David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
There was a time, not too long ago, that a lineup without Alex Rodriguez in the middle of it was considered to be a stunning development. Wednesday was not one of those times.
Brian Cashman, who took the unusual step Wednesday of fielding pregame questions from the podium, again detailed Rodriguez's futility against righthanded pitchers. The general manager could have read a lengthy report on the rest of the team's anemic performance, but this ALCS has become a public discourse on A-Rod's failings, so he didn't stray off topic.
No matter how much the Yankees pile on at this point, it won't obscure how this went from a baseball decision to evidently a personal one, because it's impossible to believe that Rodriguez doesn't deserve a single swing at redemption.
Cashman picked an interesting comp for A-Rod's exile Wednesday when he conjured up the name of A.J. Burnett, who emerged from the Yankees' doghouse at Comerica Park a year ago to keep the Yankees alive in the ALDS. The GM was trying to say how Burnett, when given the chance, defied the odds and came up big. In doing so, however, he only showed how worse off A-Rod is.
"Every time you have the ball in your hand or the bat in your hand, you can change the story," Cashman said.
Exactly. So why isn't Rodriguez, despite his obvious struggles, being afforded another few plate appearances to do that? Now that A-Rod's benchings have become a regular occurrence, as common as rain in October, the Yankees have stripped away the shock value. We're getting conditioned to it -- like lab rats.
But how long can the Yankees keep this going? Do they plan on sitting A-Rod for every righthanded matchup from now until the end of their postseason run? Sure looks that way. After Tuesday's 2-1 loss to the Tigers in Game 3, Joe Girardi said he did not use A-Rod as a pinch hitter against Phil Coke because the manager knew Jim Leyland would counter with a righthander, likely Joaquin Benoit.
That's what it's come down to? If Girardi can't even bend in that scenario, don't expect to see A-Rod shed that gray hoodie any time soon. Girardi was asked point-blank Wednesday if Rodriguez is even a "viable player" for the Yankees. Also, if he thought A-Rod is "shot," as in done, finished, kaput.
"No, I don't think he's a 'shot' player," Girardi said. "I think he's a guy that's going through some struggles, similar to what [Curtis] Granderson went through the last month and a half or whatever."
In that case, is there any type of situation where you could envision using A-Rod?
"Yeah, I do," Girardi replied. "And I'll evaluate every day. And my hope is that we're talking about it tomorrow."
Well, Girardi got his wish, but not in the way he imagined. The Yankees didn't have to win to play Thursday because rain made it possible. Of course, Max Scherzer will still be on the mound, so expect the lineup to remain unchanged. If the Yankees force a Game 5, that means Doug Fister, and A-Rod went 0-for-3 with a three-pitch strikeout against him last Saturday.
Remember Game 1? That was supposed to be a fresh start for A-Rod. Instead, the ALCS has turned into a dead end. Despite the Yankees being down 3-0 in the series, the daily conversation has been dominated by Rodriguez's plight. Which girls did he flip a baseball to? Would he approve a trade to the Marlins? No one even bothers to ask when he might play again.
"I was hoping you could tell me," Rodriguez said Wednesday afternoon.
Somehow, A-Rod has smiled through it all, maybe because he knows he'll be getting his money either way. Rodriguez has never experienced a more humiliating stretch since the moment he first picked up a bat, but he's still owed another $114 million over the next five years.
If A-Rod has to collect those checks playing for the Marlins back home in Miami, so be it. At least then he'll be in the lineup.