New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez strikes out with the bases loaded against the Detroit Tigers during the seventh inning of Game 5 of their MLB American League Division Series baseball playoffs at Yankee Stadium in New York

What they’re saying about the Yankees’ first round exit

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It’s audacious, I realize, to attribute the result in this series to the Tigers winning rather than the Yankees losing. Derek Jeter acknowledged it (see below), but that’s just not how New York rolls. So let us absorb the New York sturm und drang, shall we?

Joe Girardi:  “It’s an empty feeling for everyone in that room. And it hurts. You just got to remember this feeling and we’ll be determined next year.”

Bob Klapisch: “There were culprits up and down the lineup, but none so obvious as Alex Rodriguez, who’d turned into Public Enemy No. 1 by the ninth inning. There he was, swinging so feebly at Jose Valverde’s last fastball he should’ve done himself the favor and stayed in the dugout.”

Joel Sherman: “… the Yankees lost three games by a total of four runs. So they were a star turn away from winning this series; a game-turning pitch, a big hit, and, in particular, Sabathia and Rodriguez never delivered.”

Mike Lupica: we kept hearing about these great swings [Alex Rodriguez] was getting. How he was going to bust out. It makes more sense to call him the same kind of October bust he was for the Yankees before he had his one shining moment in 2009 … if A-Rod thinks doing it once gives him some kind of lifetime pass with Yankee fans, he didn’t hear the boos he got after he struck out in the bottom of the seventh Thursday night.

John Harper: “After a season spent worrying about whether the Yankees had enough pitching, it was the big bats that cost them in the end. Above all, as always, there was Rodriguez, striking out swinging with the bases loaded in the seventh inning, when even a single likely would have tied the game, and then striking out swinging to end the game.”

Wallace Matthews: “When Rodriguez swung through Valverde’s 94-mph, 1-2 fastball, not one honest person in Yankee Stadium could truly say they were surprised.”

Ian O’Connor: “Worried his hitters would be distracted, Joe Girardi, manager of the New York Yankees, had the umpires strip Benoit of his bandage, exposing what Tigers manager Jim Leyland called “a big lump on his face.” But Girardi couldn’t strip the pitcher of his powers, or of his ability to throw an 86-mph splitter on a 1-2 count that would reduce A-Rod to a flailing Game 5 mess and, ultimately, leave him once again as the face of a first-round flameout, the master of another Yankee disaster.

Steve Politi: The finger pointing will begin Friday, and there are plenty of directions to point. The manager and his six pitching changes will be a target. The broken down third baseman who struck out to end the game will be one, too. The lineup that hit 222 home runs during the regular season failing to make one good swing with all those opportunities — there are plenty of culprits, to be sure. But sometimes, there are no easy answers. Sometimes, when a 162-game season comes down to one night in October, the ball off the bat of the star shortstop dies on the warning track.

Tyler Kepner: “For all of the success of the Jeter/Mariano Rivera/Jorge Posada era, the Yankees have lost in the first round more often than they have won the World Series. They have five championships and seven first-round knockouts — in 1995, 1997, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2011. Their expectations never change: they win, or the season is a failure.”

Jeff Bradley: “It was almost eerie in the Stadium as the highest-paid player in the game waved at a pitch from Detroit closer Jose Valverde. The crowd was barely making a noise. The old anticipatory thundering applause that’s been know to rattle an opponent was not there. Almost like the crowd had seen enough of A-Rod. And did not believe.”

Derek Jeter: “They pitched, man. They pitched That’s why they’re here, that’s why they’re moving on. They’ve got a great pitching staff. Their starters are tough, their bullpen is good. And Valverde closes the door. You get to this point in the season, it’s usually about pitching for the most part. They were tough on us.”

Video: Nelson Cruz hits second-longest home run of 2016

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 14:  Nelson Cruz #23 of the Seattle Mariners celebrates his solo homerun with Daniel Vogelbach #20 of the Seattle Mariners to take a 2-1 lead over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the seventh inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 14, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.

It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.

Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.

Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.

Report: John Farrell won’t rule out a postseason return for Pablo Sandoval

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 11:  Pablo Sandoval #48 of the Boston Red Sox looks on from the dugout before the Red Sox home opener against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on April 11, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Orioles defeat the Red Sox 9-7.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.

On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.

At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.

If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.

Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.

Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.