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Senior Baseball Columnist

Listless Yankees swing and miss their way to edge of elimination

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Before his single in the ninth, Robinson Cano was mired in a 0-for-29 postseason rut. (US Presswire)  
Before his single in the ninth, Robinson Cano was mired in a 0-for-29 postseason rut. (US Presswire)  

DETROIT -- Hey, whatever your names are in the visiting dugout ... Majestic called. The Yankees, too. They want their uniforms back.

This team wearing "New York" across its chest is unrecognizable. The situation has deteriorated from somewhat amusing to downright mystifying to five-alarm fire, quick, someone phone 9-1-1.

The Bronx is burning. The Yankees are one CC Sabathia loss from signing off for the winter. They are one more Hitless Wonders Night away from being swept right out of the AL Championship Series by the Tigers.

As a ninth-inning rally fizzled in Tuesday's 2-1 Game 3 loss here, Alex Rodriguez was rotting on the bench, manager Joe Girardi was electing to go against what he's done all season by allowing Raul Ibanez to face a lefty with two on and two out in the ninth, Curtis Granderson looked even more lost than the day before and three of the nine Yankees were batting .000 in this series.

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Which was down from earlier in the evening, when five of the nine Yankees in the starting lineup dragged the scarlet .000 behind their name.

Maybe the best stab at an explanation for what mostly is a thoroughly inexplicable situation was offered by Mark Teixeira.

"It's tough to work on things in the playoffs," Teixeira said. "During the regular season as a pitcher or as a hitter you can say, 'I'm going to do this tonight while working for tomorrow."

But there is no working for tomorrow in October. There is no sacrificing tonight while tweaking a swing, safe in the knowledge that tonight's oh-fer could be tomorrow's four-hit slump-buster.

So what happens is, Robinson Cano roars along at 24 for 39 over the final nine games of the regular season, then falls off the cliff into an 0 for 29 stretch in the postseason, the longest hitless postseason streak in Yankees history. And Curtis Granderson, whose name you will also find on some AL MVP ballots this season, looks up Tuesday in Detroit and finds himself dropped to eighth in the order.

What a coincidence that this is the same place and same time of year that Joe Torre dropped A-Rod to the same slot in the order, eighth, in 2006. Maybe it's something about Detroit.

Even eighth surely would have looked appealing to A-Rod from his perch on the bench in Game 3. In another achingly dramatic chapter of This Is Your Life, Alex Rodriguez, Girardi bypassed the $275-million man with the tying run on second and the go-ahead run on first in the ninth inning because he preferred Ibanez vs. a lefty than A-Rod vs. right-handed set-up man Joaquin Benoit.

Ibanez batted .197 with zero homers and 13 strikeouts over 65 plate appearances against lefties during the regular season. But there he was against Phil Coke with the game on the line because Girardi knew that if he sent A-Rod to the plate, Tigers manager Jim Leyland would summon Benoit.

And as bad as Ibanez's numbers against lefties were, Rodriguez is 0 for his last 18 against righties with 12 strikeouts.

So the decision ... turned out to not even be a decision.

Someone asked Girardi whether he considered batting Rodriguez, or another righty, for Ibanez.

"Well, they were going to bring in Benoit," Girardi explained.

So clearly, he liked the Ibanez vs. Coke match-up better.

"Ibanez has been one of our best hitters down the stretch here," the manager said, and that was that.

Girardi at this point is a security guard who has plumb run out of weapons. The Tigers are storming the palace, and he's firing blanks. When Phil Hughes left in the fourth with a sore back, he used five pitchers over the final six innings. Including, lefty specialist Boone Logan for 25 pitches.

But they got the job done, holding the Tigers to one run after Hughes had surrendered a laser into the left-field seats to Delmon Young. Pitching, as has been the theme of the Yankees' postseason, has been the least of their problems.

With Eric Chavez starting at third and Eduardo Nunez at short, the left side of the Yankees' lineup is like nothing we've seen since they resumed their role as October regulars back in 1995. When Nunez stunned everyone by jacking a ninth-inning homer against Justin Verlander, the New York Post's Ken Davidoff noted that the last Yankees shortstop not named Derek Jeter to homer in the postseason was Jim Mason, in Game 3 of the 1976 World Series.

Meantime, over at second base, Cano finally ended his 0 for 29 with a ninth-inning single that at least kept the rally flickering. Exactly how he can fall into a 3-for-35 skid in the postseason is dazzlingly stupefying, because Cano has MVP skills and a box-seats swing.

He sounds as confused as the rest of us.

"I never was thinking about 0 for 25, or 0 for 30, or whatever it is," Cano said. "I try to forget about what happened."

And concentrate on what still can happen.

"The feeling is the same," Cano said. "Be positive. Be ready for tomorrow. It's not over yet."

Technically, no. And that pretty much was the message from every Yankee making his way through a clubhouse stuffed with reporters and missed expectations. But so many of them looked like they needed to stand in line behind Nick Swisher for hugs.

"Everybody in here wants to win," Teixeira said. "That's the one common thread everybody in here has. Sometimes, you want it so bad, you try too hard.

"Sometimes, this is a game better to play without caring, and almost stupid."

If the Yankees dared take that strategy into Game 4, things couldn't turn out worse. Jeter, Hughes ... catcher Russell Martin is nursing a badly bruised thumb, too.

And Granderson. Rarely does a player melt away as he is. Not only is he now 0 for 10 with six strikeouts in this ALCS, he was completely gobbled up by Miguel Cabrera's RBI double in the fifth -- the play that gave the Tigers their second and, as it turned out, deciding run.

Not that Granderson necessarily should have caught it. But it was a play Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson, acquired from the Yankees in the Granderson deal, almost certainly would have made.

Defense, another skill that's deserted these Yanks.

"I felt like I had a read on it, but it kept going away from me," Granderson said. "Prior to that, I was talking with [left fielder Brett] Gardner about the wind. But that ball stayed down."

This must be what the last days of the Roman Empire looked like. Without Jeter and closer Mariano Rivera, and with so many hitters scuffling at the plate, you can't even say this is a shell of the old Yankees. Because a shell of the Yankees as we know them would be more competitive than this.

These guys are hitting .182 as a team in this ALCS. Tigers pitchers have shut them out in 28 of their past 30 innings.

They have all the earmarks of a beaten team. By late Wednesday night, they could be an eliminated team.

Maybe it's simply being politically correct, or maybe it's the truth, but the best thing anyone could say about them came from Detroit catcher Alex Avila.

No, Avila said, he has not sensed any sort of frustration as one Yankee hitter after another steps up looking for redemption at the plate.

"No," Avila said firmly. "They're the Yankees. There's no panic there. Cano looks the same. He looks like he's playing Wiffle ball in the backyard. That's how you've got to do it.

"It looks like they're up for a regular-season game. When I look at them, I don't care if they're struggling. I see home runs and batting averages and RBIs.

"You've got to attack them as if they're hitting."

And maybe that's part of the reason, too, that they aren't.

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