Literally. On his first pitch of the 2009 season, Alex Rodriguez hit a three run blast which was the difference on a night that C. C. Sabathia pitched like a $100+ million dollar pitcher. True, it was only the Orioles, and true, it's only one game. But Joe Girardi had to be breathing a little easier than in recent times.
Love him or hate him, Alex Rodriguez makes a difference for the Yankees. He has been sorely missed while he was away. The Yankees used three players at third while A-Rod was out: Cody Ransom, Angel Berroa and Ramiro Pena. Between the three, they are a combined 23 for 105 with 12 runs scored and 10 RBI. They hit eight doubles and no other extra base hits. They walked only 7 times. Between the three, they had an OPS around .550. So, yeah, there was a big hole in the lineup.
And with Posada's hot bat sitting on the disabled list, Teixeira mired in a season long slump and Swisher falling back to his true self (and Nady out for who knows how long), there just wasn't enough lumber to compensate for a struggling pitching staff. A-Rod will give Teixeira some protection now and give them the boost needed and take some of the pressure off of rest of the lineup.
As for Sabathia, he was brilliant. His fastball and change up were consistently in the strike zone and it looked like he was really comfortable with Cervelli behind the plate. He pitched with better rhythm than of late and was dominant. Even the four hits he gave up in his complete game shutout were doinkers.
The rotation is showing a little sign of life for the Yankees. If Sabathia becomes the anchor as expected, Pettitte continues to keep the team in the game (if not spectacularly), Chamberlain continues to grow and Hughes pitches well most of the time, this rotation will be okay. Burnett has had a few rough outings lately though.
The bullpen still looks to be a problem. Girardi keeps running Veras out there and he keeps getting knocked around. Rivera has not been dominant thus far and only Phil Coke seems to be doing his job on a regular basis. It's no wonder that Sabathia stayed out there all nine innings.
It won't be lost on major league fans that Manny Ramirez checks out for fifty days at the same time that Alex Rodriguez checks in. But if you ask Yankee fans and Joe Girardi, it's sure to be a welcome relief to have him back.