David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
BOSTON - Mention the diagnosis "bone bruise" and it doesn't take long for the conversation to shift to Derek Jeter, who in 2012 soldiered through the painful condition until his left ankle snapped beneath him on a routine fielding play during the ALCS.
So Jeter's name came up again yesterday afternoon at Fenway Park, where Brian Cashman was explaining why Mark Teixeira had been sent back to New York for more tests on his own bone bruise, this one affecting his very sore lower right leg.
According to the initial prognosis, Teixeira should be in the lineup by now -- not back in an MRI tube -- and the Yankees won't know until today if they should be worried or not.
"Well, if it's only what it's supposed to be, then I don't have a concern," Cashman said. "So maybe one day he wakes up and it gets better soon enough. But ultimately we have to make sure there's nothing going on other than the timing issue."
The overriding factor here, as the Yankees wait for this next round of imaging results, is that Teixeira's injury has reduced him to a spectator for all but two games during the last two weeks. And if he's incapable of performing at the MVP-caliber level he has for most of this season, that's a very big concern.
The Yankees have too much heavy lifting to do in the next five weeks -- if not to catch the Blue Jays, then at least to ensure that they host the wild-card game. The switch-hitting Teixeira is vital to that as their most dangerous long-ball threat (31 homers) with a team-leading .906 OPS at a position where they need his Gold Glove coverage.
Take Monday night's 4-3 loss to the Red Sox. It's easy to picture a more favorable outcome with Teixeira at first instead of rookie Greg Bird, who failed to start an inning-ending double play in the seventh that should have prevented the eventual winning run from scoring. Bird bobbled Pablo Sandoval's grounder and could get only the out at first base as Jackie Bradley Jr. scooted home.
In the ninth, with Sox closer Jean Machi unraveling fast, Bird struck out looking on four pitches with the bases loaded. That happens. But subtract Teixeira for a rookie, even one as talented as Bird, and these little things can add up to the difference in a pennant race.
The Yankees seemed to be scrambling yesterday after Teixeira woke up at the team hotel still bothered by the bone bruise. Returning him to New York was the obvious move, but there was some early difference of opinion about how to make up for his indefinite absence.
Joe Girardi again raised the possibility of using Alex Rodriguez at first base, as he talked about in Atlanta, with Boston starting lefthander Henry Owens in tomorrow's finale. But the manager appeared to be wrestling with the idea himself.
"I think Alex believes he can do anything," Girardi said. "But it's not something you can learn overnight. That's the problem. We're not in spring training."
The suggestion went downhill quickly after that, from A-Rod's reluctance to go anywhere near a first baseman's mitt to Cashman's flushing the concept about an hour later. Rodriguez made it sound as if putting him at first would be a disaster -- and he did not have fond memories of his last time at the position on April 11.
"It felt uncomfortable," Rodriguez said. "I thought I was terrible at it. I had one of the ugliest games I've seen."
Could Rodriguez survive another game at first base? Probably. But every game is precious now, and the risk of a defensive miscue by A-Rod costing the Yankees would be high. The nightmare scenario would be a serious injury to Rodriguez, and his inexperience around the base easily could result in a messy collision.
That's what really frightens the Yankees: potentially losing Rodriguez and Teixeira for an extended period during the most critical stretch of the season.
"We have to think outside of the box and find what your entire roster can give at any time," Cashman said. "But thinking about something and doing it are two different things. My gut, in the end, is that's not something we'll pursue."
Told later of the GM's comments, Rodriguez was relieved. The Yankees, however, must wait another day to exhale.