Bad Calls Only Go So Far To Explain Yankees' Malaise

October Without Jeter And Mo Looks Very Gloomy

NEW YORK

— Early Sunday, Derek Jeter broke his ankle near second base and he screamed in pain. Later Sunday, umpire Jeff Nelson broke open the game with a botched call at that base and New York screamed in disgust.

But, oh man, the Yankees continue to break their hearts with their own bats, and that's a reason for the screams and echo of Yankee Stadium boos to continue deep into the winter.

When this disheartening day was over, with the Yankees in trouble and looking smack at Justin Verlander, Joe Girardi made an impassioned plea for the extended use of replay.

"It's got to change," Girardi said after the Tigers stifled his Yankees 3-0 to take a 2-0 ALCS lead heading to Detroit. "There's too much at stake."

The Yankees manager, who would mark his 48th birthday by getting ejected by the same umpire who missed the call during a two-run Detroit eighth, is correct with his replay argument. There is too much technology to waste on the "human element." The umpires are under too much pressure, and there's too much at stake to get it wrong. And with a bad call at first base going against Robinson Cano in Game 1, too, Girardi could be forgiven if he felt twice victimized by the naked eye in less than 24 hours.

Yet there also is no way Girardi would want to watch the replay of this lost weekend.

It's got to change? There's too much at stake? Girardi could be talking about the hitters in the most expensive lineup in baseball. Right now, folks, there aren't enough candles in all of New York's churches to light for Cano, A-Rod, Grandy Man and Swishnotdelicious.

"It's frustrating," Girardi said. "They are not going to put it on a tee for us. We know that. We know what they are doing to us. We have to make adjustments."

The Yankees and their fans are hurting right now. Girardi, who will attend his dad's funeral Monday, is feeling a deeper pain. These are not easy hours for the proudest franchise in sports.

It felt so wrong when Mariano Rivera went down in Kansas City in May. It felt even more wrong when Jeter went to field a ground ball in the 12th inning of Game 1 shortly before 1 a.m. Sunday and fell to the dirt with a fractured left ankle. The way Jeter desperately tried to scoop the ball to Cano for a forceout, the way he told trainer Steve Donohue and Girardi not to carry him off, to let him hobble on one foot, man, it was sad. Even Red Sox fans have to agree.

Jeter and Mariano were never going to get old. They are going to play forever. Girardi was talking how everybody had been asking about Jeter's previous ankle problems — one that Girardi acknowledged needed a cortisone injection and may have played a role in the fracture. And how Jeter would say, "I'm great! Let's go!" No complaints. No excuses. Yet just like that, the Yankee October is without the Captain and the greatest closer in baseball history. Yes, these are emotional hours.

So it's understandable that Girardi would use his postgame press conference to lobby for replay. And it was good that Girardi did not attack Nelson's effort. Nelson hustled to get in position. When Omar Infante tried to dive back into second base after Austin Jackson's single to right field, Cano initially missed Infante with the tag. Nelson thought Infante got his hand back on the bag before Cano tagged him in the chest. He thought wrong.

Nelson admitted he blew the call. So did former Yankees manager Joe Torre, now an executive vice president with MLB.

"You want everything to be perfect," said Torre, ever the sage. "And it's not perfect. It's frustrating. Players, managers, umpires, they are all human."

Where the hard argument comes in, where the really hard feelings enter, is when Girardi starts talking how they lost Game 1. And how the missed call Sunday led to two more runs and how it's different for a reliever when his team is ahead by three runs.

"I'm not saying we would have if Robby is safe, but I like to take my chances," Girardi said. "I'm not saying we win this game either, but it's easier for a reliever to relax when it's 3-0 than 1-0."

It's with those "buts" that Girardi leaves out bigger culprits than the umpires or lack of replay. The biggest culprits are his guys with their bats. The Yankees didn't score a freaking run. Speaking of buts, maybe the best metaphor for the Yankees' problems came in the seventh when Mark Teixeira reached into the stands to catch Delmon Young's popup and a fan in an A-Rod shirt got in the way. When the guy bent over to get the ball, he displayed a premier plumber's crack.

Figures an A-Rod fan would get in the way.

But let's start with Cano. He is the Yankees' best player, right? Well, the best player is permitted to step up and do something. Cano ended the regular season on the kind of tear that can only be described this way: slow-pitch softball. He finished 24-for-39. That's .615 over nine multihit games. He was hitting everything. They started the postseason, and he has hit nothing.

It's hard to believe he's the same guy.

"Yes, it is," Girardi said.

And?

"It's odd," Girardi said.

Cano went 0-for-4, and his 0-for-26 streak is the longest in baseball history for one postseason. When he bounced out to first base in the eighth, he got a full belly of Bronx boos.

Those boos would have been mild compared to what A-Rod would have heard had he struck out to end the game. Fortunately for A-Rod, Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who made the decision to pull struggling Jose Valverde temporarily as his closer, left Phil Coke in to work the ninth. A-Rod can still hit lefties, and he lined a single. Still, Leyland got exactly what he wanted. Coke struck one red-hot Raul Ibanez to open the ninth and embarrassed Curtis Granderson to end the game. A-Rod still doesn't have a hit off a righthander in the playoffs.

Granderson struck out three times; he's 3-for-26, .115.

Cano is 2-for-32, .071.

Nick Swisher got an infield hit to raised his average to .154 [4-for-26].

A-Rod's hit lifted him to .130 [3-for-23] and the questions afterward were about the positives Girardi saw. How about this? How about A-Rod, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, standing up and saying, "Enough is enough! I will fill the void of Jeter's leadership! I'll be the man!" Couldn't Jeter's absence inspire A-Rod?

"That thought crossed my mind," Girardi said.

And this crossed my mind. Before he buckled in agony at second base, Jeter had played 158 consecutive postseason games dating to 1996. High school seniors have lived their entire lives knowing October as Mr. Jeter's month. In their first game without him, the Yankees did not score a run, and the umpire was a bum. It is an empty, empty feeling.

CHICAGO