Rays surprised Yanks' Girardi miffed at hard-nose spring play

Updated: March 9, 2008, 6:57 PM ET
Associated Press

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Don Zimmer likes Joe Girardi and even goes as far as to say the New York Yankees' manager is like a son to him.

But when it comes to the home-plate collision in which Tampa Bay's Elliot Johnson ran over Francisco Cervelli, breaking the Yankees catcher's right wrist, Zimmer thinks Girardi is wrong for complaining about the Rays' hard play in a spring training game.

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Girardi said Sunday that Cervelli, who was injured Saturday, will be sidelined eight to 10 weeks.

"I can't believe that he went after it the way he did. That's not Joe Girardi," said Zimmer, a former Yankees bench coach and currently a senior adviser with the Rays. Twice in the past week Tampa Bay runners barreled into catchers blocking the plate.

Girardi was a catcher in the big leagues and should know better, Zimmer said.

"You block the plate. If I slide into him and break a leg, nothing is said. Instead of breaking my leg I bowl him over and it's not the right play?" Zimmer said. "Well, to me it's the right play, spring training or no spring training. Play the game the right way. To me, our kid played it the way he thought it was right, and I think it was right."

Girardi said the play was uncalled for in a spring game. He reiterated his disappointment before the Yankees left Tampa for Fort Myers to face the Minnesota Twins on Sunday.

"It's just disheartening. It's spring training, I just don't understand," Girardi said. "I told all my players to play hard, but when you do something like that you take your chances that you will get someone hurt."

The Yankees' first-year manager hadn't talked with anyone in the Rays' organization about the play. He doesn't expect any carry-over when the teams play again Wednesday.

Johnson said Saturday he understood Girardi's view, but that he would probably do the same thing again because it was his job to try to score. Tampa Bay's Carl Crawford expressed a similar sentiment after he ran through Houston's Humberto Quintero last Wednesday.

"I want you to play hard. I want you to hustle, but to me it's not the time to do it," Girardi said.

Rays manager Joe Maddon said he's surprised at how much attention the situation is drawing.

"Just like I said [Saturday], it was a good, hard baseball play. We have to play the game one way all the time. That's the way we do things. It's really unfortunate that kid got hurt. ... Nobody wants to hurt anyone under those circumstances," Maddon said.

"This does not deserve any legs. It was an issue that occurred in a game. It was a hard play. The issue was based on whether he should do that in spring training or not, so it's a philosophical difference."

Zimmer was New York's bench coach from 1996-2003 under Girardi's predecessor, Joe Torre. Zimmer recalled a meeting in the Yankees' clubhouse in which Torre once told his players to not slide into the plate with Mike Scioscia catching.

"He blocks the plate. You'll break your legs. So the story was he didn't want none of his players sliding. Bowl him over," Zimmer said.

"Now it's the other way around, and I am surprised that Girardi went after it the way he did. ... The plate was blocked and our guy bowled him over. What's that got to do with spring training? That's the way to play the game."

Zimmer was surprised when someone told him Girardi took exception to the play.

"I mean, I'm going to use it the other way. What happens if our guy slides in and he had the plate blocked and our guy breaks his leg? He blocked the plate in a spring training game. Should he do it? Same thing," Zimmer said.

Maddon isn't concerned about lingering hard feelings. The Rays face the Yankees three more times this spring and 18 times during the regular season.

"And if we have a chance to take down their catcher, we should, and if they have a chance to take down our catcher, they should," Maddon said. "That's the way the game is played. If it's the appropriate play to be made, make it. Period."

After the Yankees' 6-4 victory over Minnesota, Girardi said he considered the matter closed.

"To me, it's a non-issue right now. We're beyond that," the manager said. "Sometimes opinions are going to vary."

What happened, though, won't necessarily be forgotten.

"There's going to be no evil intent to carry over, but what it does just adds a different type of fire to your gut when you play that team. You understand how they're playing the game and what their mind-set is," Yankees first baseman Shelley Duncan said.

So if he's attempting to score when the teams play again, will he slide and try to avoid contact with the catcher?

"I don't know," Duncan said. "That will be determined in between third and home."


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press