Joe Girardi speaks of confidence and character. He said his team is too talented to play this poorly, and he said he’s seen teams bounce back from slumps just as bad as this one.
But in his time as Yankees manager, Girardi never had a team lose six in a row until tonight. If the Yankees lose again tomorrow night, they’ll fall to .500 for the season, a full four games behind the Rays for first place in the American League East. Just one week ago, the Yankees were leading by a game. Two weeks ago they were ahead by three games.
“It’s like when I have to go to the dentist,” Girardi said. “I know I’m going to get through it, but I still dread it every time I go.”
Tonight the Yankees had a four-run lead after five innings, and Burnett was dealing. And then, in an instant, he wasn’t. Even after the home run to Sam Fuld, Burnett was still just one out away from ending the sixth inning and keeping the Yankees in front by two runs. Two singles, two wild pitches and a bad curveball to B.J. Upton changed this game in a hurry.
That was tonight’s tooth-pulling moment.
“This is a tough one,” Russell Martin said. “We had a decent lead at certain points, so those games you definitely want to win, especially when you’ve got a guy like A.J. who’s been throwing the ball really good. But there’s going to be tough ones. We’re in a tough stretch right now, but good teams know how to get out of them, and I think we’re a good team.”
From the bad to the bizarre, Rafael Soriano is going to see Dr. Ahmad tomorrow. His elbow felt tight again this afternoon and he had to cut his bullpen session short. Girardi seemed legitimately concerned about his setup man, who said he felt better today than last week, and who said he felt “a lot different” from his injury plagued 2008 season.
Of all the things he said, though, tonight’s Soriano interview will be remembered for three things, all of them suggesting he skipped the media training session this spring.
At one point Soriano said he had been advised to take a week or two off, but when asked who gave him the advice, he said it was team vice president Felix Lopez, who Soriano had been talking to pregame. The Yankees later clarified that Lopez had been acting as a sort of intermediary for the training staff. Maybe that’s explainable, but two other comments suggest Soriano will need to apologize more than Jorge Posada.
Asked whether it bothers him to not be able to pitch, Soriano threw his lineup under the bus: “I don’t think the bullpen be the problem right now. I think it be the hitters. That thing happens sometimes. Whatever we have to do, make a good game and see what happens. One of these days, everything be better.”
Given a second chance to answer essentially the same question, Soriano was asked how much it’s bothered him to miss games against Boston and Tampa Bay: “Not at all, to me,” he said. “Because in the situation, how the team looks be the situation when I’m supposed to be in the game, the eighth. Everybody see, (the team is) losing two, three runs. I don’t think it be that situation that I would be in the bullpen, that I would be in the game.”
Here’s the Soriano group session, which will surely create some sort of stir.
• Given the way A.J. Burnett pitched through the first five innings, and the fact he got two outs before two ground ball singles, Girardi said he never seriously considered bringing a reliever to pitch to B.J. Upton. “Of course you have confidence that he’s going to be able to shut it down,” Girardi said. “Even after he gave up the two-run homer to Sam Fuld, you believe that he’s going to shut it down, get you through seven innings and do his job. It just didn’t happen.”
• If he had a full bullpen, though, Girardi said the sixth inning might have been different. The Yankees didn’t have Rafael Soriano or Dave Robertson available. “If you have a full bullpen, you might have different options,” Girardi said. “But we don’t right now.”
• The pitch to Upton was a curveball that Burnett said he didn’t get low enough. After a fastball up on the previous pitch, Russell Martin said he thought the Yankees could get Upton with a breaking ball. “The hook to Upton floated in there,” Burnett said. “It’s got to be bounced.”
• As you might expect, Burnett was kicking himself and put the loss on himself. “Taking nothing away from the Rays, they’re a good-hitting team, but I had way too good of stuff tonight,” he said. “I was locating early, mixing early, and it just got away. You can’t allow it to happen, not when (the Yankees hitters) came out like they did tonight swinging the bats.”
• Curtis Granderson is absolutely the bright side for the Yankees right now. He leads the big leagues with seven home runs against left-handed pitchers. Tonight’s was the first left-handed home run David Price had allowed since Chase Utley hit one in 2009. Price had faced 310 consecutive lefties without giving up a homer.
• On the other end of the spectrum is Alex Rodriguez, who took an 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. His batting average is down to .242. “I sense he’s probably frustrated like a lot of other hitters we have,” Girardi said. “But I’m not sure what pressing means. I see Alex do his work, I see him relaxed every day. I see him go about his business the right way; the results just haven’t been there.”
• Why pinch hit Brett Gardner for Andruw Jones, who had good numbers off Kyle Farnsworth? “You’ve got the speed there,” Girardi said. “And Gardy’s been doing a pretty good job off of righthanders the last three and a half weeks.”
• Strange defensive game for Eduardo Nunez who made another throwing error — he has six errors this season, a massive number for a guy who hardly plays — but he also made several nice plays, starting a double play and charging a bunt. “This is an adjustment that he has to make,” Girardi said. “We’ll continue to work with him.”
• Of course, it helps Nunez’s case that he had the only non-Granderson RBI on a two-out, two-run single in the second inning.
• Before that game-winning home run, Upton was 7-for-36 (.194) with no home runs in his career against Burnett. That’s the way the Yankees season is going right now.
Associated Press photos