What a world. It's three hours before first pitch, and everyone with an internet connection is aware of the Yankees' lineup for tonight's Game 5 against Baltimore.
Here you go, in case you've been off Twitter for the last hour:
Missing, of course, is one Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod, 2-for-16 in this series with nine strikeouts and $29 million more in his bank account, will sit on the bench, and try to look happy for when the cameras inevitably seek him out. Rodriguez is 8-for-24 with four HRs against Orioles starter Jason Hammel, but more recent history appears to take precedent: most of those numbers were put up before 2009, and all nine of his postseason Ks have come against righties.
What's fascinating is that Rodriguez's playoff performance is solidly average, compared to his teammates. Curtis Granderson is 1-for-16. Nick Swisher is 2-for-15. Robinson Cano is 2-for-18. With the exceptions of Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira, no one in the Yankees' regular lineup is hitting above .214. The Yankees are hitting .216 as a team, so if you were to go off just pure performance, you can't pin it all on Rodriguez.
But it's more than that. Rodriguez is better at baseball than he is at the game played inside his head, and has the tendency to go into major funks whenever he has to start thinking about what he's doing. With a disappointing season capped off by a disastrous ALDS, the boos from the crowd after nearly every at-bat have clearly gotten to him. Even putting bat on ball—like in last night's eighth inning, with runners on second and third with one out in a tie game—appears beyond his ability.
What does this mean for Rodriguez's Yankee future? With five more years on his contract, he's probably not going anywhere unless the Steinbrenners are willing to pick up two-thirds of his paycheck. Joe Girardi said today that any bad feelings can be patched up this winter.
"The strongest relationships go through struggles," Girardi said. And sure, we've been here before. With Rodriguez 1-for-11 in the 2006 ALDS and the Yankees facing elimination, then-manager Joe Torre dropped Rodriguez to eighth in the batting order against Detroit. A-Rod responded by going 0-for-3—and saying all the right things, then coming back the next year to have his single best season as a Yankee.
Those days are gone now, and Rodriguez—who celebrated his 37th birthday this summer on the DL—isn't going to recapture his vintage form. But he's still a better option than Eric Chavez or Eduardo Nunez, and if the Yankees win tonight, he should be back in the starting lineup for Game 1 of the ALCS. But that game and that series are purely hypothetical. The entire season comes down to tonight, one game, and Joe Girardi decided he's got a better chance at winning it without Rodriguez. Girardi's binder has come in for its share of second-guessing, but this is one call—"from the gut," as he put it after pinch-hitting Ibanez in Game 3—that's hard to argue.