- Wallace Matthews, ESPN Staff Writer
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CINCINNATI -- It is the curse of Jorge Posada's career that there seems to have been more eyes on him in this, the worst season of his professional life, than in any of the previous 16.
In his prime, when he was the starting catcher for the team that won four World Series championships, the division 10 times and the league six times, there was always someone else to take the bows.
But when the New York Yankees were great, it was rarely, if ever, Posada.
Now, two months shy of his 40th birthday and heading toward a (probably forced) retirement, it seems like the focus is always on Posada. And rarely, if ever, is he in a favorable light.
For the first month of the season, it was his .125 batting average, his inability to hit lefties, his measly nine hits in all of April, six of which were, improbably, home runs.
Then, on May 14, it was the one-day sit-down strike, a moment of temporary insanity that changed a lot of people's opinions about Jorge Posada forever. Some of those people were even in the Yankees' clubhouse.
So far, 2011 has not been an easy go for Jorge Posada, a proud, stubborn and prickly man who is taking the endgame of his career even harder than most.
He hated being relegated to DH duty, hated giving up the everyday catching job, and especially hated dropping not only in the lineup but, clearly, in the estimation of the manager whose job he had taken after the 1996 season.
And he certainly must have hated the cruel turn of the schedule that deemed the Yankees must play 15 consecutive interleague games, nine in an NL park, meaning no designated hitter, just at a point in the season when he was just starting to rediscover his hitting stroke.
Well, on Wednesday, playing first base in the first game of a day-night doubleheader only because the previous night's game had been rained out, necessitating a game off for Mark Teixeira, Posada finally gave Yankees fans a reason to look at him with admiration rather than curiosity or, worse, scorn.
Posada's home run off Mike Leake in the sixth inning of a tie game provided the margin of victory in the Yankees' 4-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds. It came on the first pitch after Robinson Cano's one-out single, Posada' screaming line drive landing in the first row of seats beyond the right-field fence.
In the second game, the Bombers were handcuffed by Reds ace Johnny Cueto, who held them to two hits over seven innings, and converted outfielder Brian Gordon got cuffed around for three home runs in five innings as the Yankees went down, 10-2, to complete a 4-2 road trip.
But in the first game, Posada was clearly the star, for the first time all season.
"Home runs happen," a clearly happy Posada said postgame in the clubhouse. "I don't know when's the last time I hit one but I wasn't trying to hit one. They happen for me. I don't care when they do happen. I'm happy when they do, but I'm not trying to go out there and hit a home run."
For the record, it had been nearly two months between home runs for Posada -- the last one came on April 23, spanning 126 at-bats -- but not nearly so long between key hits, which over the past couple of weeks have been coming with more frequency.
Now, his average is up to .227, which may not seem very good but is more than 100 points higher than it was the last time a baseball Posada hit left a ballpark.
And along with the average, Posada's confidence is up, too.
"I'm just seeing the ball a little better and getting good pitches to hit," he said. "I'm having an idea of what the pitcher is trying to do. That's about it. Being a little more aggressive and trying to get your pitch and stuff. I don't see myself as a .227 hitter either. Hopefully I can keep doing what I've been doing lately and make a little bit more of an adjustment that I've been doing."
In June, Posada's batting average is .395 (17-for-43), his on-base percentage a whopping .465. He's had two three-hit games this month and three two-hit games. He's come a long way in a short time from those miserable weeks when he was pretty much an automatic out in the lineup.
"If you've played long enough, you've struggled, and you've probably struggled pretty mightily in the course of your career," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "All players go through it. Jorge's a tough kid. He's been through tough spells in his career, he's been through adversity, he's been through injury, and he's always found a way to come back."
No relationship on the team was probably strained more than that between Girardi and Posada on May 14, when Posada decided a demotion to the No. 9 spot in the lineup was an indignity he didn't have to put up with.
He pulled himself out of the lineup that night, and there were hard words between manager, player and general manager Brian Cashman in the days that followed. From team sources, I am told that several of Posada's teammates were quite displeased with his reaction. Some -- even a few who are thought to be among his closest supporters in the clubhouse -- felt he had quit on the team, an inexcusable action.
Neither Posada nor Girardi will discuss the incident in any detail, but after Wednesday's game, the manager said the relationship between he and his designated hitter improved because of it.
"We aired it out," Girardi said. "He was upset with what was going on and I was upset that, you know, he was going through a tough time. We had a discussion the day after, I talked to him about enjoying his career, and knowing he's going to produce and all that. He's been a great player. When you go through something like that in a relationship and you get to the other side, it's always better. It's always better."
Posada, who has acknowledged that there were tensions between he and Girardi back in 1998 when he replaced Girardi as the Yankees' starting catcher, agreed that he and the manager have reached a new understanding in their relationship.
"He's been in my corner. He's been pushing me," Posada said. "It's good to have a guy that's going to be there for you. He's been doing that for me. He cares for everybody. It's good to have a manager that really cares for everyone."
Posada was smiling, possibly because for one of the few times all season, the eyes on him were smiling back.
NOTES: Freddy Garcia gave the Yankees exactly what they needed on the day of a split doubleheader: seven quality innings in which he allowed just three hits and no earned runs. The only two Cincinnati runs were the direct result of two throwing errors by Ramiro Pena in the fifth and a wild pitch. Garcia even struck Scott Rolen out on a fastball, clocked at 86 mph, to end the fourth inning. ... David Robertson and Mariano Rivera pitched clean eighth and ninth innings, respectively, to wrap up the Yankees' seventh win in their past eight games and 10th in the past 12. Robertson struck out reigning NL MVP Joey Votto, a left-handed batter representing the tying run at the plate, with a 94-mph fastball to end the eighth. ... Pena, who said he had never had a three-error game at any level of baseball -- he also booted a grounder in the seventh -- recovered nicely to start a seventh-inning double play and made a great stop on a hot smash in the ninth. ... Girardi rewarded Nino by starting him at second base in place of Robinson Cano for the second game. ... Cano extended his hitting streak to 10 games with a third-inning RBI single. He had another single in the sixth, just before Posada's home run.
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1dAndrew Marchand and Wallace Matthews