Posada drama distracts from real issue

NEW YORK -- Jorge Posada did his team a favor, a big one, long before he walked into his manager's office Sunday and manned up to his not-so-venial game-day sin.

Posada had starred in his own unscripted drama on national TV, all but jumping up and down and waving his arms in rodeo clown form, diverting the snorting bull's attention from the battered rider flopping about in the dirt.

The New York Yankees were that downed and dirtied cowboy. Posada made himself the story by staging a sit-in when his former teammate and playing-time rival, Joe Girardi, decided that the fourth Beatle -- the Ringo Starr to Derek Jeter's Paul, Mariano Rivera's John, and Andy Pettitte's George -- needed to hit ninth with a batting average (.165) that actually suggested he should be hitting 10th.

The ensuing debate turned the city upside down, at least until Posada did the dignified thing before the series finale against the Boston Red Sox and apologized to Girardi, Brian Cashman and every other authority figure who felt wronged by the worst decision of the unmasked catcher's otherwise distinguished baseball life.

But a funny thing happened after Posada took two for the team. With Girardi and Cashman and a house full of hopeful fans in the Bronx relieved that Posada didn't carry this staredown into another day, everyone was liberated to focus on this more relevant fact:

The Yankees stink.

They don't catch the ball, they don't hit it and they don't pitch it out of the bullpen, either. Rivera is still Rivera, but "Enter Sandman" didn't sound so ominous Sunday night when Rivera entered the arena with the Red Sox holding a 7-5 lead.

This morning, the Yankees own one more victory than the New York Mets. That's right, one more victory than the Mets.

The Yanks are getting no pop from the corner outfield spots. They come across as slow, old and athletically challenged at too many positions in the field.

Their eighth-inning guy, Rafael Soriano, is making a genius of Cashman, the executive who didn't want him, and appears to be auditioning for Carl Pavano's role in "American Idle." The overstuffed Joba Chamberlain, a phenom in a different life, still has that remarkable talent for throwing the wrong pitch at the wrong time.

For his fifth consecutive loss, Girardi posted a lineup that didn't include a single batter hitting at least .300. Curtis Granderson is left to carry the offense, never a good thing for a franchise with the annual mission statement of winning it all.

"We've got to play better," said Alex Rodriguez, he of the .250 batting average and the Little League error in the seventh that allowed Dustin Pedroia to score.

"I was just trying to be overambitious," A-Rod explained, meaning that he wanted the inning-ending double play rather than the sure thing that trickled past his heavy glove and into the outfield grass.

Jeter, a resurgent terminator in Texas last weekend, suddenly devolved back into the ground-ball machine he'd been, helping the Red Sox finish off the sweep and allowing them to find some measure of solace in a .500 record at last.

The Yankees are in trouble -- deep, deep trouble -- as they prepare to face the first-place Tampa Bay Rays and an ace, David Price, who is "licking his chops waiting for us," A-Rod confirmed.

Hey, who wouldn't want a piece of these sorry Yankees now?

"It seems like when things are going bad," Girardi said, "it goes bad."

On the losing side Sunday night, the two most uplifting moments involved Posada, the prodigal son come home. The second-string DH waved from the dugout to acknowledge the honorary roll call from the right-field fans in the first, and then received a standing ovation when he pinch-hit for Andruw Jones in the eighth, a reception he honored by grinding out a walk.

Only the Yankees needed much more than a workmanlike at-bat straight out of their dynastic past. They needed a Roy Hobbs moment, a ball crashing into the high Stadium lights, something, anything, to rouse the home team from its alarming slumber.

Posada's walk was followed by a benign fly ball from Russell Martin, a pop-up from Brett Gardner and another meek grounder to second from Jeter. The Yanks went just as quietly in the ninth, and suddenly they were left to wonder if Posada's one-day apology tour was such a good idea after all.

When the disgruntled DH was busy causing a fuss, the conversation centered around the value of a declining star approaching his 40th birthday and the difficulties Cashman and Girardi face in finding dignified endgames for the last of Joe Torre's guys.

But once Posada faced an advancing army of reporters at his locker, revealed he'd apologized to Girardi and planned to do the same to Cashman, and admitted, "I had a bad day," the story died a quick and relatively painless death.

The apology was accepted, and Cashman and the ruling Steinbrenners decided no punishment was warranted. The GM called Posada "a great Yankee, a world-class champion" and spoke of wanting to "get the focus back on taking care of the opponents instead of fighting each other."

Problem is, the opponents keep taking care of the Yankees. The Posada problem provided nothing more than temporary shelter from the gathering big-picture storm.

In the standings, and on the field, the Yankees don't look like champions in the making any more than the Mets do.

Ian O'Connor is the author of "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter."