David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
TORONTO - In the fifth inning Friday night, the Rogers Centre video screen showed a "Ghostbusters" spoof with Ace, the Blue Jays' mascot, spliced in alongside Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd.
The "ghost" being chased was the Yankees' top-hat logo, and we couldn't help but think of the double meaning, with the 27-time champs now reduced to a shadow of their former selves. Or even from what they were only two weeks earlier, the first-place team in the American League East.
The sellout crowd loved the video. And with the Blue Jays leading for most of the night behind newly acquired ace David Price, it was turning into a party on Blue Jay Way.
Until the eighth inning. That's when Carlos Beltran, one of the Yankees' senior citizens, delivered a message of his own: We're not dead yet.
Beltran swung at and missed a pair of 97-mph fastballs from reliever Aaron Sanchez, took another, then walloped a fourth 97-mph heater about five rows deep into the right-centerfield bleachers. One massive blast from Beltran, 38, and the Yankees stunned the Jays, 4-3.
Just when we assumed the Yankees were showing their age, Beltran argued it was nothing but a number.
Alex Rodriguez, never one to shy away from a spotlight, was looking forward to his chance to silence the crowd this weekend. "I love this," he said before the game. "The good news for us is that we control our own destiny."
The AL East is very much up for grabs with the Yankees back on top by a half-game. The disturbing part for the Yankees, however, is they had appeared to be running out of gas about the same time Toronto had refueled for the stretch run.
With Rodriguez, there's no question the mind is willing. But what about the swing? Or his 40-year-old legs? The Yankees' full-time DH no longer looks as dangerous as he once was, and it's legitimate to wonder if his needle is approaching empty after playing 107 games -- even though he barely has worn a glove.
And it's not just us suggesting fatigue as a likely factor.
"I haven't felt so good here the last week or so," Rodriguez said. "This is probably my 21st August, and the dog days are the dog days. That will never change whether you're in your 20s or 30s -- and it's certainly not easy at 40."
This has been a particularly rough patch for Rodriguez, who entered the game batting .146 (6-for-41) with a .481 OPS since Aug. 1, an 11-game stretch in which he had only two RBIs. A-Rod had only one homer in 75 plate appearances before Friday night, when he briefly showed a spark by driving a two-out double to the left-centerfield gap in the first inning.
For a moment, Rodriguez gave the Yankees the perfect opening to land an early punch on Price. But Mark Teixeira, batting behind him, wasn't doing much better. Teixeira, in his own funk (7-for-40, .175 average since Aug. 1), slapped a groundout to third that became a theme for the evening against Price -- until Chase Headley knocked him out with an RBI double in the eighth.
In that same inning, it was Teixeira, previously 0-for-3 with two strikeouts, who started the rally with a one-out single.
"When you look at our everyday lineup, it has some age to it," manager Joe Girardi said before the game. "About 32 [years] and over is what we have, so you have to be mindful of that and make sure you pick strategic days for guys. Try to keep them as fresh as you can."
That was the reasoning behind calling up prospect Greg Bird, 22, from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this week, with the hope he can occasionally spell the graying middle of the lineup. Bird will give A-Rod a break this weekend as the Yankees look to catch their collective breath after Friday night's wild win.