Commentary

Yankees must return to Bomber ways

According to A-Rod, if New York is to win East, middle of order must lead the way

Updated: September 8, 2012, 12:42 AM ET
By Andrew Marchand | ESPNNewYork.com

BALTIMORE -- Wearing an old-school No. 52 University of Miami football jersey, Alex Rodriguez set the narrative when he walked into the clubhouse a little more than three hours prior to first pitch.

After sporting Ray Lewis' college uniform to honor his buddy, A-Rod and the Yankees laid the hurt on the Orioles. It was an old-school, 8-5 Yankees beat-down over Baltimore on Friday night. Like it always used to be, the Yankees owned a little too much firepower and a little too much pitching.

The Yankees are again alone in first place in the American League East, a game up on the Orioles and two up on the Rays, with 24 to go. After the victory, in which he picked up his 300th Yankees homer, a tack-on two-run shot in the fifth, A-Rod had plenty to say, first raising the stakes for his teammates without the histrionics of a pregame Lewis speech, but with a similar message of reaching new heights.

"One of the challenges I have for the offense is we should be able to score six runs every night," Rodriguez said. "I think if we are disciplined and put up great at-bats, then six runs is a great goal. If we do that, our pitching will back us up."

A-Rod wasn't ducking any responsibility. In fact, he was pointing the fingers at himself, Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano to make this Yankees team go for the final 24 and beyond.

"Bottom line, it is going to come down to the guys who have done it before," Rodriguez said. "The guys that are in the middle of the order to get big hits and drive in big runs, and everybody will follow suit."

That is not how it worked Friday. It actually was quite the opposite. With no score in the fourth and two men on, Rodriguez struck out. But next up, the suddenly hot Russell Martin went yard off Wei-Yin Chen, making it 3-0. Steve Pearce -- filling in for Teixeira, who is due back Saturday night -- then hit a two-run homer. It was 5-nil before the "middle of the order" stepped up.

Rodriguez would add homer No. 300 as a Yankee and No. 16 on the season an inning later, a scorcher of a two-run shot, and the Yankees had silenced the fans dressed in orange among the 40,861 in attendance. "It feels like the playoffs," Martin said. "There is good energy in the crowd, and it trickles down on the field. This is September baseball. This is exactly what I envisioned."

[+] EnlargePhil Hughes
Joy R. Absalon/US PresswireAccording to Rodriguez, if the Yankees' bats can produce six runs per game, Phil Hughes (pictured) and the rest of the staff will back them up.

Added Phil Hughes, "The best I've ever seen it here."

Hughes was very good all night, pitching out of trouble in the first and putting up zeroes until allowing his obligatory home run, a three-run shot to Adam Jones in the sixth.

The Orioles helped, too, chasing Hughes' pitches out of the strike zone.

Of the 64 pitches Hughes threw out of the zone, the O's swung at 27 (42 percent), according to ESPN Stats & Information, which is the second most they have swung at all year.

For a change, Mark Reynolds didn't hit a couple of homers off the Yankees. In fact, he went hitless after going three straight games with two homers against the them.

The runs Hughes gave up actually weren't the worst thing, because it allowed David Robertson, who was rocked in Thursday's 10-6 loss, to return in the eighth, protecting a three-run lead.

Robertson got to face some of the hitters who pummeled him Thursday. The righty struck out Jones and forced Matt Wieters to fly out. Returning so quickly and being successful can't hurt his confidence.

The loss Thursday probably felt bigger for Yankees fans than for the Yankees. They rallied from 6-1 down and then saw Robertson flush it. By Friday, the clubhouse didn't seem any different. No panic in any of the lockers.

"[It would have been a] crushing loss if you are weak mentally," Martin said. "I feel like we have a tough team."

Rodriguez, 37, has put the future of this club on the offense's shoulders. He talks about small ball -- how doing the little things can lead to big things. He says the Yankees can score six runs per game, which is a goal that if reached will undoubtedly lead to the playoffs.

In the postgame, Rodriguez had his Lewis jersey back on.

"He's my boy," Rodriguez said. "He's my boy. I love the University of Miami and I'm in his hometown so I'm honoring the Hall of Famer Ray Lewis."

Like Lewis, Rodriguez is trying to lead with his words and his actions. If the Yankees are to win this division, they will have to do it old-school style.

Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

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