- Last Updated: 10:53 AM, September 24, 2012
- Posted: 12:50 AM, September 24, 2012
Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” blasted on the Yankees’ sound system late yesterday afternoon, and you saw where this was going: We’re gonna be fine, one close loss can’t slow us down, we’ve come this far ...
“Wrong song!” Joba Chamberlain shouted.
Oops. The Yankees intended to play the “Star Wars” theme, to jazz up the annual rookie hazing ritual with Cody Eppley (Luke Skywalker), Melky Mesa (Darth Vader) and David Phelps (Princess Leia) dressed in costume on their trip to Minneapolis.
So the Yankees didn’t quite appear devastated following their 5-4 defeat to Oakland at Yankee Stadium, and they needed no pick-me-up. Thanks to the magical Orioles actually losing a game, 2-1 to the Red Sox, Joe Girardi’s group left town still occupying the American League East penthouse, a game ahead of Baltimore.
The season comes down to just 10 games now, and while the Yankees have long awoken from that six-week slumber that saw their 10-game divisional lead shrink to zero, yesterday’s loss — their first in eight games, second in 11 and fifth in 17 — highlighted some concerns for the rest of the way. Let’s address them here:
1. Eduardo Nunez. He’s the unsure-handed elephant in the clubhouse. In the top of the sixth inning, with the game tied at 4-4, Nunez went well to his left to grab Josh Donaldson’s hard grounder, spun and threw wildly to first base, the ball hitting the photographer’s well. The umpires awarded Donaldson second base for a two-base error, and Cliff Pennington drove home Donaldson for what proved to be the winning run.
“It was a bad throw,” Nunez said.
Nunez made a second error in the seventh when he bobbled Yoenis Cespedes’ grounder that the Yankees shook off; the Yankees recovered from that one. The Yankees are 5-2 in Nunez’s starts at shortstop this month, so let’s not say he’s killing him there, as Derek Jeter’s bone bruise in his left ankle forces him to start often at designated hitter. Shoot, Jeter wouldn’t have reached Donaldson’s shot in the first place.
Nevertheless, the Yankees have to ask himself themselves whether they’re better off starting the more reliable Jayson Nix at shortstop when Jeter can’t play there. It isn’t as if Nunez is dominating offensively; he has a .226 on-base percentage and .345 slugging percentage this month.
“Those are decisions that we have to make. But I like what the kid does,” Girardi said. “He gives us some excitement out there.”
Enough excitement — and results, on both sides of the field — to justify the risk on defense? Let him DH when Jeter is able to play defense, and otherwise, save him for a good pinch-running spot.
2. Hiroki Kuroda. He fell behind, 3-0, and when the Yankees scored four in the fourth, he gave the lead right back in the top of the fifth. In four September starts, Kuroda has a 5.63 ERA. Whether it’s fatigue or something else, he has not been the frontline starter the Yankees saw for much of the season.
“The thing is, he’s keeping us in the game,” Girardi said. “That’s the bottom line.”
Accurate statement, yet the Yankees sure could use a return of the guy they saw from June through August.
3. Clutch hitting. New York State law mandates that at least 50 percent of newspaper columns about the Yankees mention their difficulties with runners in scoring position, so here you go. Yesterday, they went 2-for-9, with the most glaring failure occurring when Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson both struck out to extinguish a first-and-second, one-out rally in the fifth.
“Today, we had some chances,” Girardi said. “We just weren’t able to come through.”
The Orioles’ loss made this easier to stomach, Jeter sort of admitted. After all, it allows him to still say this: “We’d like for everyone behind us to lose every day, but we don’t need that to happen, because we control what happens.”
The next 10 days figure to be thrilling, the resolution to be determined. The Yankees don’t need any accompanying music to realize that.Follow @NYPostsports