on him this season, did he think it was worth clearing the air about the retirement hoopla, to let Girardi know that winning is more important than where he bats in the lineup? "My job is to play," Jeter repeated.
After two attempts, we got the message. Just as Girardi refuses to acknowledge giving Jeter special consideration in the lineup, Jeter had no interest in opening this particular can of worms. He's always operated that way, so there's no reason to expect him to change now.
"Guys play because they want to win," Girardi said, "and I don't think Derek would let that get in the way."
Then again, Jeter hasn't told him that. So Girardi keeps writing him in the 2-hole, where Jeter has batted in 118 of the team's 136 games -- the most starts of anyone in the same spot. But after Jeter's 1-for-4 performance Tuesday night, which included an infield RBI single, his batting average sits at .261, nearly 50 points below his career mark (.310). In his previous 26 games, he was hitting .207 with a .226 on-base percentage and had scored a total of four runs.
With that type of production from a premium spot in the lineup, it's no wonder the Yankees were ranked 14th in runs (535) in the American League heading into last night. Only the Red Sox were worse.
"We haven't hit collectively as a team," Girardi said, "and to single him out is not fair."
But that's what Girardi has done. If Jeter was just another player on the Yankees' roster, he'd have been moved around like everyone else.
"I consider us to be in playoff mode right now," Girardi said, "and throughout his career, he's been clutch in the playoffs, so we're leaving him there."
That's the captain's rep, but not quite reality now. For his career, Jeter has batted .284 in close-and-late situations, .299 with two outs and runners in scoring position and .313 with the score tied. This season? Those numbers slide to .171, .149 and .241, respectively.
Hey, it happens. Jeter is 40 and about to retire. In Cal Ripken Jr.'s final season, also at age 40, he batted as low as seventh in 42 games -- with a .637 OPS, slightly better than Jeter's .620.
That was for an Orioles team that went 63-98 and Mike Hargrove didn't have to worry about the playoffs. If this keeps up, neither will Girardi.