You might think that A.J. Burnett would be the big story after Monday night's 8-6 loss to the Blue Jays. After all, it was Burnett who gave up five doubles and a home run during the seven-run fifth inning that changed the game. Your thought would be wrong, though.
Perhaps the columnists and editors of our local dailies don't think there's a compelling hook to the Burnett story or perhaps they think there's nothing new to say about a guy who never looks like the same pitcher in two consecutive starts. It's gotta be the first because their coverage of the game proves that having nothing new to say is no obstacle in this town.
Both the Post and the Daily News chose Alex Rodriguez for their back pages on Tuesday morning, fingering the third baseman as the true culprit for Monday's loss. He was 0-for-5 with a couple of strikeouts but even if you wanted to avoid Burnett, A-Rod is an odd choice. Derek Jeter didn't get a hit in either of his at-bats with runners in scoring position, including a groundout to end the sixth with two runners on base.
Your argument is that it is about more than one game and A-Rod's slump has helped contribute to the recent run that's knocked the Yankees off their sole perch atop the AL East. There's no doubt that it has and there's no way to shine a 326 OPS over the last seven days. He's not the only one in a bad way, though. Jeter has four hits in his last 20 at-bats, Mark Teixeira is four for his last 29 and Curtis Granderson's little hot streak appears to be over as quickly as it began. That's a lot of slumping players for one lineup.
So why A-Rod as the root of all evil? None of those other guys are waiting to hit a 600th home run and that quest is clearly serving as a distraction to the entire Yankee team. It makes for nice copy because it plays into the old theme that A-Rod is about the singular accomplishment while "true" Yankees are all about winning. You could sense some uneasiness in the playoffs last year when Rodriguez played hero instead of goat. It's payback time.
Rodriguez is obviously pressing right now. He looks uncomfortable, his swing looks bad and that's bad. But it isn't A-Rod that's turned this quest into a matter of life and deat. It is Major League Baseball that instituted the increasingly ridiculous practice of changing balls for A-Rod at-bats and it is the YES hype machine led by Michael Kay that turns his every trip to the plate into something on the level of McArthur returning to the Phillipines. And it isn't A-Rod that caused Burnett to pitch exactly like the Burnett we've been watching for two years now.
A-Rod has served as a distraction, but only to people looking for the real reasons why the Yankees have lost games this week.