‘Hart of the Order’
By Sean Hartnett
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Alex Rodriguez, the $29 million dollar man, was called back by Joe Girardi on Wednesday night as master pinch-hitter Raul Ibanez stepped to the plate and delivered an improbable game-tying home run off once-elite closer Jim Johnson.

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All A-Rod could do was watch from the bench as Game 3 dragged into the 12th inning.  Ibanez led off the bottom of the inning and sent Yankee Stadium into a frenzy with his game-winning walk-off home run off left-hander Brian Matusz.

Now, the celebrations have passed — and Game 4 will provide a fresh challenge for Rodriguez and the Yankees.

A-Rod Must Break Out, Or The Yankees Will Lose Game 4

Rodriguez must solve his woes at the plate.  Through three ALDS games, A-Rod is 1-for-12 (.083) and without an extra base hit.  In Game 3, Rodriguez grounded out in his first at-bat and looked completely over-matched against Mike Gonzalez who made A-Rod look foolish as he struck out swinging in his next two at-bats.

A-Rod has struck out in 58 percent of his at-bats this series and has extended his playoff homer-less streak to 73 at-bats.  Let’s face it — if the Yankees wish to advance into the ALCS, they’ll need A-Rod to snap out of his funk.

Joe Saunders Could Be The Tonic To Cure A-Rod’s Slump

Buck Showalter has named lefty Joe Saunders as his Game 4 starter against the lefty-dominant Yankees’ lineup.  The only everyday right-handed batters in the Yankees’ lineup are Rodriguez, Russell Martin and the hobbling Derek Jeter.

Rodriguez is a career .438 hitter against Saunders.  He has two doubles, two home runs and five RBIs in 16 at-bats against the veteran lefty.

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If there’s ever a starter whom A-Rod can feel comfortable against — it’s Saunders.

Jeter Hobbling, Don’t Expect Ibanez To Start At DH

Derek Jeter vowed to reporters “I’ll play” and will likely be penciled-in as the Yankees’ designated hitter in Girardi’s Game 4 lineup with Jayson Nix replacing him at shortstop.

“I’ll just have to make a decision tomorrow on what I try to do with him,” Girardi said after Game 3. “You know, is he a DH maybe for me tomorrow? Does his foot feel good enough to play shortstop, does his foot feel good enough to play at all? I’m going to have to wait until tomorrow.”

If Jeter is somehow able to play shortstop in Game 4, expect right-handed Eduardo Nunez to DH and Ibanez to resume his role as the Yankees’ key pinch-hitter.  Although Ibanez is a career .348 hitter with two home runs against Saunders, Girardi will load his lineup with righty batters.

All The Pressure Is On A-Rod

Obviously, Jeter isn’t 100 percent as he gutted his way into the batter’s box in the 8th inning of Game 3.  He appeared to be in severe discomfort before striking out and being lifted for Nix.

Any offense Russell Martin gives the Yankees is a bonus.  The Yankees’ number eight hitter isn’t supposed to be one of their hottest hitters.  Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson have looked lost all series and I’m not expecting either to break out tonight in a lefty-lefty matchup.  Switch-hitting Mark Teixeira is a career .167 hitter against Saunders.

The Yankees need to jump out of the gates with some early runs against Saunders.  All eyes will be focused on A-Rod.  This is his chance to finally deliver against a starter he’s had a history of success against.  The Yankees will sink or swim because of A-Rod.

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Will A-Rod finally break out against left-hander Joe Saunders?  Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.