David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
At first glance, it read like a panic move, and with A-Rod benched for the second time in four games, it still might have repercussions behind the ALCS. But Joe Girardi's Grapefruit League lineup, despite its struggles against Justin Verlander, nearly came through in the ninth inning.
Nuñez's leadoff home run wobbled Verlander, and the Yankees ripped two singles off reliever Phil Coke before Raul Ibañez, who started at DH, whiffed on a 3-and-2 changeup to push them to the brink of elimination.
"We lost," Mark Teixeira said. "If you make changes and we win, it's because of the changes. The bottom line is whoever's out there has to do the job."
The final tally off Verlander was three hits -- two of them singles by Ichiro Suzuki -- in eight scoreless innings. Not what Girardi was hoping for by blowing things up, but the manager took some solace in his team striking out only three times against the Tigers' ace.
Progress? Hardly. It was more of the same for a Yankees' team that has scored in only two innings of this ALCS -- four runs in the ninth inning of Game 1, which they lost in the 12th, and Nuñez's homer Tuesday night. Give Girardi credit for being proactive, but it didn't prevent the Yankees from winding up in an 0-3 hole.
"I thought it was the right thing to do," said Eric Chavez, who started at third base in place of A-Rod and went 0-for-3. "You've got to mix it up. You can't continue to get buried."
The Yankees released Tuesday's lineup around 5:15 p.m., later than usual and roughly three hours before first pitch. After losing Game 3, Girardi refused to provide any hints for the lineup he plans to use in Wednesday's do-or-die Game 4. Not that he wasn't asked.
"You know my answer to that," Girardi said.
Tuesday night, Swisher made it as far as the on-deck circle, where he limbered up before watching Ibañez strike out. Unlike A-Rod, who had no interest in a postgame chat, Swisher displayed a team-first attitude.
"You want to be in there," Swisher said, "but I back his decision."
We get the whole change part. No sense in sticking with the status quo, which clearly wasn't working. To send out the same lineup that failed to score Sunday against Anibal Sanchez and Phil Coke would have been criminally negligent down 0-2 in the ALCS.
The Yankees took things a step further. They went beyond using Gardner to add a speed dynamic to the top of the batting order -- sitting Swisher as a result -- and starting their late-inning hero, Ibañez, at DH.
Those two moves alone, while no guarantee of success against Verlander, could be defended. But choosing to bench A-Rod again felt extreme and perhaps a bit spiteful.
"We've been patient," GM Brian Cashman said Tuesday. "But there's an extended period of time that opportunities have been given and now we're going to give it to some other people who are legitimate, major-league guys that can contribute. It's not like we're dropping off the face of the Earth from one to another."
As far as A-Rod and Swisher were concerned, the timing was curious. That same morning, the New York Post reported Rodriguez had been spotted during Game 1 tossing baseballs with his phone number to women in the stands at Yankee Stadium after being pulled for a pinch hitter.
Swisher also was guilty of interacting with fans, but he was upset by their apparent betrayal. Each player's behavior suggested their focus is not where it should be in the middle of the ALCS, but Cashman insisted the benchings were "pure baseball-related" decisions.
Throw out the numbers. The Yankees who arrived at Comerica Park for Game 3 wore the same uniforms, but otherwise bore little resemblance to the group that had given Verlander fits earlier this season. The best explanation for blowing things up was also the least complicated.
"With all due respect," Cashman said of Gardner, "he can't really give us any less than what we've gotten."
For all the changes, it turned out to be the same: not enough.