NEW YORK -- A reminder of just how much the New York Yankees' rotation drama has muddied the real story about this team came barreling to mind Wednesday night, right around the time Oakland third baseman Scott Sizemore got a huge jump off Yankees starter CC Sabathia in the fifth inning -- and then Francisco Cervelli sprang from his crouch and threw to second base in time to stop Sizemore from stealing anyway. And rather easily.
Cervelli is the Yanks' backup catcher, and he made such a terrific throw the Yankee Stadium crowd went "whoa" when the ball improbably beat Sizemore to the bag. Down at third base, another Yankee who was supposed to be a spare part this season, rookie Eduardo Nunez, was playing for Alex Rodriguez because Rodriguez had come up lame yet again, this time with a sore thumb. And like so many other nights this season, it looked like A-Rod's absence wasn't going to be fatal either.
The Yankees were on their way to beating the Oakland A's for their 17th win in 24 games to stay even with Boston Red Sox in the American League East before Sabathia gave up a 2-1 lead in the eighth, and then reliever Rafael Soriano served up a three-run homer to Coco Crisp in the 10th. Pile on Soriano if you like, and some Yankee Stadium fans did, but the guy isn't long off the disabled list and hadn't pitched in a week.
"It was just one hanging pitch, and that was the game," he sighed.
Even with the 6-4 loss, the Yanks are now 27 games over .500. You just wouldn't know it by the way so many folks are obsessing on what the Yanks' starting pitching rotation should be in October, though it's only late August right now. Sabathia was good again last night, but by daybreak Thursday there may even be a little anxiety about him now that he's 1-2 with a no decision in his past four starts. Is he running out of gas, too, same as Bartolo Colon?
No, Sabathia insisted, "I felt strong."
Fixating on the Yanks is nothing new. But spending day after day throwing out the latest iteration of what the Yanks' postseason rotation should be -- when there's still five weeks to decide, and they have six starters for four slots -- is over the top, even by New York standards.
But at least the impulse springs from a reassuring place: There's little else that's bad enough about this team to warrant discussion.
So stop wondering if Wandy Rodriguez is headed here.
Just scrub those two words from your brain.
Forget any thoughts that Sabathia was a huge problem Wednesday night. Because he wasn't.
Look at the big picture.
You know the Yankees are in a good place overall when the off-hours debate between Tuesday's 6-5 loss and Wednesday's defeat was this boiling discussion that would've been unthinkable even as late as June: Why didn't Yanks manager Joe Girardi let Derek Jeter swing away Tuesday rather than order a bunt in the bottom of the ninth with two on and no out?
Jeter was the Yanks' melodrama before the starting pitching rotation started looking like musical chairs. He finished Wednesday hitting .384 (45 for 117) with 22 RBIs in his past 29 games. Robinson Cano has a 15-game hitting streak. Nick Swisher -- who was ice cold at the start of the year -- blasted two homers Wednesday night. And the Yanks' defense? Just a half-inning later, Oakland's electrifying second baseman Jemile Weeks -- who is, hands down, the best reason to watch the A's -- drove a liner to the wall in dead center that Curtis Granderson just missed catching. But Granderson retrieved the ball on a hop and fired it to Cano, who spun and threw a terrific relay that got Weeks trying to leg out a triple.
Granderson is favorite for league MVP. He and Yanks first baseman Mark Teixeira are fighting for the league lead in home runs. Teixeira hit another one Wednesday night.
See the point? At times it feels as though the Yankees are actually underrated, not overrated, for a change. And that's a weird thing to say about any team that plays in New York, let alone the one that wears pinstripes. But it's true.
The Yankees have grown so accustomed to seeing their schedule being reduced to 162 one-game seasons that, at times like this, the obsessing and fretting about the snapshot results obscures the big picture.
Sabathia tossed his head in disgust when Sizemore stung him for a game-tying double in the top of the 8th to chase him from the game. Coco Crisp gave the A's a one-run lead again before Teixeira blasted a solo homer of his own in the eighth that forced extra innings.
So to recap: Even though the Yankees lost, they ran, pitched, threw, played defense well and they hit for power.
By the time Swisher came to his locker after the game it sounded totally unnecessary -- even a little funny -- when he looked at everyone and earnestly said: "Tough loss. But I'm not discouraged. No one in here is down."
The night ended with the starting playoff rotation looking the same as when the day started, it's true. That angst lives on. But look at the bright side.
A team that can do all that other stuff just might have a chance in the postseason.