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The Worst Thing That Could Have Happened

Yesterday’s rain out was the worst thing that possibly could have happened, given that it gave me more time to think about Tuesday’s miserable loss. It also gave me time to watch an old picture on TCM, one in which Walter Huston, playing Jimmy Stewart’s father, has an emotional death scene, which strikes a bit close to home for me because my father is again in the hospital in serious condition. Stewart is even parted from his beloved horse, which would be laughable except that my beloved cat is also apparently ill and will spend all of today at the vet for testing. At the end of this rather ham-fisted film I was near tears, and not because of the great John Carradine’s cameo as Abraham Lincoln, delivering a treatise on motherhood. Sometimes coincidence finds a way to push all your buttons. And I was still mad at Rafael Soriano.

Jimmy Stewart might have done better than Rafael Soriano in Tuesday's eighth; after all, he played Monty Stratton. (AP)

I find it even easier to be mad at Joe Girardi; the move to hoist high the Jolly Soriano wouldn’t have looked so bad had it worked out, but I agree with the points made here by Wallace Matthews and others elsewhere that since Soriano has a finite number of appearances in him in any given year, you might as well not use him when he’s not needed, and a 4-0 game is about as soft as leads get. Even though our very own Captain Queeg insisted that "A four-run lead is not a big lead in this division, in this ballpark," in 2010, when the home team carried a four-run lead into the top of the eighth, it won 98 percent of the time. That doesn’t leave much room for losses, even at inflationary Yankee Stadium, even in the AL East, in this poor economy, with a Democrat as president, on a rainy Tuesday, with my little orange cat ill, or any other set of conditions you can name.

In order to lose in that situation, you need a total fluke occurrence, like a pitcher having a completely inexplicable meltdown followed by a perfectly-placed flare down the right field line. If baseball were a game of Dungeons & Dragons, all the Yankees would have had to do to win was roll something between a 1 and 98 to win. Instead, they shot a 99 and suffered the equivalent of being slain by an Ochre Jelly. Now that I have firmly established my geek cred (though in truth I don’t think I’ve touched a set of dungeon dice since 1983 or so), let me retreat to Matthews’ report: "But when it was pointed out that there would be 162 eighth innings this season and Soriano could not be expected to pitch all of them—he's not Pedro Feliciano, after all —Girardi refused to even acknowledge the possibility that Tuesday's eighth inning might have been a good one for him to skip."

Yesterday, I was more frustrated with Soriano and the way a fine start by CC Sabathia was thrown away. Today, I’m bothered by Girardi’s lack of logic. "If we get through the eighth without giving up a run, then I don't have to get up my 41-year-old closer who, I think, is quite important to us in the course of the year." This provokes several questions in addition to those we’ve already covered:Why does Girardi so greatly distrust David Robertson?

  1. If 4-0 is too small a lead for Robertson to protect, what lead is safe for him? Heck, why is he even here?
  2. If Robertson had come in first and faltered, wouldn’t Girardi have gone to Soriano before going to Rivera?
  3. Where in the Bible, Pinstriped or otherwise, does it say that Girardi doesn’t have a choice in when to use Mariano Rivera? If he’s that delicate, if you’re that worried about keeping him healthy, then just say that game X is his night off and don’t use him. You’re not a slave to the saves rule, Joe, and even if you are, someone other than Mo can pick one up now and again.
  4. In fact, isn’t the whole point of Soriano that as an accomplished closer, he can take some of the load off of the elderly Rivera?

As I’ve said in the past, Girardi is, on the whole, a very good manager. He is also quite transparently human. He wears his weaknesses on his sleeve, which is simultaneously endearing and annoying. Unlike Joe Torre, who went through a four-decade managerial career without ever seeming to know that his bullpen usage was erratic, Girardi knows he screwed up on Tuesday. Maybe he doesn’t consciously know, maybe he’s incapable of publicly confronting it, but he knows. He then doubles down on his mistake by getting angry when it’s questioned. Like a child caught in a lie, he becomes petulant. It’s unbecoming and understandable, but also frustrating because you know he’s smarter and more thoughtful than the way he acts at these times.

So what did we learn on Tuesday and Wednesday? We learned that Soriano is not necessarily to be trusted in all but just-right situations, because his meltdown falls outside the boundaries of simple excuses like "he just struggled with his location." We also learned he doesn’t take responsibility for his actions by ducking out on the media, which has nothing to do with the press feeling entitled and everything to do with facing the music when you’ve messed up. We have confirmed that Girardi will someday write an autobiography in which he denies every screw-up he’s every been accused of, and that’s okay. I’ve learned that I should stay away from old MGM pictures in which Jimmy Stewart and Walter Huston act out the ol’ father-son conflict and then give away the beloved family horse. On the other hand, I also learned that I can’t resist any picture with Charles Coburn in it, be it the one I watched, "The Lady Eve," or "The More the Merrier," in which he sang

In love or war, with people like us, we've got to work fast or we'll miss the bus.
If you straddle a fence and you sit and wait, you get too little and you get it too late.
What'll you say if we see it through, you stick by me and I'll stick by you.
And our 18 children will be glad we said...
Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead,
Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead,
Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.

And that’s just what we and the Yankees will have to do, starting today, even my cat, even Soriano, even Girardi… even me.