The New York Yankees are not only missing Derek Jeter in the ALCS vs. the Detroit Tigers, but they're lacking the qualities that has made the shortstop the success he's been. Jeter's been lauded over the years for "playing the game the right way" and also for coming up big when the spotlight shines the brightest. The Yankees' position players, unfortunately, have been extremely un-Jeter-like this postseason (except for the magical Raul Ibanez, of course). Their backs are against the wall because they have not been able to follow the example their captain has set over the years.
Jeter always hustles. He never makes excuses. He often comes through in the clutch. He blocks out distractions and maintains a laser-like focus on the task at hand. And he's able to match the moment's intensity and rise to the occasion. But his teammates, this October, have largely done none of those things.
With a few exceptions (and, unfortunately, Jeter was one of those), the offensive production has shrunk to a feeble level. Throughout the season, the Yankee offense lived and died with the home run, and that's happening again, to no one's surprise, but now they can't even score a run unless Ibanez or Ichiro Suzuki have a miracle at bat. With Jeter, the postseason was the same as the regular season -- he didn't squeeze sawdust from his bat, he didn't dump undue pressure into his own lap -- he was the same old Jeter, whether it be April or October. And he never tries to do too much. Just a single to right field here and a ground ball up the middle there. Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher, Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson and on down the line, players are succumbing to the pressure of the moment.
Are they making up for their lack of production in other areas of the game? No. Jeter's habit of running hard at all times has never rubbed off on the majority of his teammates. Cano, A-Rod and Swisher can rarely be bothered to lower themselves to run hard. They watch Jeter play every day, but they certainly don't emulate him. Cano gets called out on a bang-bang play that the umpire may have gotten wrong? Well, if he ran hard out of the box, there wouldn't have been such a close play. Swisher lucked into a hit in Game 2, when Omar Infante made a diving stop but couldn't get a grip on the ball. Swisher lollygagged down the baseline the whole way -- in the playoffs, with his team's season on the line, for Pete's sake. A-Rod stands and admires every ball he puts in play (which isn't that often nowadays). (To be fair, this is a league-wide generational problem -- even Chipper Jones, in his last-ever career at bat, in the last inning of a do-or-die playoff game for his team, couldn't be bothered to run hard to first.)
Excuses, focus and distractions? A-rod was reportedly trying to pick up a couple of women during the game on Saturday (he wasn't playing at the time, though), Joe Girardi made a grandiose speech about instant replay when he should be attempting to get his players to, you know, run hard and try. And his players have been moaning about the abuse they've been taking from their own fans.
"It hurts. Sometimes I'm a sensitive guy and some of the things people say, they get under your skin a little bit," said Swisher.
And A-Rod wants to get out of Dodge: "Maybe a change of scenery will be good, a little refresher for our team."
Even Yankee fans are starting to dislike the Yankees. The opposition has noticed, as well, as Tigers outfielder Quintin Berry said, "This is a very easy place to play now. Coming from Oakland, the fans there were so rowdy. It was easier to come here."
It's been one long boo-fest at Yankee Stadium this October, but that's what the organization gets for charging fans a million dollars just to watch them play, doling out $200 million in payroll and demanding the team win the World Series every year. There's no joy anywhere in the Bronx (except after a Raul Ibanez home run, that is), no joy in the process of the roller-coaster ride of the postseason.
The Yankees' task doesn't get easier, having to face Justin Verlander in Game 3, but if they acted a little more Derek Jeter-like -- block out the distractions, don't crumble in the moment, put in a little extra effort now and then -- they'll at least give themselves a shot at turning the series around.