10/02/06 5:30 PM ET
A-Rod batting sixth in Game 1
Third baseman moved down in order; Sheffield to bat cleanup
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
No, there was no misprint on the lineup card manager Joe Torre put together for Tuesday's Division Series opener against the Tigers.
Alex Rodriguez will be hitting sixth for the first time in his three seasons with the Yankees.
"I don't mind where I hit," Rodriguez said. "It's never been a big issue for me. Joe spoke to me, so it's not a big deal."
A-Rod's most frequent lineup spot in 2006 was cleanup, where he batted in 88 games. He also started games in the second, third and fifth slots.
Gary Sheffield, the feared slugger who missed nearly three months with wrist woes before returning on Sept. 22, will bat fourth in Game 1.
Was Torre trying to take the pressure off of A-Rod, who has had his share of bumps in the road this season? Was he showing his faith in Sheffield?
Torre didn't get into specifics. His best explanation was that his lineup is loaded.
"I mean, I can shake them up and pull them out of a hat," said Torre. "As I told the players this morning when I read it to them, I said, I can hold it this way, that way, this way, it doesn't bother me. But you have to put them in order, and, you know, we basically separated the lefties and we let it fly."
Johnny Damon will lead off, followed by Derek Jeter, Bobby Abreu, Sheffield, Jason Giambi, A-Rod, Hideki Matsui, Jorge Posada and Robinson Cano.
"The biggest indication is [Cano] is hitting ninth," said Rodriguez. "Robby, for 90 percent of the teams, could be hitting third, it doesn't matter how you draw it up."
Sheffield, one of those players who crave the pressure, had no qualms with hitting in the high-profile cleanup spot. He'll just try to blend in, even as he starts at first base, a position he just took a crash course in after returning from the disabled list.
YANKEES GAME 1 LINEUP
1. Johnny Damon, CF
"Right now, I'm not even focused on me, per se," Sheffield said. "I'm just focused on a championship ring right now. That's the most important thing. I'm just trying to stay in there as long as I can and do positive things and contribute to this team. Wherever I'm hitting in the lineup, just do what I'm told and go from there. It just so happens I'm hitting fourth, and I'm thankful for that also."
The story seemed to be more about where A-Rod wasn't hitting than where Sheffield will be. Despite his ups and downs, Rodriguez hit .290 with 35 homers and 121 RBIs in the regular season.
"Under the circumstances, I think he had a phenomenal season," said Sheffield. "There aren't a lot of guys that can drive in 120 runs, regardless of what team you're on. The bottom line is that obviously puts him in a position where you know you don't have to carry this team, and rightfully so. He shouldn't carry all the burden. Everyone is responsible on this team. ... He does it year in and year out. He's a consistent player, and I think he handled himself well this year."
But the rabid baseball fans of New York want to see how Rodriguez will fare in October.
"Alex has been amazing," said Damon. "Having to deal with that [scrutiny] day in and day out. He won't really get to relax unless he delivers a championship here. We're looking for big things from him, and he expects big things from himself. I can't wait to see him in action."
By now, A-Rod is well versed in answering questions about how much pressure is on him.
"That never changes," said Rodriguez. "I'm just going to go out and do my best."
And even if Torre is trying to ease the burden on Rodriguez, it's not as if he is trying to hide him. That's impossible in October.
"Alex is one of the nine guys in the lineup," Torre said. "He's been having fun over the last week or 10 days or two weeks. He seems to be very comfortable. And yeah, it's important for him to hit, because he's one of our guys and we certainly need up and down that lineup to get contributions and to protect the guy in front of him and all that stuff.
"But hopefully Alex will just allow his ability to talk, and if that's the case, then we feel pretty good. We all know Alex is very conscientious. He would like to do tons of things, and we feel that just to sort of allow things to happen, more so than just trying to do too much, is probably a better way to approach it."
Meanwhile, Sheffield hit .250 (7-for-28) with two homers and six RBIs since returning to the lineup. He felt his swing getting back to where it needed to be in the past few days.
"It's a lot better," said Sheffield. "I feel like I have a chance to get a hit every time up. Even if I don't, I feel like I have a chance. That's the most important thing. Obviously, it's all about confidence. When you go up there with confidence, positive things happen."
No matter who hits where, it's hard for the Yankees not to have confidence with the mashing crew Torre has lined up for Game 1.
"It's pretty amazing. Hopefully, we're all just sharp and we can produce like we have all season," said Damon. "It doesn't matter [where guys hit]. Anybody could be the leadoff hitter on this team, anybody could be the nine hitter, including two guys on the bench. It's pretty cool."
"You could pretty much put our lineup any way," said Jeter. "We have a lot of guys who are capable of hitting. You could probably pull the names out of a hat."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.