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Monday, July 1, 2013
Bronx Bombers without Cano? Scary

By Wallace Matthews
ESPNNewYork.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- There are nights when it seems like there is no way Robinson Cano will be a New York Yankee next season, the nights when he half-steps it to first base, or chases bad pitches, or fails to come through in the clutch.

On those nights, you think, the guy will be 31 on his next birthday, his best year is most likely already behind him, and after the debacle of the Alex Rodriguez contract and the soon-to-be-debacles of the CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira contracts, the last thing a team wants to do is hang another albatross around its neck.

Cano
On nights like Monday, Robinson Cano looks worthy of the Steinbrenner family fortune.

And then there are nights like Monday night at Target Field, when Robinson Cano is the only Yankee hitting the ball with any authority and you shudder to think what their lineup would look like without him.

On those nights, you think, the team should be ready to sign over the Steinbrenner family fortune for another decade of Robinson Cano.

Robbie Cano, one-man show, single-handedly kept the Yankees in the ballgame against the Minnesota Twins for seven innings Monday night, just long enough for the hapless Twinkies to self-destruct in the eighth and ninth and give the Yankees a desperately-needed 10-4 victory at Target Field.

The win snapped the Yankees' five-game losing streak -- their third five-game drought of the first half of the 2013 season -- and stopped the bleeding of a skid that was threatening to turn into a full-scale hemorrhage.

But until the eighth inning, when the Twins started throwing the ball all over the field and forgot how to execute even the most basic of baseball plays, the only thing standing between the Yankees and a season-high sixth-straight loss was Cano.

He had given them a slender lead with a blast over the center-field fence in the first inning and, after Andy Pettitte gave it back with interest in the bottom of the inning pulled them even with another, even more impressive two-run shot into the left-field seats in the third.

And as farcical as the eighth inning became, it started in absolutely legitimate fashion when Cano opened it with a double into the right-field gap.

By the time he came to bat in the ninth with runners on second and third, even diehard Yankees fans were pleading with Twins manager Ron Gardenhire to do what he should have been doing all game long, which is walk Cano. That, too, backfired five batters later when a Twins reliever walked catcher Chris Stewart with the bases loaded, but at least Gardenhire didn't violate a time-tested baseball maxim: Don't let the other guy's best hitter beat you.

And even though sometimes he makes you wonder about him, there is no doubt of who the Yankees' best hitter is and has been for the past five seasons now.

Is there any earthly reason why Hal Steinbrenner, self-imposed salary cap or not, can afford to let him get away?

"What a talent he is," Pettitte said. "It's fun to watch him hit."

Pettitte went home with a no-decision -- he has not won since June 8 -- and a souvenir baseball courtesy of his fifth-inning strikeout of Justin Morneau, leapfrogging him over Hall of Famer Whitey Ford to first place on the Yankees' all-time strikeout list with 1,958. But without Cano, he might very well have gone home with a loss, too.

"He's one of the best hitters in baseball when he's feeling it and he's swinging well," Stewart said. "He's not just pulling the ball. He hit that home run to left field, so he's driving the ball to all parts of the field. It's big for us when he's getting on board and driving runs in."

Cano is certainly feeling it now. After slogging through a May in which he hit just .257 and a June in which he hit just three home runs, Cano is suddenly on the kind of tear manager Joe Girardi has been assuring us all season long was just around the corner.

Over the first four games of this seven-game road trip, Cano has been ridiculous: 10-for-17 (.588) with three home runs, five RBIs and seven runs scored. That the Yankees have lost three of those four attests to the sad state of their lineup; on most nights, it is Cano alone.

"Hopefully I can continue doing that, because you know how baseball is, you can be hot for an amount of time and next thing you know, you go through a slump," said Cano, who now has 19 home runs and 51 RBIs to go with a .293 batting average. "Hopefully not. Just continue doing this thing and win games and do my job with men on base."

The thought of the Yankees' lineup minus Cano, even next year when presumably Teixeira and Derek Jeter will be healthy again, and Alex Rodriguez will be playing out the string of his 10-year deal, is truly frightening.

Monday night, the cleanup hitter was Vernon Wells, who started strongly but has not hit a home run since May 15, a stretch of 131 at-bats. The number-five hitter was Travis Hafner, who is batting .223. The number-six hitter was Zoilo Almonte, a rookie. The number-seven hitter was … well, you get the picture.

Right now, Robinson Cano is the Yankees' offense, and he probably will be next year as well. Assuming the Yankees have the sense to bring him back.

They have been burned before by long-term deals and probably they will be burned again, as every team that commits big dollars and years to a free agent is bound to be. The nature of the game is that by the time a player commands the kind of money Cano is likely to attract next season, he is being paid for things he has already done, not what he will do.

But the truth is, the Yankees have no one like Cano on their roster, and there aren't too many more like him out on the open market. He's here already, he likes being a Yankee, and in games like the one he played Monday night, there's no reason to envision him in any other uniform.

"If he can get a better personality, he'll become a better player," said a smirking Ichiro Suzuki, whose sense of humor is quirky, to say the least.

But there is nothing wrong with Cano's personality, or his game.

And if the thought of the Yankees burdening themselves with another elephant of a contract scares you off, think of the alternative.

After all, which of the following prospects is more terrifying -- a Yankees payroll with Robinson Cano? Or a Yankees lineup without him?