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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

The end of an era, and the beginning of A-Rod

Alex Rodriguez talks to members of the media

Alex Rodriguez talks to members of the media before practicing for the first time since undergoing hip surgery Jan 16. (May 6, 2013) Credit: AP

BOSTON - Life after Derek Jeter doesn't officially begin for the Yankees until the final out of Sunday's season finale at Fenway Park. We're down to one last pregame ceremony, a few more at-bats and perhaps a tear or two from the captain.

But with a diminished Jeter presence Saturday -- he was replaced at DH by Francisco Cervelli in the fifth inning and did not speak to the media afterward -- the nostalgic glow around the Yankees is dimming.

They now seem to be getting anxious about starting the post-Jeter era.

Turning the page is a crucial element to the goodbye process and now it's about moving on. What's next. And for the Yankees, who have spent the past six months celebrating Jeter's once-in-a-generation career, they need to begin mapping out their own future.

After all, the Yankees aren't retiring. Only Jeter is.

Which is why there were plenty of other non-Jeter conversations going on Saturday. Brian Cashman gave his most extensive interview about Alex Rodriguez's return -- usually a taboo subject as long as Jeter is still in the building -- and revealed that he's had regular discussions with A-Rod involving his offseason workouts.

Joe Girardi went as far as to suggest that Rodriguez -- the most radioactive Yankee to ever put on pinstripes -- could maybe help fill the leadership void left by Jeter's departure. It's almost too much to process right now.

From Jeter's don't-call-it-a-farewell tour to the Summer of A-Rod II.

Excuse us for getting so geeked up by the thought of Rodriguez under sunny skies in Tampa, but all of us have a long, cold winter ahead. And with the Jeter narrative all but exhausted, A-Rod is a surefire cure for boredom. Even Cashman sounded like he was intrigued by Rodriguez's pending rebirth in the Bronx.

"He looks forward to reintroducing himself in a positive way," Cashman said.

Whatever you may think of A-Rod, the Yankees could use all the help they can get for 2015. We've been so absorbed lately in Jeter-mania lately it's almost gone unnoticed that the Yankees turned out to be a $200-million bust for the second consecutive year. Apparently, the impact of that failure was not lost on Girardi, who addressed the team in a clubhouse meeting before Thursday's Bronx finale -- the game against the Orioles more affectionately known as Jeter Night.

Long before Jeter's walk-off single, and the emotional return of the Core Four, Girardi had a more sobering message for his players: We have to improve. While one report portrayed Girardi as angry -- and even critical of some players' conditioning -- the manager denied ripping into his team that afternoon.

"Let me clear this up," Girardi said. "I told them what I expect for next year. We're all disappointed we didn't make the playoffs. We need to execute better next year. That's what baseball comes down to -- execution. I just felt that was the place to do it and we have to go back to work."

The timing seemed a bit unusual, with the players about to give their own farewell gifts to the Yankees' captain in the clubhouse. But Girardi said he wanted it done before the final home game, and the team was eliminated only a day earlier.

Frankly, Girardi has a right to be furious. When he has to hold up Jeter, a .255 hitter, as one of his more productive offensive players, that's just ridiculous. Part of that was in defense of his 40-year-old captain, who stayed rooted in the No. 2 spot all season long. But it also was a fact as too many expensive middle hitters -- Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira -- underperformed to catastrophic levels that ultimately sunk the Yankees.

Imagine what these past few weeks would have been like without Jeter as the Yankees went through their slow fade to oblivion. Last season, they had Mariano Rivera as a human shield to protect them from a bitter fan base. This year, it was Jeter's turn, and we've all been so hypnotized by his farewell that the Yankees' many problems often didn't show up as large enough blips on our radar.

But that all ends Sunday.

Jeter will collect his last gifts on the Fenway turf, receive his final standing ovations. After that, Jeter's retirement tour is over.

And the Yankees' work is only beginning.

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