Jorge Posada was locked in a staredown with Justin Verlander, the 39-year-old veteran on his way out facing the 28-year-old ace square in his prime.
It should have been a mismatch, but not on this night. On the eighth pitch of the at-bat, Posada squared up a 100-mph fastball from the Tigers right-hander and sent it over Austin Jackson's head and one hop over the center-field fence. The DH loped into second with a booming two-run double.
Even for a fleeting moment, it was a welcome reminder of what once was.
This has been a season of surprises for the Yankees. From an overall perspective, the team's standing atop the AL East as the Red Sox languish near the bottom jumps out. But we've witnessed unexpected individual performances as well. Bartolo Colon's resurrection. Phil Hughes' breakdown. Eric Chavez' re-emergence. Rafael Soriano's struggles.
Jorge Posada, on the other hand, has followed a trajectory that many people — experts and fans alike — predicted. Even after an encouraging four hits in the opening two games in Detroit, Posada is a .167 hitter. Six April homers have only somewhat obscured the fact that he's been overmatched in too many at-bats this season.
The Yankees knew this bill was coming due. An outstanding performance in the walk-year of his previous contract (.338 BA, 20 HR, 90 RBI, .970 OPS) virtually guaranteed they would have to overpay in the subsequent deal if they were to keep the popular veteran. The two sides ultimately agreed to terms to a four-year, $52 million contract in November 2007, an unheard of deal for a catcher on the wrong side of 35.
On balance, the contract has been a bust, though in fairness to Posada, he's had his moments. A shoulder injury muddled his 2008 season, but he remained a dangerous hitter and somewhat capable defender on the 2009 World Series team. The cracks began to show in earnest last year, as Posada's production dipped and his defense became impossible to ignore.
The team wisely stripped him of his catching duties prior to this season, making him the full-time designated hitter. The decision made sense on two levels: The Yankees could now get younger and more defensive-minded behind the plate while at the same time giving Posada a better chance to stay healthy, something he had struggled to do in recent years.
Derek Jeter, Posada's longtime teammate and erstwhile Core Four compadre, has had his own problems this season and might have similar types of problems in the final year of his contract (or even as soon as the present day, if you really want to be pessimistic about it). But Jeter is team royalty, an equal of the Babe, Lou, Joe D., and The Mick in Yankee Universe. The Yankees' re-signing of Jeter was as much about protecting the brand as securing on-field production.
Posada — though unquestionably one of the best catchers in team history — doesn't have nearly the same cache as Jeter, and is therefore extremely vulnerable. His relationship with Joe Girardi has always been complicated — Posada took away Girardi's job once upon a time, after all — which adds another element of intrigue to the mix.
In recent years, Girardi and Brian Cashman often spoke of the preference to keep the DH slot open as a rotation spot to give veterans "half days off" as well as to spot-start bench players.
Behind closed doors, it wouldn't be a surprise if the Yankees' braintrust would like to restore the DH as a soft landing spot for the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Jeter, and yes, Posada, albeit in a less substantial role.
Other teams would rule out this option for financial reasons, citing the poor business sense to sit a man earning $13.1 million this season. These are the Yankees, however, which means that logic has little use here.
Posada is going to have to hit to keep from ending his career in the shadows. Fair or not, the Yankees are big business and nobody gets a free pass.
Well, unless your girlfriend is Minka Kelly.
Dan Hanzus is a contributing writer to Pinstripe Alley. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @danhanzus.