Yankees’ Year Ends in Sweep as Benched Rodriguez Plans to Stay

Yankees’ Year Ends in Sweep as Benched Rodriguez Plans to Stay
Alex Rodriguez, Eduardo Nunez, Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira of the New York Yankees look on from the dugout late in the game against the Detroit Tigers during game four of the ALCS at Comerica Park in Detroit. Photographer: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The New York Yankees’ 2012 season will be remembered for one of the most dismal offensive performances in the postseason history of a franchise that’s won 27 World Series titles.

The Yankees collectively batted .188 in the playoffs and failed to score more than four runs in any of their last eight playoff games, including yesterday’s 8-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers in which they were held to two hits.

The loss capped a season that started with injuries to pitchers Mariano Rivera and Michael Pineda, and ended with Derek Jeter’s broken ankle, the postseason benching of Alex Rodriguez -- baseball’s highest-paid player -- and ultimately, the franchise’s first playoff sweep in 32 years.

“It’s a terrible way for the season to end,” Rodriguez told reporters yesterday at Comerica Field in Detroit. “You’re crushed. You work eight months to get to this point.”

For just the second time in a Major League Baseball playoff series, the Yankees never held a lead in losing all four ALCS games against the Tigers, who return to the World Series for the first time since 2006.

Detroit will play the winner of the National League Championship Series between the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals and the San Francisco Giants. The Cardinals won 8-3 last night to take a three-games-to-one lead in the best-of-seven series.

“If somebody told me we’d sweep the Yankees I would have told you they’re crazy,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “Sometimes you get on a roll.”

The Yankees set a club record this season with 245 home runs, yet almost blew a 10-game division lead before holding on to finish with 95 wins and the best record in the American League for the ninth time since 1998.

Collective Slump

While many of the questions entering this season were about how the Yankees’ pitching staff would hold up, the postseason brought a collective hitting slump.

After taking all five games to get past the Baltimore Orioles in their AL division series, the Yankees were shut out for eight innings in their opening game against the Tigers before rallying for four runs in the ninth inning to force extra innings.

The momentum swung back in favor of Detroit in the 12th inning, when Jeter went down with a broken bone in his left ankle and the Tigers pushed across two runs for the Game 1 win.

Without their All-Star shortstop in the postseason lineup for the first time since 1996, the Yankees were shut out by the Tigers’ pitching staff for the next 17 innings. They were outscored by Detroit 19-6 overall in getting swept out of the playoffs for the first time since 1980.

Hitting Woes

While Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher all struggled -- hitting a combined .110, with 11 hits and 32 strikeouts in 100 postseason at-bats -- it was Rodriguez who became the overpaid symbol of the Yankees’ shortcomings. The team’s $198 million opening day payroll was the highest in the major leagues, while Detroit was fifth at $132 million.

Rodriguez, a three-time AL Most Valuable Player who ranks fifth in MLB history with 647 home runs, went 3-for-25 in the postseason with 12 strikeouts. He was 0-for-19 against right-handed pitchers and was left out of the starting lineup the final two games in favor of Eric Chavez, who last year had considered retiring from baseball and ended up going hitless in 16 at-bats this postseason.

“I don’t want to focus on Alex, it wasn’t just him that didn’t hit,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “If the other guys hit, one guy’s struggles isn’t going to show as much. When you have so many guys struggling and you’re Alex Rodriguez, he’s going to be the one people talk about the most. There were a lot of guys who struggled mightily.”

Rodriguez’s future in New York may now be the biggest question facing the Yankees this offseason.

A-Rod’s Future

“The fundamental question the Yankees have to ask is whether the damage has been done in the clubhouse and whether he’s a detriment to morale,” Wayne McDonnell, an associate professor of sports management at New York University, said in a telephone interview.

Rodriguez, 37, has five years remaining on the 10-year, $275 million contract he signed in December 2007, a deal that included incentives tied to his chase of the career home run record. The contract came after Rodriguez opted out of the final three years of his previous deal.

Although the Yankees maintained they wouldn’t negotiate with Rodriguez as a free agent, Hank Steinbrenner, the oldest son of former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, said at the time that the team had a change of heart when Rodriguez made it clear he wanted to stay in New York. Hank has since been eclipsed as the visible head of the franchise by his younger brother, Hal.

Rodriguez said he isn’t thinking about playing for any team except the Yankees.

‘Extremely Difficult’

“I love New York City and everything about being a Yankee,” Rodriguez said after going 0-for-2 off the bench yesterday. “The highs are very high and the lows are extremely low. There’s no question the last few weeks were extremely difficult, not just on me but all my teammates.”

Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman and Girardi both said Rodriguez isn’t being phased out of the team’s long-term plans, and Cashman said there was no truth to an ESPN report two days ago that Yankees President Randy Levine and Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria talked about Rodriguez playing in Miami. Rodriguez is a Miami native.

While the Yankees would probably have to pay a large portion of Rodriguez’s contract if he was traded, they’ve done it before to rid themselves of an underachieving player.

Trading Burnett

In February, the Yankees dealt pitcher A.J. Burnett to the Pittsburgh Pirates for a pair of minor leaguers and paid about $18 million of the remaining $31.1 million on his deal. Burnett went 16-10 with a 3.51 earned run average in Pittsburgh this season, a year after logging a 5.15 ERA for the Yankees while giving up a career-high 31 homers.

“He can still be a productive ballplayer, but the biggest issue here is do the Yankees just cut their losses, try to work out a trade and eat 75 to 80 percent of the contract,” McDonnell said about Rodriguez. “But that conversation shouldn’t be had for a couple of weeks because it’s just too emotional right now.”

Rodriguez isn’t the only decision facing Cashman and the Yankees. Rivera, Swisher, Andy Pettitte, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, Ichiro Suzuki, Hiroki Kuroda and Chavez are among the players who will become free agents.

“We have a lot of players who are free agents and almost every one of them have contributed in a big way here,” Cashman told reporters. “We always have tough decisions every winter.”

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