David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Not anymore. With the calendar nearly flipped to September, and things tightening up a bit, Pettitte isn't so invisible. When he's around teammates now, they want updates.
As Pettitte said before Tuesday's game, the conversation has become more like, "Hey, how we looking?" or "You on the mound yet?" The Yankees are getting antsy about the return of Pettitte, as well as Alex Rodriguez, and Monday's loss of Mark Teixeira made it that much worse. "For me, this is what I came back for," said Pettitte, who is growing more exasperated. "I wanted to come back and take a little bit of the load off from everybody. And now I feel like I've added a load on them by not being ready."
The Yankees have done a decent job covering for Pettitte, with Freddy Garcia and David Phelps picking up some of the slack. Reshuffling the lineup to minimize A-Rod's absence is growing increasingly difficult -- bordering on impossible now that Teixeira is out.
Look at Tuesday's batting order. The Yankees acquired Steve Pearce to combat the upcoming parade of lefthanders, but sticking him in the cleanup spot against Blue Jays' starter Ricky Romero seemed less than ideal. So did placing Russell Martin (.196) directly behind Pearce in the No. 5 hole -- for the first time this season.
Somehow, it still worked out as the Yankees beat the Blue Jays, 2-1. In the fourth inning, Pearce led off with a walk, took second on a wild pitch, advanced to third on Martin's groundout and scored on Curtis Granderson's sacrifice fly. It's a lot of work for one run, but that's where the Yankees are right now. "We're a little banged up," Joe Girardi said afterward. "Those guys did a nice job in that role tonight."
What's he supposed to do without A-Rod and Teixeira? Girardi has good reason to stay with Nick Swisher in the No. 2 spot, where he's hitting .292/.376/.577 this season, and there's no alternatives for Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano as bookends around him.
As currently configured, this is not the Yankees -- not even close. And Rodriguez has to feel some pressure to get back when other pillars of the team crumble. The hope is that A-Rod will be ready to play in rehab games this weekend.
"You just have to think big picture," Rodriguez said. "When I come back, I want to come back full strength, make sure that I'm a force in the middle of this lineup and help this team win."
Rodriguez still stressed the need for caution, citing the setbacks of other "guys in the American League," presumably Jose Bautista and David Ortiz. Bautista learned Tuesday that he will need wrist surgery and Ortiz's comeback from a strained Achilles tendon lasted one game before he returned to the DL.
As with Pettitte, any glitch in either player's recovery at this point could put an end to their season. Both have waited patiently for broken bones to mend -- a process that really can't be rushed. But Rodriguez believes he's capable of getting up to speed at the plate quickly because of conditioning to keep his lower half in top shape.
The Yankees are going to need it. They've scored 27 runs in their last seven games, but seven of those came in Monday's loss to Toronto. During that stretch, the Yankees also are batting .233, which puts them somewhere between the A's and Twins in the middle of the AL pack. It's a small sample size, but a trend that could very well continue unless reinforcements show up soon. "I'm not sure about all that," Rodriguez said. "We don't make excuses around here. Sometimes you let a few games get away from you."
That's likely to happen more frequently without the Yankees' usual firepower. It's also something they can't allow to happen with a fragile division lead that requires protecting . "I see light at the end of the tunnel," A-Rod said.
The Yankees just need both Rodriguez and Pettitte to hurry up and get there.