Commentary

Hello? What were A-Rod, Buck thinking?

Painful exchange of pleasantries is serious business if star misses rest of series

Updated: August 7, 2010, 11:39 PM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- Only time will tell exactly how high, or low, Alex Rodriguez's bruised left shin will eventually wind up in the annals of Stupid Sports Injuries.

If it winds up costing him a day or two out of the starting lineup and the New York Yankees split the remaining two games of their series with the Boston Red Sox, it's pretty much no blood, no foul.

But it's another matter entirely if he winds up on the disabled list because he either thought it was a good idea to greet a sportscaster while taking ground balls during batting practice or, even worse, to return a greeting from a sportscaster.

Right now, A-Rod getting "smoked," to borrow his description, by a line drive off the bat of Lance Berkman -- who finally found something he could hit as a Yankee -- ranks among such unlikely sports calamities as Luis Castillo twisting an ankle while falling down the dugout steps, Joel Zumaya hurting his wrist playing Guitar Hero, Glenallen Hill falling out of bed and tumbling down a flight of stairs while fighting off an attack of spiders in a nightmare, Vince Coleman getting rolled up in the tarp before an NLCS game, and A.J. Burnett's recent losing tussle with a pair of clubhouse doors.

The Rodriguez injury, which happened a fraction of a second after a brief greeting between A-Rod and Fox Sports' Joe Buck about 90 minutes before the Yankees' game against the Red Sox on Saturday, wound up costing them nothing more than a few gray bristles out of Joe Girardi's scalp.

Once again, Ramiro Peña filled in admirably in A-Rod's place, driving in two runs in what would become a tidy 5-2 victory.

But watching Rodriguez hobble around in the clubhouse afterward left the distinct impression that Peña will be the third baseman again Sunday, and maybe Monday, too, while the Yankees, Rays and Red Sox continue their dogfight for control of the AL East.

And the longer that goes on, the somewhat derisive laughter of A-Rod's teammates as they watched him "hopping around like a rabbit" -- to borrow another of his phrases -- is likely to devolve into scorn for a player who once again just can't seem to help himself when it comes to courting, and being courted by, the lure of cheap celebrity.

In all my years of covering baseball, I have never seen a credentialed member of the media try to catch the attention of a ballplayer while the player was between the lines doing his job.

Behind the batting cage, sure. In the dugout during BP, absolutely. In the clubhouse during media access, of course. But not while the player is, as A-Rod was, working on an infield-in drill, with a strong batter like Berkman in the cage. As we saw Saturday, it's extremely dangerous.

If that's what Buck did, he owes the Yankees and Rodriguez an apology.

But what of the player? I've never seen one greet someone, or acknowledge a greeting, while in the midst of doing his job.

And in fact, I have rarely seen Alex Rodriguez acknowledge anyone not in uniform, either journalist or fan, while he is on the field at all. It is tough enough to get his attention to answer a question in a postgame scrum at his locker.

That is what makes what happened on the field at Yankee Stadium all the more mind-boggling and, if you are a Yankees fan, potentially infuriating.

Although Buck, while on the air, took responsibility for the incident, he privately told other reporters that it was A-Rod who initiated the greeting. A fraction of an instant later, Rodriguez was whacked in the left ankle by Berkman's line drive and went into his dance, much to the delight of Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira, among others, who have seen A-Rod's Drama Queen act before.

"He always acts like that when he gets hit," Jeter said afterward, even knowing that Rodriguez had been knocked out of the lineup and was being taken for an X-ray, which wound up being negative.

Asked about the incident, Rodriguez at first said, "I don't remember."

Then, he amended it to, "I had just said, 'Hello, Jack,' literally for one second," confusing Joe Buck with his father, the late St. Louis broadcaster Jack Buck.

"And I just got smoked," he said. "One second."

And when asked if he thought there was a connection between the two events, A-Rod fell back into "I don't remember."

Maybe they were two completely unrelated events -- "Hello, Jack," and hello, ball -- but the proximity of one to the other makes that rather unlikely.

It could be that Sunday morning, he will wake up and find that the swelling in his left leg has gone down, the pain has subsided, Joe Buck has gone home and there will be no reason for El Niño to fill in once again for Big Al.

But it is just as likely that the hot spot in his ankle will "feel like it's got a heartbeat," in Girardi's phrase, that he won't be able to go, and the Yankees will have to fight off the resurgent Red Sox two more times minus their cleanup hitter and with Peña as their starting third baseman.

If so, move this one up a few notches the list of Stupid Sports Boo-Boos, and add another chapter to the ongoing reality TV series known as The Alex Show.

Call this one, "Theater of the Absurd Injury."

GAME NOTES: Peña drove in the second run of the game with a second-inning ground out that scored Curtis Granderson, who had driven in the first run with a triple to the right-field fence that barely missed going out of the park. That nullified a two-run Boston lead on Victor Martinez's solo homer and back-to-back doubles by Adrian Beltre and Mike Lowell. ... Peña drove in his second run on a single past a drawn-in infield in the sixth. ... Robinson Cano and Jorge Posada also had RBI singles off John Lackey (10-7), who has just one win in his nine starts against the Yankees. ... Peña, who had just three hits in 43 at-bats as a third baseman coming into the game, also has a remarkable 13 RBIs on just 20 hits, a ratio roughly equivalent to A-Rod's 88 RBIs on 103 hits. ... CC Sabathia settled down after that second inning and allowed just two more hits, one of them an infield single, and delivered the game to Mariano Rivera after eight tidy innings in which he needed only 101 pitches. Sabathia (14-5) has won 10 of his last 13 starts and joins Tampa Bay's David Price as the only 14-game winners in the AL. ... Sunday's matchup: A.J. Burnett (9-9, 4.93) versus RHP Josh Beckett (3-1, 5.70) in an 8:05 p.m. start.

Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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