Thanks to Raul Ibanez and his two home runs, the New York Yankees staged an amazing comeback in Game 3 of their ALDS with the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday night (Oct. 10).
Somewhat lost in the immediate celebration and morning afterglow of the Yankees' rally and taking a 2-1 series lead is that the Yanks still have at least one more game to play in this ALDS and might have to do so without shortstop Derek Jeter.
Jeter had to leave Wednesday's game due to a bone bruise on the top of his left foot. He suffered the injury after fouling a ball off the foot in the first inning. Jeter's foot was already hurting because of a different bone bruise back in September.
The two injuries to the foot made it too difficult for Jeter to keep playing. As the Star-Ledger's Andy McCullough described, Jeter demonstrated how hurt he was by the way he limped into third base on his third-inning triple, along with his difficulty in attempting to turn a double play in the fourth inning.
Even if you think Jeter's role as Yankees captain and postseason hero is overblown, coming out of a playoff game with his team trailing 2-1 in the eighth inning and a series lead on the line indicates how disabling the injury was for him.
If Jeter couldn't finish Game 3, can the Yankees expect him to play in Game 4?
As you would surely expect, Jeter insists he'll be in the lineup Thursday night.
“I will play,” Jeter said to reporters after the game, including the New York Daily News' Anthony McCarron. “I’ll be all right. It won’t be a big deal.”
With a full night and day of treatment on that injured left foot, along with whatever painkillers, braces and athletic tape might be necessary, perhaps he will be able to take his usual spot at the top of the Yankees batting order and man the shortstop position.
But if Jeter isn't at full strength—which he almost certainly isn't—how much will he be able to help the Yankees? In his postgame remarks, manager Joe Girardi voiced the questions that the team, reporters, analysts and fans all had regarding Jeter and his ability to play in Game 4.
"Is he a (designated hitter) for me tomorrow?" Girardi asked reporters, as quoted by the Star-Ledger's McCullough. “Does his foot feel good enough to play shortstop? Does his foot feel good enough to play at all? I’m going to have to wait until tomorrow."
Batting Jeter at designated hitter doesn't appear to be an option. It's not that Jeter can't hit. He's 6-for-13 (.462) in the first three games of the ALDS. Obviously, he can still swing the bat effectively, get on base for the middle-of-the-lineup sluggers and drive in runs.
The initial impulse is to ask where Joe Girardi plays Ibanez if Jeter is the DH. Don't the Yankees have to put Ibanez in the starting lineup after his Game 3 heroics and the way he's currently swinging the bat?
However, the Orioles might have let Girardi off the hook for that decision by naming left-hander Joe Saunders their starter for Game 4. Ibanez isn't going to start against a lefty—though he did hit his walk-off homer off the left-handed Brian Matusz. Girardi is surely going to save him for pinch-hitting opportunities later in the ballgame.
So Girardi could play Jeter at DH against the left-handed Saunders, rather than start him at shortstop. But is a hobbled Jeter at shortstop still better than Jayson Nix or Eduardo Nunez?
The information is limited due to the fact that neither player saw much time at shortstop this season, but according to FanGraphs's Ultimate Zone Rating, Nix wasn't very good at the position this year. He gave up two runs more than the average shortstop would have.
Nunez wasn't much better, allowing one more run than a replacement-level player.
But the Yankees obviously think Nix is a better option at shortstop, given that he replaced Jeter late in Game 3, rather than Nunez. As Dave D'Alessandro of the Star-Ledger wrote, the Yankees don't have much confidence in Nunez at shortstop, though there's some thought he could be the team's shortstop in the future.
Committing 18 errors in 63 games at the position—and 28 errors overall in his three seasons—has created plenty of doubt.
Faced with those options, Jeter looks like a far better option for the Yankees—even on one healthy foot.
The surprise would be if Jeter didn't start at shortstop in Game 4. He will surely want to give the left foot a try in the field, and Girardi probably wants to know how the injury responds as well. Unless pregame workouts and warm-ups make it clear that Jeter just can't play, he should be at his usual position Thursday night.
And if you thought you were weary of all the praise heaped on Jeter before, wait until he guts out a full game at shortstop or knocks out two hits—maybe even after fouling another ball off that left foot—to help the Yankees to a series win over the Orioles.
Or if the Yankees lose, expect the inevitable speculation as to how much the team needs Jeter and how much it misses his leadership and grit on the field.
Jeter's legend can only grow from here. Hopefully, that sore foot can carry the weight.
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