- Andrew Marchand, ESPNNewYork.com
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NEW YORK -- Alex Rodriguez went all Leon Lett on us in the eighth inning. With the fans loading up to boo him after he had failed all day long, A-Rod had another man on base with his team down one run.
One mighty old-time A-Rod swing could have stopped the derision, as the irritated fans impatiently watched one of the greatest and richest players of all time, his skills and power seemingly eroding before their very eyes.
Rodriguez thought he had just given the Yankees the lead with a much-needed signature moment. As he likes to do when he thinks he's got one, Rodriguez, a few steps out of the box, flipped his weapon to the ground and did his trademark "look at me" glance into the home dugout to start celebrating.
It is A-Rod's way of high-stepping at the five-yard line. A little cocky, premature excitement to put an exclamation point on the greatness of his skills and his just-completed smash.
There was one problem. The ball was high. It was far. But it wasn't gone.
It died in the wind, and in the glove of left fielder Chris Heisey's mitt on the warning track, and with it came another Yankees loss. It is their fifth in their past six games.
This is how it goes for the Yankees (21-20), as they continue their descent toward the AL East cellar. After a 5-2 loss to the Reds on Sunday, the Yankees are now just a game ahead of the last-place Boston Red Sox. The Reds just took two of three from the Yankees in the Bronx.
A-Rod wasn't the sole reason the Yankees lost on Sunday. But he is the cover boy for this currently un-clutch club. The Yankees have just six hits in their past 59 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
But Sabathia gave the lead right back, allowing two solo homers before forcing in the go-ahead run following a hit and three straight walks.
But how can you blame Sabathia when his offense doesn't give him any room for error?
Besides Andy Pettitte's gem on Friday night, the Yankees haven't won in nearly a week because of their bats.
It may be time for Yankees manager Joe Girardi to try to make something happen.
Girardi prefers to keep a steady hand. Perhaps that is the right answer. However, maybe Girardi should play against type and do something unconventional to rattle his rich bats in the middle of the order. In tennis, when a player is getting beat on the baseline, he might decide to start coming to net, even though that isn't his strength.
Ibanez, already batting fifth, might be due a promotion in front of A-Rod. When asked about this possibility in the postgame news conference, Girardi responded with a question of his own.
"How far do you want me to move him?"
"It is something we will think about," Girardi added.
Who knows if that really is the answer. But Ibanez's nine homers and 27 RBIs are almost double A-Rod's production (five homers, 15 RBIs), in 38 fewer at-bats. Mark Teixeira -- who pinch-hit in the ninth, playing for the first time all weekend while trying to finally heal his bronchial infection -- has five homers and 20 RBIs.
If the Yankees are going to succeed, Teixeira and A-Rod must be big players. But right now they just have to figure out how to score against the Kansas City Royals on Monday night, so perhaps their best lineup could be Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Ibanez, Robinson Cano, Rodriguez, Teixiera and then Nick Swisher.
It is unconventional, going with the three lefties in a row, but it doesn't have to be permanent. It could be a salve until A-Rod and Teixeira start to hit like the Yankees expect. Right now, it is generous to have them hitting fifth and sixth, let alone having A-Rod in the clean-up spot.
If you watched the 36-year-old Rodriguez swing this year and didn't know about his 634 career homers and his bazillion dollar contract, where would he bat?
Without his "tic tacs" and with age, he appears like Samson sans his hair. He is powerless.
On Sunday, every time Rodriguez batted, there were runners on base. Each time, before the near-homer in the eighth, he quickly and meekly didn't come through. With a man on first in the first, on the third pitch he saw, he grounded out to short to end the inning. In the third, with two men on, he swung at the first pitch and flew out to right to finish off that inning.
In the sixth, after Cano's leadoff double, A-Rod flew out shallowly enough to right that Cano couldn't even move to third.
The regression of Rodriguez's game becomes more troubling by the day. He now has less RBIs than Albert Pujols. Over the next six seasons, including this one, A-Rod is due to make $143 million -- not including a potential $30 million in historic home run bonuses. Pujols will be paid $126 million from 2012 thorugh 2017.
Everyone knows by now that, even with his legendary October of 2009 included, this is an awful contract. The question that still must be answered is, how bad will it be?
In the eighth inning on Sunday, A-Rod almost got a temporary reprieve from that discussion.
"I thought it was going to go out when he hit it," Girardi said. "I don't know if the wind held it up or what happened. But I thought it was going to go out and we were going to have the lead, 4-3."
Reds manager Dusty Baker was more definitive.
"We thought that ball was gone big-time," Baker said. "And he probably thought the ball was gone, too, but the elements were with us on that particular play."
Hitting coach Kevin Long added, "He squared it up and that is his normal reaction to a home run."
A-Rod never showed up in the postgame clubhouse. He spoke on Saturday, saying his "numbers are going to be there at the end of the day."
No, they are not. A-Rod is slugging .399. When he was an elite player he was in the .600s.
The A-Rod numbers that are legendary are gone. Now, it is just about when he gets his hits. He almost got one on Sunday. But he didn't have enough power.
It is a reoccurring theme for the Yankees, and, not coincidentally, for him as well.