- Johnette Howard, ESPN.com columnist
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BOSTON -- When Derek Jeter -- who has played all of one big league game this season -- was asked in the New York Yankees' clubhouse before Sunday night's series finale against the Boston Red Sox if he'd ever had a season in which he has had less fun than this one, he smiled a bit at the question just to make it clear he wasn't feeling defeated, and then he admitted, "Nooo."
And that was before the Yankees went ahead, fell behind, mounted a ferocious comeback, but in the end weren't able to chase away some of the gathering gloom around them. They fell to Boston 8-7 in 11 innings and fell back into a season-high seven-game hole in the AL East instead of slipping out of town having picked up a game on the first-place Red Sox despite having this happen to them in the past three days:
On Friday, Jeter went back on the 15-day disabled list.
Saturday brought the first sign that Alex Rodriguez might not be leaving Triple-A Scranton healthy enough to rejoin the Yanks 48 hours later in Texas.
On Sunday night, the Yanks saw ace CC Sabathia cough up another early lead and get rocked again just hours after an MRI showed A-Rod would indeed remain on the disabled list, this time with the same sort of Grade 1 (or mild) quadriceps strain that Jeter is still hoping he can return from on Saturday.
When you stack all the setbacks end to end to end that way, losing two out of three from the Sox only made it feel more like a body blow of a trip. And the Yanks still don't know what even the next week will bring for their embattled third baseman. Or their struggling ace.
Of the two dilemmas, the state of Sabathia is more worrisome.
"It sucks, it's embarrassing, but, you know, you just have to work through," a frustrated Sabathia said in the Yankees' graveyard-quiet locker room after Mike Napoli's dead-center-field homer off reliever Adam Warren won the game. "I've got to figure out something to help this team, not keep hurting it. We had seven runs. … For me to not be able to win that game today is unacceptable."
The exile of Rodriguez is, as usual, likely to be more drama-filled.
Rumors persists that Major League Baseball will finally suspend Rodriguez for perhaps as much as 150 games, and perhaps as soon as Wednesday or Thursday of this week, as a result of its Biogenesis investigation.
If it weren't for baseball's appeal process for accused PED-users -- which would likely push any time Rodriguez might have to serve into next season, even if a suspension did come down this week -- it wouldn't be too early to already start wondering if the photos of Rodriguez playing his last game for Triple A Scranton RailRiders were going to be the last time we'd ever seen him in uniform. If he's suspended as long as rumors keep saying he'll be, he'd be 39 and out of baseball for nearly two years when he was eligible to return.
But in the wait for that, even the details surrounding how A-Rod pulled up lame this time around as he was rehabbing his surgically repaired hip are going to reignite the conspiracy theories about how badly the Yankees just want him to disappear at this point, same as they did when they kept him rehabbing in Tampa when the rest of the club broke spring training and headed north.
The reason for the conspiracy theories that the Yanks want to exile him this time around?
Barely a week after Jeter half-jokingly and half-seriously complained about how extraordinarily careful the Yankees are with recovering players -- "They MRI everything around here", Jeter groused -- the Yankees still allowed A-Rod to DH on Saturday night for Scranton, even though he'd reported "stiffness" in his left quadriceps muscle. This, though. he was just 48 hours from his expected return to the big league club after missing the first 97 games. They let him risk hitting and running the bases even though they had just seen Jeter go out after a long layoff with the same injury the week before, which he also picked up trying to leg out a hit.
When Rodriguez admitted his leg felt worse Sunday, he was sent from Scranton back to New York for an MRI. The Yanks said it revealed he now has the same Grade 1 (or mild) quadriceps strain that put Jeter back on the DL.
The team also announced it had ordered Rodriguez to fly their complex in Tampa for "rest and treatment" rather than still be in New York when the Yankees return there Thursday to play the Rays.
It's a safe bet Rodriguez wasn't on the minds of many of the Yankees after losing Sunday's 4-hour, 46-minute marathon to their longtime rivals. They were staring at an overnight flight to Texas and another game scheduled to start in 19 hours against the Rangers.
They kept coming back even after Sabathia surrendered the early 3-0 lead they staked him to by giving up booming homers over the Green Monster in both the third and fourth innings. Napoli had the first one, a three-run shot that exited the stadium completely and gave the Sox their first lead of the night. Jonny Gomes blasted the other win near the light standard in left center. By the time the Sox chased Sabathia from the game, he'd given up seven runs and been belted around for nine hits. He lasted only one batter into the sixth.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi agreed that Sabathia's struggles have been "mystifying" to watch.
"It's kind of strange. He's been so good for so long," Girardi said.
But now it's so long to A-Rod for a while. And it's taking far too long for a version of Sabathia that the Yanks recognize to come back.
"This [loss] was a tough one," Girardi sighed.
The days ahead show no signs of getting easier.
Sabathia can at least affect his fate. A-Rod's future might be out of his hands.
CC Sabathia can at least affect his fate. A-Rod's future might be out of his hands.