Thumbs down

Years ago, I was getting into a taxicab in Manhattan with a colleague of mine, Moss Klein of the Newark Star Ledger, heading downtown to see an off-Broadway musical with a baseball theme, “Diamonds,” with the idea of using some numbers for the New York Baseball Writers Dinner.

As I slid across the back seat with my right hand behind me, Moss hopped into the cab and accidentally landed on my right thumb, which bent backwards. I cannot begin to tell you the pain I felt not only in my thumb but also in my mind for exposing my hand so stupidly.

It turned out that the thumb was not broken, but it was severely sprained. I was in discomfort for months, and the simple acts of using a teaspoon or reading a newspaper became difficult tasks.

What reminded me of that night (we did use two of the show’s numbers for the Dinner) was the recent thumb injury that has plagued Alex Rodriguez and had him missing from the lineup again Saturday night at Anaheim and perhaps for the next few days as well. A-Rod sprained the thumb two weeks ago and has been struggling at the plate since, which is no wonder.

The idea of what he must feel gripping a bat and trying to hit 95-mph fastballs makes me wince when I think back on the pain I felt in my thumb. It sounds silly, but a thumb injury can be very nagging and is nothing to laugh about; hand injuries are particularly serious in baseball because the hands come into play so often when hitting and fielding.

Rodriguez was one of three Yankees players missing in action Saturday night, which caused an odd look to the lineup. Eric Chavez playing third base for A-Rod was nothing odd, of course, nor was Russell Martin catching in place of Francisco Cervelli, who has concussion symptoms after being battered on a play at the plate Thursday in Baltimore by Nick Markakis. After all, Martin is the regular catcher.

So what happened? In the second inning, Martin took a foul ball off his right thumb. Trainer Gene Monahan taped the nail for Martin, who remained in the game to finish the inning. But when he had problems throwing the ball back to CC Sabathia at the start of the third, Martin was removed by manager Joe Girardi.

The Yankees appeared prepared to have rookie Jesus Montero take over behind the plate (he has yet to catch since his callup), which would have cost them their designated hitter, but Girardi had a surprise in store and put Jorge Posada behind the plate. Posada has not caught all year and was told back in spring training that he was no longer a catcher.

Sabathia might not have minded losing the DH because that meant he would have had to hit, which he enjoys only slightly less than pitching, but the sight of Posada in catcher’s gear seemed to give the Yankees a lift. The Angels wasted no time in testing Posada as Howie Kendrick ran on the first pitch after reaching on an infield single. Posada’s throw to second base was high, but Robinson Cano made a nice play to tag Kendrick out.

Nick Swisher was not available for the second straight game because of an ailing left elbow. An MRI revealed nothing more serious than inflammation, which was the good news. Taking his place in right field was Eduardo Nunez, an infielder by trade, albeit one who has had problems in the field.

Girardi had other options. He could have started Andruw Jones or Chris Dickerson or Greg Golson, but instead he went with Nunez, who has all of one inning experience at the position. Perhaps his 18 errors as an infielder have the Yankees thinking that Nunez may be more useful somewhere else on the field.

The absence of Rodriguez and Swisher certainly shortened the Yanks’ lineup, so much so that Montero was batting fifth in the order. Girardi had batted Montero as high as sixth in one game but usually used him in the 8-hole. Montero singled in his first at-bat to keep up his hot streak.

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