Yankees' struggles leave Joe Girardi between rock and a vacation

Tim Brown
Yahoo! Sports

DETROIT – No one feels bad for Joe Girardi, even if he did spend the afternoon picking warm bodies from the clubhouse, the early evening explaining to the world why he believed some were warmer than others, and the rest of the night confirming cold is cold and maybe it wasn't worth all the thought and effort.

His is a big-boy job in a big-boy town. He wears that number on his back while the New York Yankees have hardly seemed farther from their 28th world championship, even eight wins away. Losses are cataclysmic this time of year, as are oh-three holes in the American League Championship Series.

The Yankees scored another run Tuesday night, the kind of thing they do now every 21 innings or so. Girardi picked the men and the order in which they'd bat, which would not seem like much of a deal until you're scoring a run every 21 innings or so.

And here's where it got him:

To the top of the ninth inning at a delirious Comerica Park, a run – that run – in, Yankees at first and second, two out, Justin Verlander out and Phil Coke – that Phil Coke – in, and Raul Ibanez at the plate.

The Tigers led 2-1. The Yankees had done almost nothing for 24 outs, and suddenly they'd lurched to life for the last three.

[Related: Report: A-Rod was flirting during Yankees' ALCS Game 1 loss]

The remains of Girardi's choices and circumstances lay on the periphery.

Alex Rodriguez, benched again, sat in the dugout. He wore a hoodie and spittled sunflower seeds.

(Before the game, he insisted he was spiritually fine. In a conversation in pantomime, he said his head was good and his heart was good. "All good," he mouthed.)

Nick Swisher, benched, squatted in the on-deck circle. He was to pinch-hit were Ibanez to do something ridiculous again.

("You know, obviously I wanted to be in there," Swisher said later. "But I couldn't fault him." As for whether he expected to be in the lineup Wednesday night, Swisher said, "Uh, yeah.")

Brett Gardner watched from somewhere in the A-Rod vicinity. He'd pulled the start in left field, led off, and in at-bats Nos. 5 through 8 since April did not hit the ball out of the infield.

Eric Chavez was in the hole, behind Swisher. He'd committed an error at third base that led to the run that would beat the Yankees and he'd gone hitless in three at-bats, bringing his postseason soup to 0 for 14.

And Derek Jeter was in North Carolina, having his ankle tended to by a specialist.

Girardi stood in the middle, that 28 square on his back, and hanging from his neck.

He'd let Ibanez hit against the lefty Coke because the alternative was A-Rod, and he knew A-Rod would then have to face Joaquin Benoit, who is right-handed. This is where the A-Rod story has landed. The Yankees – Girardi, general manager Brian Cashman – have so little faith in their former third baseman and cleanup hitter that an at-bat against Joaquin Benoit with the game on the line was out of the question. A-Rod, so you know, has 12 strikeouts and no hits in 18 postseason at-bats against right-handers.

Girardi had taken his best – or at least his most creative – shot against Justin Verlander and the Tigers. He'd run numbers and pushed names around and stood tall and what it got him was the ninth inning. Before that, the Yankees were two-for-Verlander, both singles by Ichiro, neither of which amounted to anything.

Girardi appeared a little grayer Tuesday than he has recently. A little wearier. If there is a solution, he didn't find it, and likely won't have the time to. The result of the latest lineup-card Hail Mary was 132 pitches worth of Verlander and a series batting average that dawdled from .192 to .182, all of this from one of two teams in baseball to score at least 800 runs in the regular season.

On the bright side, Robinson Cano singled in the ninth inning ahead of Ibanez. He'd pretty much been oh for the postseason, all the way to 29 at-bats, before punching a pretty little line drive to left.

"What has happened has happened," Girardi said somberly.

[Related: Robinson Cano lounges in dugout chair during Game 3]

The mystery – made slightly less so by the presence of Verlander – dragged through a cool and sometimes damp night here. The Yankees inched toward the offseason by way of their brief at-bats, especially in the early innings.

Anymore, they don't pound; they match up. They don't grind; they defer.

This was right about the time they moved past the conversation of whether they were a hot mess and straight into the explanation of how big of a hot mess. As usual, all eyes turn to A-Rod. Six years ago, a frustrated Joe Torre had batted A-Rod eighth in this very city. Now those are the good old days, when public humiliation at least came with three at-bats. Now they come with a long night snuggled up to a dugout heater. Last seen, he was headed out the back door of the clubhouse, headphones over his ears.

"You would think that, given the résumés that these guys have and the type of play that they put up during the seasons, that you would have a pretty set lineup," Girardi said.

That's the job. The new job, anyway. And when the season began to disappear, when they had to have a hit, the Yankees' batter was a 40-year-old man who hit .197 against lefties in the regular season. That's not Ibanez's fault. Offensively, he has been their lifeblood in October. There was no one better to give the Yankees a chance in Tuesday night's game with two out in the ninth inning than Ibanez.

He struck out.

And lord only knows from where Girardi will find his warm bodies tomorrow. But that's the job for tomorrow.

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