Commentary

Swisher's HR caps eventful day in Bronx

Yankees dodge Orioles sweep, Posada's concussion scare in one busy afternoon

Updated: September 9, 2010, 7:23 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

On a day in which the New York Yankees salvaged a part of their dignity, they nearly lost a big chunk of their soul.

On the field, Nick Swisher was dodging a whipped cream-loaded towel with a lot less success than his team had dodged the ignominy of getting swept at home by the Baltimore Orioles for the first time in nearly a quarter-century.

Swisher's walk-off bomb off Baltimore closer Koji Uehara took care of that, giving the Yankees a heart-stopping 3-2 victory that they could not have expected but desperately needed, if only for their own self-respect.

Meanwhile, across the river at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, another sort of drama was playing out as neurologists worked to determine whether Jorge Posada had suffered a concussion on Tuesday night.

Swisher's home run may have provided a happy ending to the day, but the outcome of the neurological tests on Posada may well have determined the ending of the season. And had it been the wrong outcome, the ending was not likely to be a happy one.

Luckily for the Yankees, they dodged that bullet, too. Just before 6 p.m., the Yankees sent out a release: "Tests performed this afternoon by a neurology specialist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital were negative. Physicians have cleared Posada for competitive play and he is listed as day to day.'' And just like that, the cloud left hanging in the otherwise sunny skies over Yankee Stadium Wednesday afternoon suddenly lifted.

But for a while there, it appeared the Yankees might have lost a lot more than they won on this day, and getting concrete information on Posada's injury out of the team required a dentist, not a neurologist.

Manager Joe Girardi at first didn't mention Posada's condition when asked why he had not pinch-hit for Francisco Cervelli in the seventh inning at what appeared to be the key moment of the game, except to say he was "not available.'' He could not provide details about when or how it happened in Tuesday night's game other than to say he had "caught a foul tip sometime during the game,'' and did not make his discomfort known to the team until after the game, in which he played all nine innings.

Girardi said Posada "did not feel well'' after the game, was "a bit foggy,'' and still had a headache when he reported for work on Wednesday. "We had him take a test here and then sent him over to the neurologist,'' Girardi said.

Both Girardi and Cashman posited that as a catcher, Posada had likely suffered concussions before, and the GM even thought he might have missed some time with one some years back.

But neither of them could hazard a guess about how severe this one was, or even it was a concussion at all. But the fact that neurological symptoms apparently lingered overnight could not be interpreted as anything but an ominous sign.

Considering the recent situations involving Jason Bay and Ryan Church in Flushing and the two concussions Cervelli suffered in the offseason, it seemed far more likely Posada was headed to the sidelines rather than Texas and Tampa Bay over the next eight days.

"Whenever you're talking about concussions, there's concern," Girardi said. "If the tests come back OK, we'll probably take him with us. But if the tests don't, I'm not sure what you do."

Then, he finally admitted, "I have contemplated that we might not have him for a little bit here. And if that's the case, we have to deal with it.''

The problem, of course, is not what would have happened over the remaining 22 games of the season -- no matter where they finish up, it's a pretty safe bet both the Yankees and Rays will be playing in October -- but what was likely to happen once the pressure-cooker of postseason baseball begins.

This has been an injury-plagued season for the 39-year-old Posada, from his aching knee to his broken foot to his sore shoulder and cranky calf. Still, even if he is not quite the offensive or defensive force he was 10 years ago, he is a player the Yankees know they can trust in the money games to come.

Despite its hopeful outcome, this latest scare just gores to remind us that this year, the Yankees playoffs hopes are only as sturdy as the health of the aging members of their core.

Already, they have lost Andy Pettitte for two months with a groin strain. At 36, Derek Jeter has not played anywhere near to the level Yankee fans have become accustomed to. An injury to Mariano Rivera, the incomparable 40-year-old closer, would be an unmitigated disaster.

And losing Posada to a concussion? Well, it makes your head hurt just to think about it.

How far could they hope to go with Cervelli as their catcher and Chad Moeller as his backup? Asked to sum up what it would mean to his team to be without Posada, Girardi answered thusly: "Well, you're talking about a guy who's playoff-tested, World Series-tested, September-down-the-stretch tested, a switch hitter in the middle part of our lineup. It's an impact.''

A great impact, to be sure, and perhaps a devastating one. Posada is not having one of his better offensive seasons -- .262 with 17 home runs and 53 RBI in 102 games -- but compared to Cervelli, who is as close to an automatic out as it gets in the high-powered Yankee lineup, he is Yogi Berra in his prime.

And even if the Yankees could survive the loss of Posada's bat, could they hope to survive October minus a player who embodies all of the other traits the manager listed?

That question darkened a bright day not only for Swisher, but for Ivan Nova, who bounced back from his first rough day at the office last week against the Blue Jays to throw six tidy innings against the Orioles, marred only by a 3-0 fastball that Matt Wieters hit out of the park in the fifth inning to provide the only Baltimore runs of the game.

And it cast a pall over what was a staple of the 2009 Yankees but has been a rarity this year, the walk-off win, of which this was only their fourth of the season.

"Was the whipped cream fresh?'' Girardi asked, jokingly. "We haven't used it in a while.''

Even if it was, the humor was a bit stale considering the circumstances. In the Yankees' clubhouse, the few of Posada's teammates who hung around to talk seemed unaware that their catcher was at that moment being examined by a neurologist.

"That's for real?'' Cervelli asked. "That's news for me. But if it is, then let's go. I gotta catch.''

Alex Rodriguez, who kicked off the ninth-inning rally with a leadoff single, was similarly stuned to hear the news about Posada. "Obviously, we don't want to lose anyone,'' he said. "But Jorgie's a major part of this team. We certainly don't want to lose him.''

Asked about the feeling in his dugout as the Yankees came to bat trailing by a run in the ninth, Girardi said, "We knew we could come back. That's the feeling this club always has.''

Had they lost Posada on Tuesday, the Yankees would have needed to make the most difficult comeback of their season.

Game notes


The Yankee bullpen had another excellent day, David Robertson, Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain -- who pitched the ninth and got the win -- combining for three nearly perfect innings, marred by only Derek Jeter's throwing error that gave the Orioles a ninth-inning baserunner. Logan came on to face two left-handed hitters, Luke Scott and Felix Pie, and struck both of them out. ... Jeter suffered through a miserable homestand, getting just six hits in 36 at-bats (.167). His batting average is now a season-low .262, lower than any Yankees regular but Cervelli (.252) and Curtis Granderson (.246). ... Pettitte will start for the Double A Trenton Thunder in Game 2 of the Eastern League playoffs against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats on Thursday night at Waterfront Park in Trenton, N.J. The plan is for Pettitte to throw four innings or 65 pitches in preparation for a mid-to-late September return to the major-league roster. ... As of now, Javier Vazquez (10-9, 5.01) will make his scheduled start Friday night against the Texas Rangers, facing LHP C.J. Wilson (14-6, 3.10). First pitch 8:05 p.m. ET.

Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com. You can 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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