"I know I've been struggling," Cano said. "I feel good at the plate, so all I can do is stay positive and be ready to play Tuesday. I've been chasing a few pitches, but I've also been hitting the ball hard, just right at people. There's nothing you can do."
This is no run-of-the-mill soft skid for Cano, who looked like he was playing in a video game with the cheat codes activated just two weeks ago as the Yankees battled for the AL East title. Cano is now hitless in his last 26 at-bats, a record for futility over a single postseason.
"This game, it's a very cruel game sometimes," Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "When you're hot, it's fun, and you enjoy it and the team's winning and you're putting up your numbers. When you're cold, it stinks."
To be fair, Cano had a hit taken away by first-base umpire Rob Drake's missed call in the second inning of Game 1 that cost him an RBI single, a game that also included three other hard-hit balls off Detroit pitching.
"A prime example of a guy who I thought swung the bat really well and got nothing," hitting coach Kevin Long said. "What did he get? 0-for-6. And what does that look like, he stunk? He didn't stink [Saturday]. Some things have to go his way too."
Even before the Yankees lost Derek Jeter to a fractured ankle, there was evidence to suggest that the postseason spotlight leaked into Cano's approach. According to data collected by TexasLeaguers.com, Cano has chased 29 pitches out of the strike zone in the playoffs, leading to a 2-for-32 performance.
"You just have to stay positive and just go out there and make a good swing."
-- Robinson Cano
Cano rejected the idea of buckling under pressure, saying, "There's pressure because we're in the playoffs right now, but we were in the same situation during the season. You just have to stay positive and just go out there and make a good swing."
Manager Joe Girardi said tersely after Game 2 that the Yankees "have to make adjustments," and Cano isn't alone. The issue of chasing pitches has plagued others; Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher and A-Rod have developed into popular targets for Yankee Stadium boo-birds.
"That's the thing about our offense," Rodriguez said. "When we swing at strikes, we're a lot better. You get into a situation where you chase, then [the pitcher's] going to be predator-like, to make use of sucker pitches. So stay in the strike zone, pass the baton, not try to do too much. We've said it all along, we now just have to execute it."
Rodriguez is 3-for-23 (.130) overall, and 0-for-18 with 12 strikeouts against right-handed pitching. It once seemed unthinkable that Rodriguez would be pinch-hit for, let alone benched, in a Yankees postseason, but Girardi has now pinch-hit for Rodriguez three times and sat him for the AL Division Series clincher over Baltimore.
"Alex has had a tough series and right-handers have been tough on him," Long said on Sunday. "What are you going to look at today that was a positive for Alex? He got better as the day went along."
Indeed, Rodriguez seemed pleased with his seventh-inning lineout off righty Anibal Sanchez and ninth-inning single off lefty Phil Coke, saying, "As long as you make solid contact and have something to build on, I feel good, and I think I can build on that."
Given the challenges of Verlander and Max Scherzer in Games 3 and 4, the Yankees would love to see Rodriguez summon his glory days. He homered twice off Verlander this year, though the Yankees would settle to see what would be just A-Rod's second extra-base hit since Sept. 15.
"If we want to make some noise, we need this guy to be Alex."
-- Joe Girardi
"If we want to make some noise, we need this guy to be Alex," Girardi said.
The Yankees have accepted that Rodriguez isn't likely to approach MVP-caliber statistics again; their primary focus has been keeping him on the field, believing that he can max out as a 30-homer threat if he stays healthy for a full season.
Cano, however, is another case. With Jeter injured and A-Rod fading, the Yankees have floated the idea of this becoming Cano's team, a thought that seemed very appealing when he was tearing through late September on a 24-for-39 (.615) run with 10 extra-base hits. Less so at this exact moment.
"It is odd," Girardi said. "You know this is a really, really good hitter that is struggling."
Even with an 0-2 ALCS hole to fight out of, something only three teams have ever done successfully, Girardi and his staff believe Cano has the talent to carry the Yankees through a postseason series. The challenge has been delivered, and it is Cano's time to respond, keeping the college football goal posts locked in storage for another month.
"You just have to keep swinging," Cano said. "You keep playing the game, and that's the only way you can turn it around."