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Yankees need to use loss of Jeter as motivation to wake up slumping bats

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Girardi, who helps carry Derek Jeter off the field, says the Yanks 'have to find a way to move on.' (AP)  
Girardi, who helps carry Derek Jeter off the field, says the Yanks 'have to find a way to move on.' (AP)  

NEW YORK -- Everyone in the Yankees world immediately knew something was terribly wrong when Derek Jeter went down to the ground and didn't rise immediately. Jeter, as he was carried off the field, told Yankees people he heard something, and most folks figured the Yankees' realistic World Series hopes were simultaneously swept away.

Then came the news. It was as bad as they suspected. The captain had suffered a fractured left ankle.

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Jeter was surrounded and supported by several of closest Yankee teammates, including Joe Torre and Tino Martinez, when the Yankees doctor broke the word. Knowing Jeter would opt to play through the plague if no one stopped him, doctor Chris Ahmad felt compelled to spell it out for him in the trainer's room. "This is something you can't play through," Ahmad told Jeter.

The question now becomes: Without the captain, can the Yankees play through this? Can they possibly find a way to win their 28th World Series, down 1-0 in the ALCS and without their leader and best clutch player (with apologies to the ultra-hot Raul Ibanez)?

The obvious answer is this: It's not going to be easy. Jeter is one of the greatest postseason players in history. This is, after all, his time. There was emotion in the Yankees clubhouse after the 6-4, 12-inning defeat to the Detroit Tigers, and Girardi's voice cracked a time or two before he found the right words. "I'm sad for him" Girardi said. "But he would tell us, 'Let's go."'

Jeter's injury overwhelmed a game that fit a lot into it, from more unreal Ibanez heroics to another implosion by Tigers closer Jose "Papa Grande" Valverde, to a great pitching performance by Andy Pettitte and an even better one by Tigers starter Doug Fister, to a pair of great plays by Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta to, finally, a Yankee meltdown in Jeter's fateful 12th inning.

Journeyman Jayson Nix will be in for Jeter, who's been battling a bad bone bruise in the very foot for more than a month (general manager Brian Cashman couldn't rule out the possibility this is related to that).

The Yankees 'pen is spent. The worries add up.

Hiroki Kuroda will be starting on just three days rest in for the first time in Sunday's Game 2, followed by a Game 3 matchup against the best pitcher in the game, Justin Verlander. In other words, the Yankees' outlook turned from a coin toss to bleak in the blink of an eye.

"We have to move on. We have to find a way to move on," Girardi said. "Some people left us for dead, and here we are in the ALCS."

Girardi wants the Yankees to look at disaster as an opportunity. It's a tough sell at the moment.

He hopes they can summon thoughts of what they've already done. They overcame a brutally painful year just to get to this point. They have now seen the remaining big three of the Core Four almost wiped out; Mariano Rivera was lost for the year with a torn ACL, while Pettitte returned after suffering a broken foot. Press on, is the message.

There is still a chance, Cashman is here to remind everyone. "Only one team stands between us and the World Series," Cashman said.

The Yankees' GM has his facts right. But it's hard to separate facts from emotion, hope from reality.

The temptation has to be to feel sorry for oneself, to get caught up in the emotion and disappointment of seeing the chances to reach the World Series plummet in one unfortunate New York nanosecond. Jeter took a couple steps to his left on Peralta's grounder to Jeter's left, the foot didn't plant right, and that was it.

"We have to find a way to play through this. Our organization has played through a lot of things," Cashman said. "Listen, we have a lot of great players on this team."

They have a lot of great players playing poorly, too, and that doesn't help. They do have the 40-year-old Ibanez, who's been the savior and sent what was left of the Yankee Stadium crowd into delirium when he hit a two-out, ninth-inning home run that capped a four-run comeback off the beleaguered Valverde. Ibanez's drive pushed the game into extra innings, where it would suddenly turn sour.

"Polar opposite," is how Ibanez described the quick swing of emotion. Reality struck quickly, and the new reality is that beyond the absurdly clutch Ibanez, the steady Mark Teixeira, who's just about over his own calf injury now, and international sensation Ichiro Suzuki, an October champion just waiting for his chance, the rest of the Yankees lineup is suddenly nothing short of a disaster area.

The Yankees might be able to do it without Jeter -- he's looking at three months minimum as a recovery period -- but can they do it without the real Nick Swisher, Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez? Nix will step in to play shortstop for Jeter (though manager Joe Girardi was only prepared late last night to say it wouldn't be the struggling A-Rod). But when will the healthy guys start to play reasonably well? A-Rod received a benching, and at least three of the other Yankees stars might deserve one, too, except Girardi has to write nine names onto his card. "It's time for the other guys to carry the load," Cashman said. "We're capable. This is the way to honor his absence."

To a man, they all said they need to raise their games ("step up" in locker room parlance) to make up for Jeter. But will that be enough? To do any honoring, they are going to need major turnaround on several fronts. Rodriguez, the biggest whipping boy of a crowd that isn't completely there anyway, took another brutal 0-for-3 that made it a 2-for-19 this postseason (with 10 Ks) before being lifted again for pinch-hitter Eric Chavez. So that makes it three times A-Rod's been replaced by a pinch-hitter and one time he didn't start in the last four games.

Rodriguez looks like he's worthy of being sat again, as he's up to 1 for his last 19 with runners in scoring position in postseason play, but Chavez himself is 0-for-11, and can the Yankees survive being without Jeter and A-Rod?

Swisher pitched in a double and is 3 for 23. He's looked that bad, and he didn't help his cause by looking worse on Delmon Young's line double in the fateful 12th inning. He's the second biggest target for a Bronx crowd that vacillated between apathy and anger.

Curtis Granderson's 0-for-4 night made it 3 for 23 this postseason, same as Swisher. And Robinson Cano, who's supposed to be the best player on this team, is 2 for 28, including 0 for his last 22, numbers unbecoming for anyone, but especially someone who had 24 hits in his final 39 at-bats in the regular season.

Beyond the psychological loss they suffered Saturday night, the Yankees simply have to hit much better to have any chance. Perhaps they can transform devastation into motivation, but that's a tricky thing. Even if they all raised their games from how they are performing now, they have a long way to go to give themselves to give themselves any real chance.

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