By Matt Spiegel-
(CBS) The Yankees are dead.
Last night’s ninth inning was not some kind of wake-up transformation, featuring a rare string of productive, grinding at-bats. That was a final, frantic reach for some vestige of their former selves.
This is not your regular season Yankees, second in scoring league-wide. This is a batch of strugglers at the plate, mired so deep in slump that the manager’s desperate lineup choices can’t really even be derided.
Why not avoid A-Rod and Nick Swisher at all costs? Who can blame Joe Girardi for doing so?
In the ninth inning, Girardi’s first choice was Raul Ibanez vs. lifetime LOOGY turned improbable playoff closer Phil Coke. The second choice was Alex Rodriguez vs. Joaquin Benoit. It was both stunning and understandable to watch the manager choose the former.
Rodriguez can’t turn on a fastball right now. He can’t get the bat around on anything above 82 or 83 mph. It’s a compelling, rapid decay which has delivered him to an unplayable abyss.
The physical reality of his loss of bat speed is one thing, and easily viewable. His loss of confidence is equally palpable and affecting.
His friend Kobe Bryant spoke to him this week, and put it this way:
“You’re Alex Rodriguez,” Bryant said on ESPN’s SportsCenter on Wednesday. “You’re A-Rod. You’re one of the best to ever do it. We’re different… I think really the difference is, sometimes he forgets he’s the best where I don’t.”
A-Rod has zero faith in himself, zero of that necessary “healthy arrogance” it takes to be great at the highest level.
His manager understandably doesn’t believe in him either.
Rodriguez famously admitted his use of performance-enhancing drugs, and there have long been rumors of his usage for years before his positive test history came out.
There are a few things we know PEDs can do for a batter.
The quick twitch muscles are greatly improved, enabling wondrous bat speed. Power can be increased by that alone, not necessarily just through built up muscles.
Recuperative abilities are grown, letting guys work out more often with fewer negative effects.
And then there’s this, which many users have addressed: a superhuman confidence emerges.
It’s an understandable, unshakable belief in one’s self, built on both knowledge that you’ve got some serious help in your system, and years of success. With every MVP caliber week or month comes further proof that you can and will deliver when needed.
A-Rod knew he was awesome, and he proved it week after week of season after season. He was dominant, untouchable.
Not any more. The hangover crash from that confidence high must be dark and sordid.
As he tries to play it straight, if that’s indeed what he’s doing, he knows he’s not equipped with the best his money can buy. So, in addition to being suddenly physically shorthanded and more pedestrian, he also knows that he is. Then, he starts believing the slump as his new reality.
That spiral of suck for him seems to get faster and deeper by the day.
Now, as your manager doesn’t go to you to either start or finish the biggest game of your team’s season, who among us expects Rodriguez to snap out of it and revert to being what he once was?
Soon the decision will be how much and when to eat the remaining 5 years, and $118 million left on his contract.
Sox fans, want a 600 home run DH/3B?
Yeah, me neither.
Matt Spiegel is the co-host of The McNeil and Spiegel Show on 670 The Score and 670TheScore.com. You can follow him on Twitter @MattSpiegel670.