When Derek Jeter hit the ground in obvious, severe pain in Game 1 of the ALDS, I was trying to think if I could recall his backup before the broadcast.
I came up with two guesses, both of which were in the past: Eduardo Nunez (Jeter's backup the previous two seasons) and Alberto Gonzalez (2008). The answer then emerged from the dugout in the form of Jayson Nix. Which made me groan for some reason.
The sight of Nix is not an inspiring one, as White Sox fans know. He hit .214/.301/.382 over 347 plate appearances with the Sox, and his OPS (and its components) are nearly identical with the Yankees this season. Offensively, he was best known for his ability to rip some hellacious foul balls into the stands. You'd see him do it a few times and think, "This guy's got some bat speed!" And then you over a month or two, you realize hard foul balls were his thing.
Moreover, I didn't recognize him as a shortstop. He committed six errors in 15 games playing short for the Sox in 2009, and he wasn't that much better at second or third, either. He looked like he should have been decent, but he wasn't.
But it's not that weird or bad that a guy like Nix ended up thrust into this situation. It's just unfortunate for anybody invested in it. Sure, the Yankees can clearly afford a better option, but any utility infielder who is good enough to be an adequate short-term starter wouldn't choose to spend a season behind Jeter (159 games played in 2012) and Robinson Cano (161). That job is designed for guys who are trying to get a foothold on a 25-man roster, or keep one.
Nix, who has played for four teams over the last three years, falls into the latter category. And now he's fallen into a situation where he has to replace the rare Yankee who didn't forget how to hit this month. TBS analyst Ron Darling gave it a more dramatic phrasing, saying Yankees need Nix to give them the two best weeks of his career. Flashes in the pan don't come on demand.
The Yankees called up Nunez (I was kinda right!) to replace Jeter on the roster, and the roster situation leads to sentences like these:
Nunez, a backup infielder who hits better than Nix but is not as sure-handed in the field
Even the teams with deep pockets have to scramble when their primary options fail.
And there's a lot of failure.
Jeter, who hit .333 over the first six games of the postseason, was one of two consistent sources of offense for the Yankees. The other is Raul Ibanez, who is 3-for-7 with a double, homer and two of the four Yankees' RBI.
His other hit was a single -- a base hit leading off the bottom of the fourth in Game 2.
At that point, it was a scoreless game. The Yankees hadn't broken through against Anibal Sanchez, just like they failed to score on Doug Fister.
So Girardi, pressed to "make something happen," sent Ibanez on a hit-and-run with Russell Martin. Sanchez threw a breaking ball well low and away, and Martin didn't come close to putting the bat on it. Alex Avila picked the ball cleanly and threw out Ibanez by a clear margin at second.
Sox fans have seen that move before, too.
Here's another problem we are intimately familar with: disappointing attendance.
The Yankees failed to sell out either of the first two games of the ALCS, and enough quality seats were empty that management felt compelled to relocate fans to improve the aesthetics for TV.
Yankees President Randy Levine blamed the secondary market, but empty seats have been a problem throughout the new stadium's existence. I went to about a half-dozen games at the old Yankee Stadium, and a few at the new park, and the class divide is shoved in your face now. It's strange and off-putting to sit in a crowded upper deck and see the sections closest to the action at half-capacity.
It is surprising to see swaths of unsold tickets in the playoffs, but one of the chief causes -- fans assuming they couldn't afford it, and not pursuing it further -- is well-founded and firmly rooted. CSN Bay Area's Ray Ratto delighted in slamming the Yankees while praising the rabid playoff crowds in Oakland, and a lot of what Ratto writes can be applied to the relationship between White Sox fans and the people who scold them for not showing up to U.S. Cellular Field:
And it isn’t [the A's fans'] fault that they didn’t come before the end of the season. It is never the customer’s job to support the entrepreneur, and never has been. It is the job of the entrepreneur to attract the customer. It has always been so, and anyone who believes the inverse is, well, an idiot.
This brings up one other thing which typically gets forgotten in all the talk of ballparks and land deals and moving things to different placed. When you change location and you change pricing, you change your fan base. The Giants’ fan base now is radically different than the one they had in 1999, and they did it by design. That’s another part of the A’s San Jose plan. They know moving will be changing their fan base, decided it is worth it to do so, and the fan base they have now knows it and rightfully resents it.
The Yankees fans who showed up to the park haven't seen much worth cheering. They've had far more occasions to boo, and one of their targets is none other than Nick Swisher.
Swisher is 4-for-26 this October, but his problems run deeper than 2012. He's a .167 hitter over 45 postseason games, and, incredibly, he's somehow 1-for-33 with runners in scoring position. Fans are tired of waiting for him, and they're letting him know.
Swisher hears it, and it wounds him:
"It hurts. Sometimes I’m a sensitive guy and some of the things people say, they get under your skin a little bit."
There's more. There's a lot more. He just keeps talking. But I'll just give you this one:
"I’m one of those guys that if you give me a hug, I’ll run through a brick wall for you, man. It just seems right now like there’s just a lot of... I’m trying to find a way to word this the right way. . . . It’s tough. It’s really tough. You want to go out and play for your city, play for your team. Right now, it’s just really tough."
We've rehashed the problem with the Swisher trades once or twice here. The Sox were mostly at fault for that debacle, either for failing to foresee how a camera-loving goofball might not mesh with the White Sox clubhouse, or failing to bridge the gap afterward.
But Swisher didn't cover himself in glory either, because when somebody held him accountable for his poor play that season, Bro-ham powered off and sulked the rest of the year. That time, it came in the form of Ozzie Guillen benching him. Now, it's boos from the Bleacher Creatures.
This isn't nearly enough to justify the colossal loss of value suffered in those trades, but his inability to shrug off adversity might not just be a Chicago problem. There's just far less adversity for a secondary player on a superstar-laden team. At least until this month.