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Monday, April 1, 2013
An opener of gloom, doom in Bronx

By Ian O'Connor

NEW YORK -- A warm sun had given way to gloom and doom at the close of Opening Day in the Bronx, where the wind and rain and slate-gray clouds were not nearly as ominous as the signs on the Yankee Stadium field.

Stray garbage was swirling about as the home team kicked around the ball in the ninth, adding insult to the injuries before the handful of fans who had bothered to stick around for the bitter end.

"It got kind of raw, in a sense," Joe Girardi said, referring to the weather.

Only it gets kind of raw in October, too, and the crowd never flees like it did Monday, the first day of the rest of the New York Yankees' lives.

Kevin Youkilis
Surrender? Not quite, but Kevin Youkilis and the Yankees had a season opener to forget.

The losing manager pointed out it was "a school night," though the game ended at 4:47 p.m. Truth is, Joe Girardi had posted a Stump Merrill lineup, and as the afternoon grew darker, the fans knew they were heading for a Stump Merrill result. When the Boston Red Sox held 4-0, 4-2 and 5-2 leads, it seemed like they were ahead by at least a dozen runs.

Welcome to the new Bronx, not quite the same as the old Bronx. Before the Red Sox started pulling themselves from the rubble of a 2012 they'll never forget, beating the home team by an 8-2 count, Alex Rodriguez suddenly emerged from his own witness relocation program to declare the forecasts of a last-place finish for the Yankees "pretty crazy."

Only not as crazy as the sights and sounds of A-Rod, who said he couldn't wait to prove his critics and doubters wrong before he declined to face thousands of them -- in the stands -- during player introductions that included his fellow disabled Yankee, Mark Teixeira.

"I don't need to be introduced," Rodriguez maintained, "to feel like I'm part of this team."

Too bad many of his teammates couldn't say the same. The Yankees' lineup inspired a singular question -- Who are these guys? -- and looked more like an April Fool's joke than a loose representation of the sport's signature franchise.

Rodriguez was wearing shades and a jacket and chewing sunflower seeds in the dugout, and Derek Jeter was off playing catch for a few minutes in Tampa. Teixeira and Curtis Granderson won't be back before the Captain, and by the time they reappear nobody will be complaining about the Yanks' overreliance on the big, bad home run.

Ben Francisco was the designated hitter Monday, a fact to be filed under Enough Said. Jeter and A-Rod were replaced on the left side of the infield by Eduardo Nunez and Jayson Nix, who combined to strike out five times in six at-bats. The Yankees managed a mere five singles and one extra-base hit, a double from Kevin Youkilis, who might be wondering what in the world he's gotten himself into.

Youkilis explained afterward that he'd faced his former team while with the White Sox, and that too much shouldn't be made of his first experience on the other side of this storied rivalry. That the diminished Youk suited up as the Yanks' cleanup hitter was more significant than the image of him in pinstripes, competing against the Red Sox and compelling the Stadium crowd to honor him with cries of Youuuuuuuk.

"We are a different type of lineup," Girardi said, "there's no doubt about that. We're not a club that's just going to hit home runs. We're going to have to score runs in other ways."

The Yankees slugged 245 homers last year, and after their bats went silent in the postseason, the calls for a more diversified attack intensified. But with so many stars hurt, and with the long-balling likes of Raul Ibanez, Russell Martin, Andruw Jones and Eric Chavez going, going, gone, Girardi has been left with the baseball equivalent of a half-court, system-centric basketball team ill equipped to press and play fast when it falls behind.

Meanwhile, in what was meant to be the jayvee portion of New York's two-for-one Opening Day schedule, the Mets were making like Flushing Gulf Coast University in an 11-2 rout of San Diego, and encouraging a few of their die-hards to remind Yankees fans that the Padres won more games last year than the Red Sox did.

No, this couldn't have been a worse opener for the Yanks. Two opponents they care dearly about, the Red Sox and Mets, took temporary ownership of the market. CC Sabathia lost the velocity battle on the radar gun, and the retiring Mariano Rivera, recipient of the day's loudest introductory applause (even the Red Sox clapped for him), never made it to the mound.

And then there was Alex, the star his bosses desperately want to disappear. Rodriguez presented himself for questioning for the first time since the Miami New Times linked him to far more steroid use than A-Rod had already confessed to, and the Yankees didn't sit him in the same news conference room they used for Girardi and Rivera in the pregame hours. The team didn't even have Rodriguez stand before a team banner almost always used as the backdrop for hallway briefings.

Surrounded by reporters and camera crews, A-Rod stood outside a clubhouse door in a place where no official Yankees logo could sanction his presence. Rodriguez allowed he has met with union representatives about the latest PED allegations, and he reaffirmed the denial released by his PR firm.

"We put out a statement," he said, "and we'll definitely stand by that."

Asked why he wouldn't participate in the traditional roll call of Yankees, Rodriguez said he cared to be introduced to the Stadium crowd only when he's ready to play after his latest hip surgery. Whatever. Whenever he returns, if he returns, Rodriguez will be stepping into a lineup that needs him to be something more than the pathetic figure he was in October.

"Look, I think this year we have a special opportunity," A-Rod said. "This is my 10th year here in New York, and this is the first time we've been predicted to finish in last place, which I think is pretty crazy. So that's exciting as a year of opportunity for our team, as a year of opportunity for me.

"I love when all these people say, 'You can't do this, you can't do that. You're done. You're old. You can't do this.' I find it's a great challenge to prove all you guys wrong and everyone wrong."

His team is in the same leaking boat. In the end Monday, with the rain falling and the lights on and the Stadium nearly empty, it felt like the fall of something, if not an empire.

Of course, it's only one game of 162. "You don't make too much of it," Girardi said.

Unless the people who predicted a last-place finish for these old and battered Yanks aren't as crazy as that voice of unreason, Alex Rodriguez, wants them to be.