When The Big Guns Come Back, The Big Guns Play

By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns

We do love our backups, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But when the starters come back, you have to expect said backup to revert to his old role and hit the bench, no matter how well he’s done in his replacement role.

The Yankees face that Friday as Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis return from the DL. As they finished their Double-A rehab assignments, inquiries about how Joe Girardi should further use Lyle Overbay and David Adams cropped up.

It’s actually a non-question. Adams goes back to the bench, Overbay to a pinch-hitting, DH, or spot-starting job. It’s as simple as that.

None of this is designed to cast aspersions on either Overbay or Adams, who did admirable jobs over their varied periods of pinstriped service. It’s just the natural order of things, a necessary order to boot.

Overbay has eight homers on the year, and though his .225 hitting over the last 10 games brought his overall numbers down to .247 with 29 RBIs, there is little doubt that his clutch hits became major contributors to the Yanks standing in or near first place since Teixeira left.

Adams, a right-handed kid, showed signs with a .462 BA against lefties over 13 games that he could become a legitimate everyday player in the future. And the nice thing about him is that he came up through the team’s farm system, a claim few current pinstripers can make.

So, of course, the fans love those two. They also love Vernon Wells, though that veteran has managed to cement himself in the lineup and isn’t going anywhere, even if they do teach the career first baseman Overbay to play the outfield.

But the fact is, when the big guns come back, the big guns play. As they say in football, backups are backups for a reason. They add depth. The good ones, like Overbay, lead their teams to short-term success. But over the long term, they eventually find their level.

We see that pattern in varying degrees all over the sports map. Back in the previous millennium, a popular Giants backup named Jeff Hostetler took over for Phil Simms the last two games of the regular season and led the Giants through the postseason to a Super Bowl title. He hit key passes along the way, and even overcame a cheap hit smack on the knee by former Giant Jim Burt in the NFC Championship game in San Francisco.

He did a great job on all levels, though Bill Parcells credited him with doing no more than what he was paid to do. Still, the cries for “Hoss” — often a subplot to Simms’ career during times of struggle — intensified. Parcells’ hapless successor Ray Handley was more than happy to go along. He handed Hostetler the starting job in 1991. Sure enough, Hostetler fell back to his solid enough but unspectacular level during the 8-8 season. He finished 12-9 over 21 starts during Handley’s disastrous two-year reign. He took over for Simms the second year after Simms’ fourth start, when an elbow injury ended the icon’s season.

Simms came back healthy in 1993 and took new coach Dan Reeves to the playoffs.

No written-in-stone dictum exists that states a starter doesn’t lose his job to injury. It is simply logical. And given Joe Girardi’s current circumstances after losing five straight, including the entire Subway Series, and seven in the last nine, it’s only natural that lifetime hitters like Teixeira and Youkilis should resume their regular jobs. They need to get back to work and do what they do best.

Let Overbay DH a little, and spot start him. Let Adams pinch-hit.

We all love a good Wally Pipp story. But those are few and far between in the sporting annals. Not every backup is Lou Gehrig. Overbay never was, Adams probably never will be.

Better to get the potential pop Teixeira and Youkilis offer instantly, simply by being there, than continuing to go to the well with a couple of plucky, but over the long run lesser, players.

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