The ends nears for the Yankees' core
One by one, they've started to disappear.
Bernie Williams was the first to go, then Andy Pettitte vanished after last season. Now just three of the New York Yankees' old guard remain in the oval clubhouse of the team's billion-dollar palace. And with Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada struggling, and Mariano Rivera nearing age 42, the end is coming for the generation that restored the pinstripes to prominence.
''It's sad, because you'd always like those things to last forever. They were part of something very unique,'' former New York manager Joe Torre said. ''I remember Jimmy Leyland said, 'This stuff will never be done again.'''
Jeter, the successor to Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra as a symbol of Yankees greatness, has been under the greatest scrutiny of his career. A month shy of his 37th birthday, he's lost range at shortstop and his batting average declined from .334 in 2009 to .270 last year. Acrimonious negotiations led to a $51 million, three-year contract that seemed a bit like a 25 percent tip to the $205 million the Yankees already had paid him.
Jeter was hitting just .242 through May 1, and he hadn't homered in 62 games since Aug. 24 before connecting twice last Sunday at Texas.
Posada lost his job behind the plate, relegated to designated hitter this season in the final year of his contract. He's batting .165 entering Saturday, the lowest of the Yankees' regulars, and the switch-hitter is a hard-to-imagine 0-for-24 against left-handed pitchers.
For players accustomed to success, the struggles have been an adjustment. Every time they walk to the plate, they've been reminded of their scuffling in 5 1/2-foot numbers on the huge center field scoreboard at Yankee Stadium.
''As a player, it's embarrassing,'' Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. ''You want to get off that interstate highway and put a number up that starts with a 2.''
Girardi, familiar with slumps from his years as a player, is confident they will rebound and works on trying to keep up their confidence. New teammates look at Jeter and Posada as icons - their lockers flank the entrance to the inner sanctum of the Yankees clubhouse - Posada's to the left and Jeter's to the right.
All the questions made them uncomfortable.
''You encourage yourself that it's just a temporary thing and try to look at everything, the big picture,'' Posada said. ''At times you have to let go, like Joe Girardi said, forget about the 70 at-bats you had, the bad ones, and just look at all the positives you had and the 300 at-bats you're going to get from now on. It's not easy.''
While they've struggled, Rivera remains the standard for closers. With a cutter that acts as a chain saw, he has a 1.53 ERA and a major league-leading 13 saves in 15 chances. As slim and understated as ever, he is the glue that has held the Yankees together through a remarkable run that has included five World Series titles, seven AL pennants, 11 AL East championships and 15 playoff appearances in 16 seasons.
''Rivera is the one that's still lights-out,'' Yankees co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner said. ''They are definitely legends. What they've meant to us and what they still mean to us, is tremendous. It's what they still mean. It's not what they did mean.''
History only gets you so far in the must-win-now world of the pinstripes.
''You still have to perform. What you did in the past, you did in the past,'' Steinbrenner said, sounding much like his late father. Fans, he said, put the same demands on owners that owners place on players: ''It's 'What have you done lately?'''
Jeter's power outage was the most puzzling. He went 259 at-bats without a home run, the first player with 200 home runs to go homerless in that lengthy a span since Rickey Henderson from June 2000 to April 2001, according to STATS LLC. On talk radio and in the newspapers, there were suggestions that it might be time to drop the captain down in the batting order. The mechanics of his swing and his stride have been as much a constant in New York banter as complaints about the taxi drivers and the price of apartments.
''I've talked so much about it,'' Jeter said. ''It's been dissected enough.''
A 13-for-32 spurt during a seven-game hitting streak lifted his average to a .283, his highest since the first week of the season. Girardi held him out for a game during a road trip because of a sore hip, so it's possible he's been playing hurt. The Yankees have repeatedly said Jeter never admits to injuries if he can avoid it.
''Derek was coming under a lot of fire from fans and media,'' Steinbrenner said. ''For him, at least lately, he's been doing well.''
For Posada, who turns 40 in August, this season has brought the biggest adjustment of his career. After he threw out just 10 of 82 runners attempting to steal last year, New York decided his catching days were over.
His batting average hasn't been over .200 since April 7. Proud and wanting to set an example, he seems to be beating himself up inside trying to find a way out of his offensive funk. While his wife and kids try to get him to relax away from the ballpark, on the field he piles the pressure on himself.
''You're thinking about it all time,'' he said. ''DHing, that's what you do. You overthink. You overanalyze everything.''
New York's Fab Five became the Core Four and now is down to the Terrific Trio. Next it will be the Dynamic Duo, and finally a solo act. Like Murderer's Row, this group is passing into history, where their wins will be remembered far more than their struggles.
''They were part of a very special time,'' Torre said. ''These guys carry the message in whatever walk of life they choose to go to next.''