The week began with fans with clamoring for Alex Rodriguez to be removed from the third spot in the lineup. It continued with him twice being removed as a pinch hitter in the late innings and ended with him being out of the lineup entirely.
In the biggest postseason managerial decision of his tenure, Joe Girardi benched Rodriguez for Game 5 of the ALDS. Eric Chavez will start at third base.
“It is difficult,” Girardi said at his pregame press conference. “He has meant a lot to the organization, the game of baseball over the years and he has been a very productive hitter. But he struggled against right-handers in the series and [Chavez] has been good against right-handers all year long.”
Rodriguez responded diplomatically during a four-question interview with reporters in front of the Yankee dugout following his round of batting practice. During his 65 seconds of comments, he expressed disappointment at being benched but was more unhappy with his performance.
“Obviously I’m not happy and, you know, I was disappointed,” Rodriguez said. “You want to be in there in the worst way. But I keep telling you guys, this is not a story about one person, this is about a team. We have some unfinished business. Our objective is to win one game and keep this thing moving.”
Rodriguez also said that he would be ready to be a pinch hitter, which is something he has done just 14 times in his career.
“Without question, [I’ll be ready],” he said. “That’s another thing. As you know, with 27 outs a lot can happen. I’ll be ready from the first inning on.”
The lineup was posted roughly 3 1/2 hours before first pitch and for the first time in a postseason game, it did not include Rodriguez’s name. Though Girardi has often publicly stated his belief in Rodriguez and other struggling Yankees, that belief appeared to wane in the previous two games.
Unlike the famous demotion of Rodriguez to eighth in the lineup by Joe Torre in the 2006 ALDS against Detroit, this one didn’t have any personal overtones as Girardi said Rodriguez was accepting of the move.
“I do think he’s ready,” Girardi said. “His message [was], ‘Let’s win and I’m ready to help whenever you need me.’ That was his message to me and I believe that. So I believe he is ready to take an at-bat against a lefty and help us win.”
“It is what it is. You don’t worry about [your spot in the lineup]. I can’t control that. The only thing I can do is go out and try to have quality at-bats and help the team win,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez reiterated that he was not upset with Girardi’s decision.
“It’s never about Joe,” he said. “I always have to look in the mirror and do what I can do to do the best I can. Don’t assume that you’ve heard the last from us, or me.”
In Game 3, Rodriguez struck out twice in three at-bats against Miguel Gonzalez. He also struck out in Game 2 for the final out against Jim Johnson and when his spot in the order came up in Game 3, Raul Ibanez batted and hit the game-tying home run.
Rodriguez played in Game 4 as the team’s fifth-place hitter and his night began decently enough with a walk and a single off Joe Saunders.
Then he struck out with two on in the sixth against Tommy Hunter and again in the same situation in the eighth against Darren O’Day. In his final at-bat, Rodriguez grounded out leading off the 11th against Pedro Strop.
That made Rodriguez 2-for-16 with nine strikeouts in the series. It also made him 11-for-67 in the postseason since the 2009 World Series.
Like Saunders, Rodriguez has good career numbers off Jason Hammel (8-for-22 four home runs, nine RBIs), but he was 2-for-7 this year after doing most of his damage against the right-hander from 2006-08.
“I look at recent history too,” Girardi said. “I don’t look at what guys have done five years ago, six years ago. Pitchers change, people change.”
In some ways, the move is also comparable to Billy Martin benching Reggie Jackson for Game 5 of the 1977 ALCS. Jackson was 2-for-16 in that series but his second hit was a pinch-hit RBI single that began a Yankee comeback.
The two key differences are though were the poor relationship Jackson had with Martin and age. Jackson was 31 years old at the time and Rodriguez is currently 37.
Age and relationships aside, Rodriguez will be ready to go whether as a pinch hitter or a spectator.
“We’re ready to go tonight,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve got to win one game and I’m a part of this team. And I’m ready to roll and I’ll be ready.”
Granderson also struggling
Curtis Granderson’s career has evolved to the point where he is either all (home run) or nothing (strikeouts) and never has that been more evident than the first four games of the division series.
Granderson has added nine more strikeouts to the 195 that he accumulated during the regular season when he had the second-most in baseball behind White Sox designated hitter Adam Dunn, who hit .204 with 41 home runs and 222 strikeouts.
So far, Granderson has seen 62 pitches and swung and missed on 13. Nine swings and misses have been in the last two games and Granderson has six of his nine strikeouts in that period.
Even with the poor numbers, Granderson declared that his swing has not gone backwards even if Yankee fans let him know otherwise by booing loudly in Game 4.
“We’re talking about four games here,” Granderson said after going 0-for-5 with three strikeouts in Game 4. “I haven’t gone backwards in four games from over the course of three years. Four games is all that’s happened right now.”
Still, being a player on the verge of having 10 strikeouts in the division series is tough to ignore. In the 72 series played since the format began in 1995, only two players have had 10 strikeouts in the division series.
Oakland’s Josh Reddick was 2-for-17 with 10 strikeouts –four against Justin Verlander — this season. And the other was Bret Boone, who was 2-for-21 with 11 strikeouts in the 2001 division series for Seattle, which beat Cleveland in five games.
“I’m chasing a couple of balls out of the zone, so I’ve got to go ahead and swing at some more strikes and then continue to stay aggressive and continue to attack,” Granderson said. “That’s just a part of not recognizing and attacking the pitches that I want to hit,”
Even with his lack of contact and pitch recognition, Granderson remained in the lineup hitting seventh.
“I decided to go with Grandy,” Girardi said. “If Grandy stays in his zone, he will be fine. That’s the big thing he has to concentrate on.”
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.