Mariano Rivera: Maybe He Really Is 41.

"It's gonna happen every once and a while," said an ashen-faced Joe Girardi, after Curtis Granderson was picked off first base to end Tuesday night's game, with the Yankees losing 6-4 to the Angels. "The one thing you don't want is to become too passive on the base paths when being aggressive has helped us win so many games."

The much bigger problem for the Yankees is that it now appears Mariano Rivera has turned 41 years old.

Rivera wasn't, however, responsible for the pickoff. You know that play where the pitcher steps off the mound with runners at first and third, then fakes to third, and then turns around to look at first? Yeah, Girardi is right, it does happen every once in a while - the runner has wandered so far off first that he gets nailed. Every once in a while.

The last time it happened was at the Little League World Series in Williamsport in 1937.

Now about Rivera: The Yankees are so used to being in their comfort zone in the 9th inning when the game is either tied or ahead that it comes as a double shock when Mo blows a save. We can count the last two nights as a quadruple shock.

What's going to pick this team up down the stretch? If the imminent return of Alex Rodriguez doesn't, nothing will.

"There's just one problem with this reasoning," writes Mike Sielski in today's Wall Street Journal. "The Yankees' season pretty much contradicts it."

Uh, excuse me? Sielski reasons that the Yankees have played 78 games with A-Rod in their starting lineup, going 46-32 in those games, and 35 games without him, going 25-12. Overall, he writes, "the Yankees have been a better offensive team without him — and a better team. Their collective batting average (.276 to .260), on-base percentage (.352-.341), and, most important, winning percentage (.657 to .590) are all higher when Rodriguez isn't in the lineup."

Apparently, whoever puts stock those statistics doesn't recall what happened as recent as two seasons ago, when A-Rod missed much of the first half and came back to power the team to a pennant with 30 home runs and 100 RBIs in just 124 games.

There are only two possibilities to explain the way the Yankees have hit when Rodriguez was out of the lineup this year: Either their stats reflect their genuine abilities, in which case A-Rod's return can only be a boost, or they've been hitting way over their heads, in which case they're really going to be needing him over the last few weeks.

Whatever it is, without A-Rod being A-Rod, the Yankees have no chance of overtaking Boston for the AL East title and, probably just as little chance in the playoffs no matter who they face.

• • •

Go to the Voice's Runnin' Scared for more Jockbeat by Allen Barra.

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