As Robinson Cano stood on the eighth-floor patio of a hotel in Taiwan last November, he raved about what it meant to see and hear how many fans he had “halfway across the world.” Those devoted fans inspired Cano, who said he would work even harder because he realized how people from distant places were watching him.
Lots of fans were watching Cano and the Yankees on Monday. There were fans from New York, from the Dominican Republic and even some bleary-eyed souls in Taiwan who were wondering if Cano could help push the Yankees past the Tampa Bay Rays. Instead, during a disappointing sequence in the eighth inning, Cano helped sabotage the Yankees.
Cano is an excellent player, the best player on the Yankees. He has the sweetest swing on the team, a swing that he perfects in early afternoon sessions with hitting coach Kevin Long. He has the most dependable glove on the team, too, a second baseman who plays with panache and who has a powerful arm that makes other infielders envious.
But Cano, for all of his talents, was the central figure in two plays that hurt the Yankees in Monday’s 4-3 loss to the Rays. After Cano lashed a low liner to third in the eighth, he took one step out of the batter’s box and stopped running. While that can happen to any batter, it shouldn’t happen. It also happens too often with Cano, whether it’s a low liner to third or a slow roller to second.
Once Cano stopped, he was doomed. Elliott Johnson, who isn’t Brooks Robinson, didn’t catch the liner. He dropped it, retrieved it and then made an errant throw to first. But Johnson still managed to get the out when first baseman Carlos Pena moved up the line to collect the ball and tag Cano. Failing to run to first is always a mistake, but Cano’s actions were magnified because he would have been safe if he didn’t hesitate.
“That happens,” said manager Joe Girardi. “Guys think a line drive is caught and they kind of freeze.”
A few minutes later, Cano was in the forefront of another play that exasperated the Yankees. With a runner on second and two outs, Chris Gimenez tapped a grounder to the second base hole. Cano moved toward his left to field the ball, but it somehow trickled under his golden glove. Cano didn’t dive. He stretched for the ball and missed it by a few inches. Cano later said that he felt something in his hip “grab” and that impacted his pursuit of the ball.
“I couldn’t bend over,” Cano told reporters. “It was grabbing.”
While it is difficult to criticize a player who may have injured himself on a play, Cano had to figure out a way to smother that ball, keep it in the infield and prevent the go-ahead run from scoring. Attend any Little League game in any city and, inevitably, you will hear a coach yelling, “Knock it down infielders.” The Yankees wanted Cano to knock the ball down and keep the score tied, 3-3, but he didn’t succeed.
“I thought he was going to get there,” Girardi said. “Unfortunately, he didn’t and that’s why we lost.”
After the game, Cano had an ice pack wrapped around his hip and said he was hopeful that the injury is “nothing bad or anything.” The injury-ravaged Yankees, who saw their lead over the Baltimore Orioles shrink to one game, need Cano back in the lineup as soon as possible. That’s on Tuesday night.
Cano was involved in two dubious plays on Monday, a game he would rather forget. But, as the Yankees chase an American League East title, Cano is a player who is capable of making two dozen plays in September and October that guide them closer to that goal. He knows everyone will be watching, as they were on Monday. It is up to Cano to put on a better show.
Follow Jack Curry on Twitter: @JackCurryYES