David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
The Bleacher Creatures had been waiting for a Swisher Salute since Game 2 of last October's ALCS, when their favorite player turned his back over some hurt feelings. Stung by what he described at the time as a "negative-type setting," Nick Swisher said his former fans blamed him for Derek Jeter's injury, and he jumped to the Indians during the offseason for a four-year, $56-million contract.
On the night Swisher returned to the Bronx, the Creatures got their salute -- but it came from Lyle Overbay.
Welcome to the next bizarre chapter of the Yankees' outfield, a place Overbay now inhabits to give Joe Girardi some badly needed roster flexibility. Overbay had never played the outfield in the majors -- a career spanning 1,375 games over 13 seasons -- before starting in rightfield in Monday night's 7-4 win over the Indians.
As for the salute -- a Swisher trademark -- Overbay later revealed it was the result of peer pressure spurred by CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano. "They talked me into doing it," said Overbay, who seemed more uncomfortable with the gesture than actually manning the position. "Hopefully they didn't feel like I was disrespecting anybody."
Showing that the baseball gods do indeed have a sense of humor, Overbay's relocation took place on the day of Swisher's Bronx homecoming. As the Yankees scrambled to make their roster as versatile as possible, in rolled Swisher, a switch-hitting outfielder/first baseman the Yankees would love to have -- if not for the price.
Girardi doesn't write the checks, he manages the players who cash them. But you got the sense that he was a bit jealous of Indians manager Terry Francona for what he's getting from Swisher these days. "We've run five out of six or six out of seven lefties in a row, and he was very good at splitting that up," Girardi said. "And you could hit him anywhere, really, second to seventh in your lineup. He gave you a lot of flexibility."
Swisher acknowledged the good times with the Yankees, a run that included a World Series ring in 2009, but the Ohio native now sounds as if he's over his adopted home in the Bronx. As much as he tried to downplay last October's rift, he still seemed edgier than usual when asked about facing the Creatures again. "Oh, man, live in the now, bro!" Swisher said.
That address belonged to Overbay last night, and given that he didn't embarrass himself -- catching the only fly ball hit in his area -- Girardi can feel more comfortable sitting the slumping Vernon Wells (3-for-36) against tough righthanders in favor of this new all-lefty-hitting outfield.
If Curtis Granderson didn't break two different bones in a three-month stretch, all of this would be a moot point, of course. And if the Yankees had chosen to hold on to Swisher, they'd have a capable backup at first base, too.
The Yankees, however, have been forced to do a lot more team-building on the fly. Overbay didn't officially find out he was starting in rightfield until a few hours before the game -- not the typical sort of heads-up for a career-altering position switch by a veteran.
Swisher insisted he wasn't nervous before the reunion, but Overbay couldn't quite say the same about his debut. "I don't know if I'm 98 percent excited and 2 percent scared," he said, "or 98 percent scared and 2 percent excited."
Either way, both players got what they wanted. Swisher, who started at first base, received a warm welcome back from the roll-call crowd when he took the field. Overbay gave his new pals the Swisher Salute, and more importantly, didn't mess up. "I survived," he said.
Swisher has moved on, as have the Yankees, but it's hard to tell who made out better. "I couldn't thank my boy Brian Cashman any more, man," Swisher said. "He helped me a lot."