Commentary

It's good times, bad times for Yanks' O

Bombers leave teams trampled under foot -- except when they sing the lemon song

Updated: May 5, 2011, 7:57 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

DETROIT -- Led Zeppelin once performed a song called "Communication Breakdown," and if it hadn't been written nearly 40 years ago, you would be tempted to believe it had been based on Wednesday night's Yankees-Tigers game.

The New York Yankees lost, for the second night in a row, and were shut out, for the third time this year, and afterward no one in their clubhouse seemed to have an answer for anything.

[+] EnlargeDerek Jeter
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireYanks' dancing days, at least at the plate, have been too few and far between this season.

Derek Jeter left the game after eight innings with what his manager called a "sore hip." Jeter, of course, insisted he wasn't injured, and when asked why Yankees manager Joe Girardi took him out, said, "You'll have to ask him."

Alex Rodriguez, who many of us were awarding the 2011 MVP award based on his spring training performance, took another collar, this one size 4, to extend his recent run of futility to five hits in his past 40 at-bats.

But when asked to explain where his stroke had gone, the best he could offer was this: "It is what it is. I'm not sure what it is."

And this: "Ask [hitting coach] Kevin [Long]. Kevin's the expert. He can explain it all."

And then there was Freddy Garcia, who pitched a creditable seven innings but who after his worst moment of the game -- grooving a third-inning sinker that the slumping Magglio Ordonez launched toward Windsor, Ontario, for the Tigers' final two runs -- could be seen gesturing wildly and appeared to be shouting at someone in the Yankees' dugout.

"I'm not sure," Joe Girardi said. "I didn't see it."

"He didn't tell me anything bad," said catcher Francisco Cervelli, who called for the pitch and appeared to be the object of Garcia's displeasure. "Maybe it was his body language. I love this guy, man."

Clearly, sound didn't travel nearly as well in the visitors dugout as it did on the field in Comerica Park, at least when the Tigers were batting.

So absent any real answers from the Yankees, we have no choice but to let the numbers do the talking.

For the second straight night, the Yankees were handcuffed by pitching. Tuesday night, it was Brad Penny, a journeyman who carried an ERA of 6.00+ into the game and left hardly having been touched, holding the Yankees to six hit and a solitary run.

Wednesday, it was Max Scherzer, a talented right-hander who came in 4-0 and left 5-0, scattering four hits, one of them an infield single, and never working with two runners on base until the eighth inning.

The fact that the Yankees had lost two in a row was of no consequence. The fact that they had lost for the second time in virtually hitless and essentially lifeless fashion may turn out to be.

The Tigers had lost six straight before the Yankees came to town, and dropped the first game of this series with their ace, Justin Verlander, on the mound to make it seven in a row.

And somehow, the Yankees now have to scramble in Thursday afternoon's finale to avoid losing this series.

The heart of the order -- Mark Teixeira, Rodriguez and Robinson Cano -- went 1-for-11 Wednesday night, with six strikeouts. The previous night, the same trio went 2-for-10 with Teixeira's solo home run in the eighth the only saving grace of the night.

Yes, over the course of a baseball season teams go through slumps and bats inexplicably go cold. But now, in 11 of the 29 games they have played, the Yankees have scored four runs or fewer. The pitching, expected to be the Achilles heel of this $200 million team, has turned out to be a strength. The offense, taken for granted as a juggernaut before a real pitch was even thrown, has been dominant at times but missing in action just about as often.

And to merely shrug and mouth some warmed-over baseball cliche, such as "You know, the guys in the other dugout get paid, too," is simply not a sufficient explanation.

The Yankees continue to lead the league in home runs with 46, but all too many nights, they are a feast or famine offense. Eleven days ago, the Yankees feasted on the Orioles, hitting five home runs in a 15-3 victory. A week ago, it was 12 runs and 13 hits, two of them homers, against the White Sox.

But for the past two nights, it has been nothing but famine. Wednesday night started out well, with another line drive single by Jeter to lead off the game. They didn't get another hit until the fourth inning.

Meanhile, Garcia was being hit hard -- a run in the second on three singles and three more in the third on a double by Miguel Cabrera and then that backbreaking two-run homer by Ordonez, who had no RBIs before the Yankees came to town but now has four and was going so badly Jim Leyland dropped him from third to sixth in the lineup -- but pulled himself together after his dugout tirade to work into the eighth inning, leaving his team behind but, you would think, well within range of a comeback.

Only this year, there is a shortage of comebacks in the Yankees' bag of tricks and an excess of unused whipped cream in their clubhouse refrigerator.

"We haven't swung the bats too well the last two nights," Girardi said.

"You can't get a hit every time. It's the way things go in baseball," was A-Rod's contribution.

"We haven't swung the bats real well collectively," Jeter said. "But some of that has to do with who we're facing."

Clearly, no one on the Yankees seems to have a definitive answer for what is ailing them right now.

Led Zeppelin had a song for that, too: Dazed and Confused.

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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