Commentary

Take Jeter, Reyes talk with grain of salt

Despite what the Yanks and Mets may tell you, there's plenty of doubt at shortstop

Updated: July 3, 2011, 9:40 PM ET
By Johnette Howard | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- It wouldn't be correct or totally fair to say New York Mets and New York Yankees officials are flat-out lying when they're pushed to give their constant State of the Shortstop talks these days. But do yourself a favor, especially if you're emotionally invested in either team: Don't buy everything you're about to hear for the next week or two, at minimum, about Jose Reyes and Derek Jeter.

[+] EnlargeJeter/Reyes
Mike Stobe/Getty ImagesExpect the Yankees and Mets to change their stories about their shortstops.

The Mets can -- and did -- say with a straight face Sunday that Reyes could be back from a slight hamstring injury in just a few days to resume his chase of the National League batting title and Most Valuable Player award. But given the way even the most innocuous-sounding injuries metastisize into season-enders for the Mets, put more trust in manager Terry Collins' promise Sunday that with or without Reyes, the Mets will keep battling. Especially after the way the Mets rallied to salvage the last game of the Subway Series against the Yankees by scoring the tying run off Mariano Rivera in the ninth, then winning it, 3-2, in the 10th on a single by long-suffering left fielder Jason Bay off Hector Noesi. The game winner earned Bay a celebratory cream pie in the face from catcher Josh Thole.

"This [win] was enormous," Collins said.

And the Yanks? They can insist Jeter, who is scheduled to return Monday from his two-week absence with a calf injury, is "our leadoff hitter" no matter how scintillating his replacements, Eduardo Nunez at shortstop and Brett Gardner in the top spot in the order, have been. But there's no sense in holding them to that, either.

Every sign that Yankees' management throws off right now is Jeter will be allowed to get the six hits he needs to reach 3,000 in peace. But after that, all bets are off. Nunez is 24, and he needs to play if he's going to stay with the Yankees rather than go back to Triple A. So the Yankees are now telling us he'll be worked into the lineup to give Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano days off.

But the reality is, everything is fluid. If Jeter totally tanks at the plate after he returns, how long before the clamor to get Nunez in the lineup and Gardner back leading off becomes too great? Especially since the Yanks are in a tight division race with the Boston Red Sox and Yanks general manager Brian Cashman was just talking over the weekend about how he considers Robinson Cano, then A-Rod, the Yanks' two best everyday players?

Jeter could enhance his reputation as captain -- and save himself a lot of personal anguish, too -- if he did the smart thing on his return Monday and preemptively announce that, if the Yankees want to move him out of the leadoff spot at some point this season, he'd do whatever's best for the team.

So far, Jeter isn't behaving as if he's wired that way. But his admission that he felt "nerves" Friday before his first rehab start in Trenton was fascinating. It was totally at odds with his celebrated calm-under-pressure reputation. For the first time in memory, Jeter sounded like an aging player who could see the end of the line for himself, even if he's not there yet. And that little show of vulnerability is a change.

Maybe the Yanks' 14-4 record and Nunez's .339 average in Jeter's 17-game absence -- including a 7-for-8 start in the Subway Series before he sat out Sunday's game with hamstring tightness of his own -- had something to do with that.

Like the Yankees, who were just playing it safe with Nunez, Reyes said he'd do the same regarding his left hamstring injury because of the nightmarish problems he's had with his right hamstring in the past. The good news about Reyes' Grade 1 strain is, "If you're going to have any, that's the best one to have," Collins said. Then the manager told an upbeat anecdote about running into Reyes before the game: "I saw him this morning before he went to the doctor, and I said, 'How are you doing?' He said, 'I feel great. I actually got up this morning, got out of bed and ran to the bathroom and ran back to see how it felt. '

"He didn't blow out anything on that, so I thought that was a good sign," Collins said, to much laughter.

Of course, things got confusing again when Collins' version of what caused Mets starter R.A. Dickey to leave Sunday's game after just five innings was at odds with what the Mets announced Dickey's injury was during the game.

The Mets initially announced Dickey had a sore left glute muscle, and general manager Sandy Alderson said after the game he didn't expect Dickey to miss a start. But Collins, speaking before Alderson arrived, said Dickey came out because, "He had a stinger that ran down the sciatic nerve into his hip. And that bothered me a little bit ... I'm a little concerned, yes."

So Dickey either has a sore butt. Or a sore hip. Or a stinger. Or a sciatic nerve problem. Or all of the above.

See what I mean? It was just more of that gray-area talk that both the Mets and Yanks inhabit nowadays. With the Yanks, it's "Jeter is our shortstop." With the Mets, the four scariest words in the English language are "he's day-to-day." (This season alone, see Ike Davis' bone bruise saga; see David Wright's journey from "back stiffness" to broken back.)

Before leaving, Collins gave the best advice anyone on either team uttered all day:

"Let's see how it is tomorrow."

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