Posada's shoulder is heart of the matter

ARLINGTON, Texas -- First, the good news: A.J. Burnett's back is fine.

Now, the not-so-good news: Jorge Posada's throwing shoulder is not.

So if you are looking to fret about something in the wake of Tuesday night's 4-3, 10-inning loss to the potential playoff rival Texas Rangers, don't go bothering yourself with the bushel of red herrings this game provided, such as the umpiring, Nick Swisher's non-slide into home, Derek Jeter's rally-killing double play, the mysterious disappearance of David Robertson's knee socks or, the most deceptive one of all, Mariano Rivera's failure to hold the line on one of those rare nights when he reminded us that he is human after all.

Oh, there are other things to worry about, all right, such as Cliff Lee looming for Wednesday's finale of this Texas two-step, and the New York Yankees' inability to do much with C.J. Wilson, who was supposed to be the "easy" lefty in the Rangers' rotation.

Still, there is no more important issue hanging over the final 50 games of this season than the health and durability of the Yankees' aging core, and no player for whom that issue is more crucial than Posada.

Having caught three games in a row over the weekend against Boston and with the psychologically erratic Burnett on the mound, it was hardly a surprise that Posada was not in a starting lineup that was already missing Mark Teixeira (baby leave), Robinson Cano (head cold) and Curtis Granderson (all-around ineffectiveness).

But it certainly raised eyebrows when, in the eighth inning of a game that had just been tied by Alex Rodriguez's laser of a home run to dead center field, the Yankees got a runner to third with one out and Francisco Cervelli was coming to the plate.

Now, the Rangers had been Cerv-ed two innings earlier when Francisco greeted Darren O'Day, who had just come in to relieve Wilson, with an RBI single that gave the Yankees a short-lived 2-1 lead.

But now, with the Rangers having retaken the lead on David Murphy's two-run homer off Burnett in the bottom of the sixth, the situation seemed to be screaming Posada's name, despite his poor numbers (1-for-10, five K's) off Texas reliever Frank Francisco.

In that type of situation, you go to the guys who have done it for you before, and Posada was right there on the bench. But Girardi did not go to him, Cervelli got jammed and pushed a soft liner to first base for the second out. Brett Gardner grounded to short to strand the go-ahead run 90 feet from home plate.

It left you scratching your head. Until Girardi dropped the bomb after the game.

"He told me the throw he made [Monday] irritated his shoulder a little bit," the manager said. "I don't think it's anything serious, but I gotta be careful. When Jorgie tells you something's irritated, it's usually irritated."

Jorgie told the media nothing, because he bolted for the first team bus out of Rangers Ballpark before any reporters got into the locker room.

So until about 4:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday, we'll have to make do with Girardi's assessment of Posada's fitness. "I could have used him in an emergency," said Girardi, a description for which the eighth-inning situation presumably did not qualify.

But considering how injury-riddled Posada's 2010 season has been so far, the real emergency may be going on in his shoulder. Already, he has spent time on the DL with a broken foot, had hamstring problems and missed several games with recurring soreness caused by a cyst behind his left knee.

Plus, he missed nearly the entire 2008 season after having surgery on the very same shoulder. So when Girardi says Posada's shoulder is "a little cranky," you naturally start to wonder exactly how cranky, and for how many games.

Certainly, he wasn't available last night or Girardi would have used him.

But the implications run deeper than that. On a night when he was working with a short bench to begin with -- Teixeira, whose wife, Leigh, gave birth to a boy Tuesday morning, is not expected to rejoin the team before it gets to Kansas City on Thursday -- the absence of Posada's bat definitely put Girardi's team into an offensive bind.

And in a season in which the difference between winning the AL East and settling for the wild card could mean the difference between winning their 28th World Series championship or suffering an early October exit, the absence of Posada for any length of time could prove devastating.

With Tampa Bay winning Tuesday night, the Yankees' lead in the division is down to a scant half-game, and the second-place horse in this race could well wind up with the dangerous Rangers, and two appearance by the dispiriting Lee, over the course of a five-game series.

That is a fate to be avoided at all costs if possible, which is why every other "issue" that arose last night is secondary to the specter of yet another Posada injury.

Yes, Swisher should either have slid or tried to bowl over Bengie Molina on Marcus Thames' fifth-inning single. And yes, the overturning of a questionable call at first with Lance Berkman by home plate umpire Mike Estabrook was a blow, as was Jeter's double play in the ninth. And it's tough to understand why Girardi chose to go to Rivera in the bottom of the 10th of a tie ballgame knowing he would have to use him again in the 11th, something he professes not to like to do, and even tougher to fathom why he chose to have Rivera, who on most nights can handle anyone holding a bat, intentionally walked Nelson Cruz to pitch to Murphy, who had already hit a home run.

Murphy, of course, came through with a solid single after Mo had fallen behind 3-0 and fought back to a full count, and that was that.

You can second-guess every one of those decisions and pick apart as many of those plays as you like, and still not one of them would have the potential impact of another injury to Jorge Posada.

"I'm hoping the one day off is fine," Girardi said. "We'll have to see where he is when he comes in."

And where he is, is where the Yankees are headed.

Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

More from ESPNNewYork.com »