BOSTON -- On Thursday, an ESPN poll of fans voted Alex Rodriguez the Face of Baseball. On Friday, A-Rod sounded more like the King of Denial as he tried to put the best face on a devastating 8-4 Yankees loss to the Red Sox.
"I think we’re in a good place," he said. "I think tonight was fun. [John] Lackey had some really good stuff. We worked some deep counts, got some big hits, tied the game and I thought we had a good chance. They just had one more big hit than we did. No big deal."
That's one way of looking at it. Another way is to acknowledge that to lose a game such as this while your rivals for the second American League wild-card spot are all winning is pretty damaging to your chances.
And especially the way the Yankees lost, battling back from a 4-0 first-inning hole to tie the game in the top of the seventh, only to see it all explode in the bottom of the inning on a grand slam by Jarrod Saltalamacchia, the third grand slam hit by the Red Sox against the Yankees this season and the second to cost the Yanks a game in the space of a week.
To make things worse, A-Rod's physical condition is a prime reason the Yankees lost this one. Maybe not as important as the early ineffectiveness of Hiroki Kuroda and the late ineffectiveness of Preston Claiborne, but damaging enough. With his strained left hamstring limiting him to a designated hitter role and slowing him to a virtual walk on the basepaths, A-Rod's injury cost the Yankees at least two runs Friday night.
In the top of the seventh inning, he was on first when Robinson Cano hit a bases-loaded double that should have scored three runs and given the Yankees the lead. But he was barely able to hobble into third, and the Yankees never did get his run home when Alfonso Soriano grounded out to end the inning.
Then, in the bottom of the inning, A-Rod's inability to play the field cost the Yankees when Eduardo Nunez was unable to come up with Shane Victorino's hot smash to third. It was scored a hit; however, as Joe Girardi said, "It's a tough play but it's a play he can make."
The leadoff single led to Girardi yanking Kuroda, who had settled down after a four-run first, and bringing in Cesar Cabral, who hit David Ortiz with a pitch. That led to Girardi bringing in Claiborne, who gave up the back-breaking home run.
A-Rod was hitless Friday with a walk and two strikeouts, but his bat has been effective lately, and since he came back, his mere presence has helped Cano and Soriano immensely. But unless he can play the field and run at full speed, on balance he is a liability to the Yankees both offensively and defensively.
Asked whether it appeared Rodriguez was "lacking a gear" due to his injury, Girardi said, "It looks like he's lacking a couple."
And Girardi, who had hoped to use Rodriguez at third base Saturday, admitted that no longer looked like an option. "I’m not sure what I’ll have tomorrow," he said. "I’ll have to check with him. It’s a concern of mine, yes."
But there's really nothing for Girardi to agonize over because, as Rodriguez said later, there's no way he's playing third base tomorrow or at any time in this series. "Tuesday, maybe," he said, sporting a large ice pack wrapped around his left thigh. "We got to be careful with the hamstring. I'm just trying to go to where it doesn't blow out."
Still, Rodriguez tried to put his best Face of Baseball face on the plight that confronts him and the Yankees now, having lost a game in the wild-card chase and having fallen to fourth place in the wild-card standings, behind Texas, Tampa Bay and Cleveland.
Asked whether he thought this loss was worse than some of the others the Yankees have suffered recently, Rodriguez said, "No, I think losing’s part of it. But I do like the intensity we’re playing with. I think Kuroda came back and fought really hard, gave us a great performance and a great chance to win after those first couple of innings. And I thought we were very close to scoring seven or eight runs today."
• Kuroda, who was a Cy Young candidate in July, was charged with the loss and now has not won a game since Aug. 12. In his past eight starts, he is 1-5 with a 5.22 ERA, and his overall ERA has soared from 2.45 to 3.13.
• Cano had his fourth four-hit game of the season, including three doubles, one of them a perfectly placed bunt up the unprotected third-base line that thwarted a Boston shift.