Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Manager's urgency matches team

The Yankees' season is on the line this week, but you wouldn't be able to tell last night. The players barely made their presence felt with four singles in a shutout loss. As for their manager, you get the feeling he has no idea the gravity of New York's current situation.

Girardi gave the hot-hitting Johnny Damon the night off on Monday against the Twins, a curious and distressing decision made by a manager who has until this point been off the hook for the Yankees' uneven season. This is perhaps rightly so; the Yanks have been devastated by injuries and there's not much a manager can do about a veteran team that can't hit with runners in scoring position.

But this Yankees team has shown an ugly side to it in what is fast becoming a season-busting 10-game road trip. Girardi is no exception. Using Betemit as the pinch-hitter and Pudge Rodriguez as the pinch-runner in a crucial spot in Texas, waiting until two men were on in the ninth inning before summoning Mariano Rivera on Sunday in Anaheim and now sitting the American League's leading hitter -- a player with five straight multi-hit games -- in Minnesota when your season is effectively on the line.

There have been cracks in Girardi's altar boy veneer during this hellish road journey as well. The first-year manager snapped at an Angels beat reporter when asked his thoughts on the bullpen's Saturday meltdown. And when the YES network's Kim Jones broached the topic everyone wanted to hear about on Monday, he cut her off, hardly in the mood to discuss his obvious gaffe.

"Justin Christian has had a lot of success off of left-handers for us and has played very well," he snapped. "That is why Justin Christian played."

Christian went 0-for-4.

New York is a tough town. Yesterday I was talking with a friend about Chad Pennington's release from the Jets in the aftermath of the Brett Favre acquisition. We agreed that Pennington -- a standup guy who has the respect of a lot of people in and around the game -- needed a fresh start, that the New York stage had seemed to wear on the quarterback after six seasons under the spotlight.

Girardi is only now learning how bad it can get when things are going south in the Big Apple. Every move you make is magnified and deconstructed, and when you don't own up to your actions or you defend yourself in a way that is deemed as antagonistic, the media will band together to eat you alive.

Want an example? Read PeteAbe's running blog last night and Journal News copy today. He was clearly annoyed by Girardi's poor strategic decision coupled with his attitude postgame. This is not uncommon here. There's a reason Joe Torre was so good at his job for 13 years. He was by no means a genius tactician, but he was smart with the media and he rarely got defensive.

This is a season of growing pains for the Yankees. That's true for their manager as well, who is finding out the hard way that this job is harder than it looks.

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