Commentary

Deep in Texas, only Rangers had heart

Yankees weren't tough enough to overcome ALCS foe, so season ended in Arlington

Updated: October 23, 2010, 5:20 AM ET
By Ian O'Connor | ESPNNewYork.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- This unmitigated disaster was not shaped merely by a lack of hitting or pitching, but also by a lack of heart. The New York Yankees did not have the inner resolve to beat the Texas Rangers, an unforgiving truth that will haunt the world-famous losers from here to Opening Day.

The mighty Yankees turned Colby Lewis into Nolan Ryan, leaving tens of thousands of Texans to chant his name while he was striking out the side in the eighth. Derek Jeter took the final cut of the inning, and his expiring contract says it could have been the final cut of his otherwise charmed Yankees career.

It was a pathetic swing, a late and reluctant wave. Jeter will re-sign with the Yankees, GM Brian Cashman all but guaranteed. The captain cannot leave the Bronx on this hopelessly feeble note.

"I lost and it feels bad," Jeter said in a corner of the grim visitors' clubhouse, where he wore shorts, a T-shirt, and his game cap pulled low over his vacant green eyes.

[+] EnlargeNick Swisher
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyNick Swisher groused about the Rangers' scheduled Game 7 starter, then went hitless against the Game 6 starter.

"It's tough to deal with," the shortstop said.

Tough to deal with the fact the Rangers won Game 6 by a 6-1 count, won the American League Championship Series four games to two. Honestly, it felt like five games to one. The Yankees barely belonged on the same field with Texas, and Cliff Lee only had to take the mound once.

Lee watched Game 6 in a hooded sweatshirt, and he had to be thinking what a lot of witnesses were thinking: If you can't beat the immortal Colby Lewis once in two attempts, you don't deserve a place in the World Series.

"They manhandled us," Cashman said. "It was like a steamroller. We couldn't stop them."

Joe Girardi greased the tracks for this Texas steamroller, making yet another dreadful decision in the fifth, when he replaced a jittery Phil Hughes with a reliever who allowed five Game 3 runs without recording a second out.

On cue, David Robertson surrendered the two-run homer to Nelson Cruz that made it 5-1 and inspired the Yanks to quit on command. Girardi's team managed one hit in the final four innings, three for the entire game.

"They outhit us," Girardi said, "they outpitched us, outplayed us."

He forgot to mention they outmanaged the Yankees, too.

If Ron Washington and Girardi had staged a boxing match, it would've been stopped on cuts in the second round. How in the world could Girardi put an elimination game in the unworthy hands of Robertson when he could've gone to Kerry Wood or CC Sabathia?

Girardi managed as though he had a 3-2 series lead. This game belonged to Hughes, Wood, Sabathia and Mariano Rivera, and nobody else.

But at least Girardi was consistent in his ALCS approach. When he had a chance to pitch Rivera in the ninth inning of Game 3, the game that turned this series, Girardi held him back for multiple innings in Game 4 (Mo never pitched those innings, of course) and watched Robertson light five sticks of dynamite to the Yankees' two-peat hopes.

Robertson opened the door to the Rangers' first World Series in Game 3, and he practically sprayed them with champagne in Game 6. In the end, with flashbulbs exploding all across Rangers Ballpark, Texas savored the most fitting exclamation point of all:

[+] EnlargeRobinson Cano
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesRobinson Cano's body language after this strikeout tells you what you need to know about Game 6.

Alex Rodriguez at the plate and facing the closer, Neftali Feliz, ready to make the 27th out.

Rodriguez took $252 million from the Rangers in a previous life, and led them to three consecutive last-place finishes before escaping to New York. So it was entirely apropos that he went down looking on a Feliz curveball -- "a dragon of a curveball," A-Rod called it -- before the stadium exploded and the Rangers piled on top of each other near the mound.

"I'm the last guy up there," Rodriguez said. "I'm sure that made it a little sweeter for them."

A-Rod said he was happy for the grown-up Rangers, for the "guys I played with when they were just kids." The third baseman was the only guy on the losing side happy about anything.

The sting of this defeat, Jeter said, "is hard to put into words." In the captain's world, there is winning and misery and no gray areas in between.

"Two completely different feelings," he said. Euphoria in 2009, anger and despair in 2010.

The defending champs were buried in their Arlington cemetery, buried in a place where they won three division series in three attempts in the '90s. Jeter, Girardi, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada were there for each conquest.

Posada is under contract, Cashman said he wants Girardi back, and Pettitte will decide in the coming weeks whether he's ready to become a full-time dad. Jeter swore he gave no thought Friday night to his contract status -- a hard claim to believe -- but the captain and Rivera will almost certainly sign new deals. "This is where they belong," Cashman said.

But the Yankees need to return in 2010 with something beside Lee, their free-agent prize. They need to get tougher. Tougher than the Texas Rangers.

The Yankees put up no resistance in this series. When they got down Friday night, the prospect of facing Lee in Game 7 appeared to be something they preferred to avoid.

Their at-bats were Charmin-soft -- five of the final six Yanks struck out. Robinson Cano suffered a hustle relapse and jogged to first in the ninth. And if Nick Swisher is going to use the name of the scheduled Game 7 pitcher in vain, someone needs to tell him it would be a good idea to get a hit off the Game 6 pitcher first.

"Winter is upon us," Cashman said.

It will be long and dark and cold. And oh, by the way, Girardi won't be upgrading his jersey number in the spring, either.

His Yankees were dominated by the Rangers the way Joe Torre's Yankees used to get dominated by the Angels, and no number of intentional Josh Hamilton walks would change that. Texas applied all the pressure in this ALCS, and the Yanks never bothered to punch back.

So they don't just need to sign a better pitcher. They need to grow a stronger heart, too.

Ian O'Connor is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Ian O'Connor

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Ian O'Connor has won numerous national awards as a sports columnist and is the author of three books, including the bestseller, "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." ESPN Radio broadcasts "The Ian O'Connor Show" every Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. ET. Follow Ian on Twitter »

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