October 19, 2012

Steinbrenner would've apologized for an ending like this

Ronald Blum / The Associated Press

NEW YORK — George Steinbrenner would have issued a public apology.

click image to enlarge

New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez sits on the bench during Game 4 of the American League championship series against the Detroit Tigers on Thursday in Detroit.

AP

After leading the league in wins this year, the New York Yankees didn't just lose to Detroit in the AL championship series. They got swept in one of the more humiliating moments in the team's history.

The four-game wipeout made headlines — A-Rod's benching, Derek Jeter's injury, Robinson Cano's slump. But it also revealed serious cracks in the foundation, showing a team full of aging All-Stars at the plate, in the field and on the mound that suddenly seems a long, long way from championship caliber.

"Obviously, we're all getting older," Andy Pettitte said Thursday night after the season-ending 8-1 loss to the Tigers.

Jeter broke an ankle near the end. Mariano Rivera busted a knee back in the spring. The Yankees transformed baseball's bruisers into the Bashed Bombers, closer to AARP years than MVP seasons.

Alex Rodriguez was so bad, the $275 million man was benched in three of nine postseason games and pinch hit for in three others, a possible prelude to a forced departure from pinstripes.

Yankees co-chairperson Hank Steinbrenner won't address A-Rod's future, saying "I'm not going to get into that at this point." But he does think too much blame is being directed at Rodriguez.

"So is it fair to accuse him of everything but the Kennedy assassination? No, it's not fair, but we'll see what happens from this point on," Steinbrenner said Friday.

Six key players didn't hit their weight, with Rodriguez joined by Cano, Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher, Russell Martin and Eric Chavez.

His life already a soap opera off the field, A-Rod turned into daily fodder for on-field intrigue.

"It wasn't just one guy struggling," Rodriguez said. "It was a collective group, and it was a very unique situation."

Not quite. They floundered for two months, nearly blowing a 10-game lead in the heat of summer before holding off Baltimore on the final night for the AL East title.

Easily the oldest big league team at the season's start, they're on track to start next year with a 38-year-old shortstop with limited range coming off ankle surgery (Jeter), a 43-year-old closer returning from knee surgery (Rivera), a 37-year-old third baseman overpowered by right-handed pitchers (A-Rod), a 40-year-old left-hander who missed nearly three months because of a broken ankle (Pettitte) and a 38-year-old right-hander who topped the team in starts and innings (Hiroki Kuroda).

Their postseason star was a 40-year-old outfielder (Raul Ibanez), their center fielder struck out 195 times (Granderson), their left fielder played just 17 regular-season games because of an elbow injury (Brett Gardner) and their catcher hit .211 (Martin).

"It's difficult. It's disappointing. It's not where we want to be," general manager Brian Cashman said. "I'm very surprised."

Their .188 postseason batting average was the lowest ever for a team that played at least seven games. Rodriguez took the brunt of the blame.

Owed $114 million over the next five seasons, Rodriguez became the world's most expensive pinch hitter during the ALCS, a platoon player against left-handed pitchers on a team facing four righty starters.

"I've never thought about going to another team. My focus is to stay here. Let's make that very, very clear," he said. "Number two, I don't expect to be mediocre. I expect to do what I've done for a long time."

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