David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
It was this same week, back in 1977, when a frustrated Billy Martin was stuck with a Yankees lineup full of misfiring stars. Five straight losses, a shocking inability to score. A team bordering on late April desperation.
Long before the birth of analytics, Martin turned to the only tactic available to like-minded managers at that time. He wrote out names on slips of paper, put them in a hat, and had Reggie Jackson pick them out for the batting order. Thurman Munson wound up hitting second. The slugging Chris Chambliss sunk to eighth. Oddly enough, the fates correctly put Bucky Dent in his customary No. 9 spot.
And the Yankees proceeded to win the next six straight, along with 11 of 12 on their way to a 100-win season, the division title and a world championship. All these years later, we’re not sure how much the hat had to do with any of it, but Martin apparently believed in the concept.
Now if only Joe Girardi could find that hat. It’s better than anything he’s tried so far. Because whatever binder the manager has been consulting lately, it’s clearly not working as the Yankees were swept by the A’s, the miserable capper being Thursday night’s 7-3 defeat.
The Yankees struck out a season-high 14 times in their seventh loss in eight games and slipped to 1-5 on the homestand with the Rays visiting the Bronx this weekend. They haven’t scored more than four runs since April 9 in Detroit, and with three Thursday, the Yankees are still in a 5-for-62 (.080) funk with runners in scoring position.
“We’ve just got to keep our heads up,” Brett Gardner said. “We know better days are around the corner.”
What else is there to say, really? For the series finale, Girardi opted for what he thought was his lefty-nullifying lineup, given that Rich Hill was starting for Oakland. That meant no Brian McCann, no Gardner — he pinch hit — and no Didi Gregorius, who Girardi insisted was not being punished for his baserunning fiasco in Wednesday’s 5-2 loss.
We get having to sit McCann and Gardner. But the Gregorius-for-Ronald Torreyes felt a little overboard. Coming off Wednesday’s humbling experience, better to send Gregorius right back out there, no? This seemed personal, despite Girardi telling us before the game, “Don’t read into that.”
This has been a trying April for Girardi, who can’t do much more than shuffle a few names around. On Thursday, in the fourth inning, A-Rod must have thought to himself, the heck with it, I’m going to try to do too much. After drawing a one-out walk, Rodriguez should have been picked off, but Hill flung the throw into rightfield, allowing A-Rod to sprint to third.
He was credited with his second stolen base this season, and it looked like great fun for the 40-year-old Rodriguez, who popped up from his slide with a huge grin. Afterward, A-Rod joked that he was “channeling Rickey Henderson.”
“In times like this,” he said, “you have to force the issue a little bit.”
Before each of his at-bats, A-Rod used Prince songs as his walk-up music to pay homage to the passing of the pop genius, from “Erotic City” to “Kiss” to “Pop Life” to “Alphabet Street.” At least somebody was enjoying himself in the Bronx. “It was a tribute to one of the great legends,” Rodriguez said.
The night began with relative promise, too. Aaron Hicks snapped a personal 0-for-17 skid with an RBI single in the second. Hicks also stopped an 0-for-13 slump against lefty pitchers — the reason Brian Cashman traded for him in the first place — and provided a few nifty defensive plays. Those made for nice highlights, but they turned out to be brief diversions.
The A’s blitzed Chasen Shreve with back-to-back homers by Khris Davis and Coco Crisp in the seventh. Chris Coghlan smacked a two-run shot in the eighth. That cemented the improbable sweep for the A’s.
“Things aren’t going our way right now,” Girardi said. “It will change.”
They did for Martin in ’77. For Girardi, it’s going to be more difficult than pulling names from a hat.