By Neil Keefe
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I'm always arguing with my friends who think I'm crazy for watching every Yankees game. They tell me "It's April!" or "There are 162 games!" and they can't possibly understand how I could care so much about the outcome of the fifth game of the season on April 5. I tell them the same thing, "Every game counts." And while that sounds like a lame marketing or sales tag line that that Gary Bettman would use to advertise the NHL, it's true.
This isn't seven or eight years ago, when losses to good clubs didn't matter as much because you knew the Yankees would only lose three or four games combined to Tampa Bay and Baltimore. They could stack up on wins against the bad young pitching and the terrible bullpens of the AL East, and in the end it would be the Yankees and Red Sox fighting for the division with both guaranteed to go to the playoffs no matter what. That time is over.
Is my football mentality with baseball a bit insane? Yes, I'm well aware of it. And while I know the Yankees are going to lose 60-plus games this season, which means 60-plus nights of being disappointed, it's games like Tuesday night that hurt the most. Games where the Yankees blow a late lead in a game they SHOULD HAVE won.
Over the next 157 games, the Yankees will be on the other end of what happened last night. It's not likely, it's a certainty. There will be a game in which most people do something else with their time after the seventh inning like Twins fans probably did late last night, only to find out later the Yankees came back. There will be a game like the Sunday night game against the Dodgers last summer when the Yankees trailed 6-2 with one out and no one on in the ninth inning. But until a win like that happens I have a reason to be upset about Tuesday night.
I'm mad about the way Joe Girardi mixed and matched the Yankees right out of the game, and I'm mad about the way Rafael Soriano decided that throwing strikes wasn't something he was going to do. But I'm really mad that the Yankees wasted a seven-inning, two-hit effort from CC Sabathia. In case you're unaware, after CC, the Yankees' rotation features a 15-game loser from a year ago, an 18-game winner who'' suddenly throwing at Javier Vazquez speeds, a kid with two careers wins and a 34 year old that had to beat Bartolo Colon out for a job and actually didn't, but was still given the job. So yeah, when your ace pitches, more importantly when your ace allows three men to reach base and shuts out the opposition for seven innings, you should probably win that game.
But the Yankees lost. They lost even though they held a four-run lad with six outs to get with the supposed best bullpen in the game. You know, the best bullpen in the same way the Red Sox have the best team. After CC walked just one in seven innings, Rafael Soriano walked three in about seven minutes. When the Yankees led 4-0 and everyone was talking about and tweeting about Ron Gardenire's record at Yankee Stadium and the Twins' lack of success in New York, I didn't think I would be seeing Luis Ayala pitch in the game unless the Yankees suddenly led by 10 runs. It was as much of a guaranteed win as Pia Toscano is to win "American Idol". Luckily for Pia, she doesn't have Joe Girardi picking out her songs each week.
It all unraveled in the eighth inning. Then it calmed down in the ninth because the one man you can always trust pitched the ninth. And then it ended in the 10th because the last person you ever wanted to see in a tied or close game made his second appearance of the season.
But it all started in the eighth inning. With one out and the bases loaded I wanted to call timeout like Zack Morris used to do in "Saved By The Bell" when everyone else but him would freeze. I wanted to go down on the field and change the pitcher myself because Joe Girardi certainly wouldn't. Do I expect Rafael Soriano to be perfect? No. I don't actually expect any pitcher to be perfect even though I sometimes make it sound that way. And I certainly don't expect a guy with a three-year, $36 million deal and a pair of opt-out clauses to be perfect.
Last season I did my own version of "The Joe Girardi Show" whenever I felt like there were questions for Joe Girardi that needed answers because I couldn't fathom how someone could make such odd decisions. In the back of my mind I was secretly hoping I wouldn't have a reason to write any pieces like that this year, but I knew I would. I just didn't think it would be after the fifth game of the season.
Well, here we are. It's certainly not 0-4 for a team that some Boston writers thought was going to be better than the 1927 Yankees, but it's still a loss that hurts as bad as an April loss could hurt.
Why Did Rafael Soriano Pitch The Eighth Inning?
It was cold last night at Yankee Stadium. Cold enough that when I sat down for first pitch I immediately thought, "I don't know how I'm going to be able to sit through this cold and wind for the next three-plus hours with just a North Face on." This thought crept back into my mind later in the game as I watched Sabathia's pitch count climb on the big screen. I knew he wouldn't be able to go the distance even though it was the type of effort in which you go the distance.
I began thinking about which reliever that had been sitting around all night was going to have to come into this weather and get outs. You know the Twins were thinking the same thing. They knew their only chance of winning was to get CC out of the game. Even though there was a chance they would have to face Soriano and No. 42, it was still better than seeing a guy that had retired 17 in a row, starting in the second inning and going until he was taken out of the game.
I know that Soriano isn't getting paid $12 million a year to not pitch, but why was he in a four-run game after having pitched the night before. Rafael Soriano is the Yankees' eighth-inning man. He entered the game in the eighth inning on Tuesday. So on paper it makes me sense. But really it doesn't make sense. The Yankees led by four runs. Girardi doesn't use Rivera in four-run games and in the past he has only used his setup man to set up save situations. So why Rafael Soriano?
That spot had David Robertson's name written all over it. Robertson could easily be in Joba Chamberlain's role, but he isn't, so what exactly is his role? He's doesn't pitch the seventh inning. He doesn't pitch the eighth inning. He's not the closer. He's not a lefty specialist. He's not the long reliever. So he's the guy you bring in to a bases-loaded gongshow to clean up a mess?
I gave David Robertson the nickname of David "Copperfield" Robertson for situations like Tuesday night after the 2009 playoffs. It was against the same Twins in the 11th inning of Game 2 of the 2009 ALDS when he left the bases loaded in an eventual Yankees win. But to ask him to get out of a bases-loaded jam in April when he hasn't been good in 11 career appearances in April (0-1, 8.2 IP, 15 H, 7 ER, 7.27 ERA) was a bit much.
Robertson should have started the eighth inning. When he came into the game it was too late. The spot he came into the game should have been for Rivera since Rivera ended up pitching the ninth anyway. I'm not saying that Rivera should be pitching more than an inning in April, but the game had to be saved in the eighth inning with the bases loaded and the middle of the Twins order up. It didn't have to be saved in the ninth once it was already blown. Get out of the eighth inning and if Mariano can't pitch the ninth, then use someone else now that you still have a three-run lead.
Why Did You Leave Rafael Soriano In?
Watching Rafael Soriano throw ball after ball and then do his 30-second walk around the infield in between pitches looked worse than the previews for the remake of "Arthur" with Russell Brand. Forget that the pitches Soriano was throwing and the results Soriano was getting weren't good, the body language was terrible.
Soriano didn't have it last night. Even I can admit that there are going to be nights like that, especially when he can just come back for $12 million next year. But even though the 40,267 at the Stadium knew Soriano didn't have it, Joe Girardi thought he might somehow find it on the fly. It was like an A.J. Burnett start when he implodes and Girardi is the only person in the stadium that thinks having Burnett still impacting the game is a good idea. You can sense the game getting away and out of hand, but it's not until it's officially out of hand that Girardi takes the ball away.
Sweeny told me during spring training that Rafael Soriano will only ever be a story in New York if he blows a game otherwise you won't hear much from him. Under that idea, I hoped he would never be a story, but it only took five games. And we didn't hear much from him anyway.
Apparently Soriano didn't stick around to talk about the worst eighth inning meltdown since Joba's last July in Seattle. I had to sit there and watch Soriano walk the park and blow a lead, and he made CC Sabathia, who gave up two hits and retired 17 in a row before coming out watch his first win of 2011 vanish. And he doesn't stick around to talk about it. I think the way I had to learn to like "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" (which I do like now) is how I'm going to have to learn to like Soriano. It's going to take time.
(I wanted to talk about Nick Swisher's play in right field on the Delmon Young "double" that tied the game, but since there wasn't a question I could make up specifically about Swisher I thought I would talk about him here.
Everyone loves Nick Swisher. He has a good personality, plays hard, puts up solid numbers and constantly shows his appreciation to the Bleacher Creatures. But whether it's running the bases or running down balls in the outfield, Swisher makes a lot of terrible decisions. Last night was an example of this.
Swisher wasn't going to get to the ball Young hit from where he was positioned, and two runs were going to score. Those are facts. Now maybe he shouldn't have been playing Young at Billy's Bar across the street and been a little more in, but that's not the point. The point is that he didn't need to do his best Crocodile Mile move and make an unnecessary slide that allowed Joe Mauer to score all the way from first.
One of my biggest pet peeves with Swisher is how he always climbs the wall and makes unnecessary attempts to rob home runs that are 20 rows back. It looks ridiculous. His dive/slide/whatever you want to call it last night was both unnecessary and ridiculous.)
Why Did Boone Logan Pitch The 10th Inning?
Mariano Rivera is the closer. Rafael Soriano is the eighth-inning guy. Joba Chamberlain is the seventh-inning guy. So if Joba is the third best reliever on the team where was he on Tuesday? The answer can't be that he pitched on Monday because so did Soriano and Rivera, and Rivera has pitched in four of the five games this season. Instead of Joba, Girardi went with the last man you ever want to see in a close game ... Boone Logan.
I wish that along with the pitch count and miles per hour of pitches at the top of the big screen they would also put the Yankees' win probability. And I would like to know what it was before Soriano came in, after he left and once Boone Logan came in. Would it have read "0% Chance of Winning" when Logan entered the game in the 10th?
I know people are going to tell me about Boone Logan's streak of getting outs against lefties last year. But before that he was bad. After that he was bad. In the playoffs he was bad (1.2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 10.80 ERA). Boone Logan isn't good. He's OK.
Yankees lefties have always had a problem with leadoff walks. Always. So when Logan walked Denard Span to start the 10th inning -- the one Twin you don't want to walk -- I just laughed because I knew that it was going to take a miracle to get to the bottom of the 10th still tied. It was almost like Logan had something to prove to Soriano and wanted to say, "Who do you think you are? You think you can come in here and just blow games whenever you feel like it? I'm the guy who blows game around here!"
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